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Jadon Sancho's attitude and professionalism have impressed many on his journey to joining Manchester United this summer

Jadon Sancho's attitude and professionalism have impressed many on his journey to joining Manchester United this summer

Jadon Sancho's attitude and professionalism have impressed many on his journey to joining Manchester United this summer

You can hear the excitement in Jan Siewert’s voice when Jadon Sancho’s name is mentioned, but the story that springs most readily to his mind about Manchester United’s £73 million (€85m) signing has less to do with a daring dribble or goal or any other show-stopping turn on the pitch.

It was Sancho’s reaction to being told he would not be allowed to play in the knockout rounds for England U-17s at the World Cup four years ago because Borussia Dortmund, who had signed him from Manchester City five weeks earlier, wanted him back in Germany for a reserve team game.

It would mean missing the final against Spain, which England won 5-2, but Sancho (right) never allowed his disappointment at being denied the chance to take part get the better of him. On the eve of the final, he sent a heartfelt good luck message on the squad’s WhatsApp group, spelling out his belief in each player.

“You never know how often in your life you can play a final and then you come back (to Germany) and you’re not even playing in the first team, you’re playing in the second team,” said Siewert, the former Huddersfield manager who was then in charge of Dortmund’s U-23 side.

“But he still put every effort into the game and so enjoyed it when he was playing. It could have been the other way around but it wasn’t. That said a lot about Jadon. He was really disappointed for not being with England but, despite that, he was still so professional when we spoke together and in how he behaved.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long wait to see Sancho flying down the wing in United colours should finally be over tomorrow, with the England winger in line for his debut against Leeds United at Old Trafford.

United’s hierarchy were informed within weeks of Solskjaer taking temporary charge in December 2018 that, given the opportunity, Sancho was a player he would love to bring to the club, but the manager’s hopes of doing so last summer ended in disappointment.

At that point, it would have been easy for Solskjaer to pursue other targets, but Sancho was who he wanted and he was prepared to bide his time.

It could all have been very different had United taken up the chance to sign Sancho as a 14-year-old, a year before he eventually joined rivals City from Watford in 2015. But they passed on a recommendation from Alex Cargill, one of Sancho’s earliest coaches at Watford’s development centre in Battersea, who used to play football with the player’s father, Sean.

Given what United have ended up paying for Sancho, one could argue it was a costly oversight, but Sancho lasted just two years at City before taking the bold decision to move to Dortmund in pursuit of regular first-team football, and there are no guarantees he would not have followed the same path had he been at United back then. In hindsight, it was probably the best career move Sancho could have made.

He experienced a new culture and foreign league and went on to play 137 first-team games for Dortmund, scoring 50 goals and claiming 64 assists, becoming a trailblazer in the process.

It was at the U-17 European Champions in Croatia in the autumn of 2016, when England beat the hosts 5-0 before thrashing Germany 8-1, that Dortmund first laid eyes on Sancho and, over the course of the next 12 months, the winger exploded.

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He was named player of the tournament, when England lost to Spain on penalties in the final in May 2017, a defeat they would avenge at the World Cup five months later.

But it was a 4-0 win over Slovenia on an atrocious pitch in March that year that stuck out for some, not least when the opposition coach, Anton Zlogar, looked across at his English counterpart, Steve Cooper, and just started laughing with a rampant Sancho taking his team apart.

He may be a box of tricks but all those nutmegs and pirouettes are done with a purpose and Cooper and others have long talked about Sancho’s ability to routinely make the right decision with the ball, a “maverick in the best sense” as one source put it. Sancho’s time at Dortmund was not without the occasional disciplinary issue, but Siewert believes the club provided the perfect breeding ground.

“I think if you have such an outstanding player you have to take him as an individual because these individuals decide games,” Siewert says. “So if you accept he may not always be in quite the right pressing situation but he’ll give you goals then judge him on that.

“Players who decide games, they need their freedom in a way

“I think it’s also important to accept those exceptional players maybe need to be treated a little bit differently to all the others. But the others will accept it if there’s a percentage gain and if you look at Jadon’s statistics at Dortmund they were incredible.”

Siewert expects Sancho to recover quickly from the disappointment of missing a penalty in England’s Euro 2020 final shoot-out defeat by Italy last month and believes Old Trafford will quickly embrace a true crowd-pleaser.

“I definitely think Jadon can cope with the history of the club and the pressure on him now,” he says. “I felt really sorry for him not scoring that penalty for England, because I know he really suffered after it. He’s one who expects more from himself than any expectations from outside.”

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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