Had the global Covid-19 pandemic not struck last year, there’s a good chance Jadon Sancho would have become Manchester United’s first £100 million player. That’s what Borussia Dortmund demanded for the English winger who notched 17 goals and 16 assists in the Bundesliga last season. As staggering as the pricetag seemed, it was his market value.
However, the impact of the virus saw most elite clubs across Europe tighten the purse strings over the summer transfer window. United refused to pay eight figures for the player they had tracked and planned a move for throughout 2020 and Dortmund refused to drop their asking price. Deadline day came and went without any movement occurring on either side. Initially, it felt like the best decision for everyone.
It’s possible the decision makers at the Westfalenstadion now feel a twinge of regret over their decision not to sell Sancho in the summer. Since being the subject of intense speculation, the 20-year-old has struggled to find his best form, only scoring his first goal of the season in Dortmund's 2-0 win over Wolfsburg on January 3rd - his 12th Bundesliga appearance of 2020/21.
Sancho’s performances have been below par and his body language even worse. If the Englishman still wants to be in Germany, as he has insisted a number of times since the last transfer window, he’s not showing it. To the contrary, Sancho has the look of a player whose mind is somewhere else. In the Premier League, perhaps.
After the club's most recent match against RB Leipzig, the youngster addressed his struggles this season, per Bundesliga.com:
"Obviously this season has been very difficult for me personally, so I knew when I went away, I just focused on my game and came back raring to go. I'm working hard every day in training and on the pitch so I'm just happy to get my goals and assists."
His goal and assist in the victory over Wolfsburg perhaps will prove to be a turning point in both Sancho and Dortmund's season. The youngster followed his first goal of the campaign with another in the Black and Yellow's 3-1 victory over second-place RB Leipzig this past weekend. Erling Haaland, who scored the other two, is back after a period on the sidelines through injury, ready to play catalyst to a dormant offense. The Norwegian striker raises the performance levels of those around him when he’s on the pitch, and that certainly showed on Saturday.
Few at Borussia Dortmund have shone brightly this season. Julian Brandt had a direct hand in no fewer than 20 goals in all competitions for the Black and Yellows last term. This season, he has started just six games in total. Thorgan Hazard has toiled with injury, while Dortmund’s central midfield has become something of a wasteland. Sancho is being denied the support system all good wingers need to succeed.
The managerial uncertainty at the Westfalenstadion may also have been a factor in Sancho’s underwhelming form. Lucien Favre was on the brink for a number of weeks before he was eventually fired from his role last month. It must have been difficult for Dortmund’s squad, including Sancho, to remain focused on the task at hand while so much swirled around the club.
Even now, with Favre gone, Borussia Dortmund have kicked the can down the road by appointing Edin Terzic as interim head coach until the end of the season. Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marco Rose is reportedly in line to be hired in the summer, but the Black and Yellows have been left directionless until an announcement is made.
Borussia Dortmund currently find themselves in no man’s land, stuck between the failures of the Favre and whatever comes next. This isn’t exactly the best environment for Sancho to thrive in. He is the sort of player who needs guidance and a tactical game plan to execute. Terzic, as a placeholder in the dugout, isn’t currently providing him with this.
Of course, Sancho is still young and so dips in form are to be expected as he continues to mature. His rise as a teenager was so instant it’s easy to forget he is still only 20. Sancho deserves some leeway because of the circumstances he finds himself in at Borussia Dortmund and because he’s not so different to other players of his age group.
“Every player has slow periods,” Favre reasoned earlier in the season when asked to explain the poor form of one of his best players. “There was a lot of talk about Jadon in the summer, something like that can also have an influence. But no player is consistently in top form for a year, that's impossible. You have to accept that.”
Sancho remains one of the best young players in the European game despite his poor form this season. He has shown enough over the previous two campaigns to suggest he will be at the peak of his powers again before too long. Manchester United might get him at a knockdown price next summer, though.