WHEN Jadon Sancho signed for Man Utd in 2021, he appeared to be the final piece of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Premier League title challenge puzzle.
A child prodigy, he played in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund and became one of the most feared wingers in the world.
It was this form that convinced the Red Devils to part with £73million for the coveted youngster.
But now Sancho finds himself at a career crossroads as his career stalls.
After a row with boss Erik ten Hag, he released a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, claiming he had been made a “scapegoat” for United’s failings.
The Dutch tactician relegated Sancho to a “personal training program” away from the first team until the “question of squad discipline” was resolved.
The situation for Sancho is no longer as clear as it was when he was growing up as a promising talent in south London.
Grew up in Kennington
Born in Camberwell, Sancho was raised on the Guinness Trust Buildings Estate in Kennington by Trinidadian parents.
At a nearby park he honed his skills and met Arsenal star Reiss Nelson, who became a childhood friend.
Jadon told Sky Sports: “I was on an estate.
“There’s a park behind it that we called Blue Park and we used to just go there and play mini-games for two hours, everyone was so excited.”
“I used to have all the tricks, nutmeg people, and I did it like the older guys.
“They played the right way, so they didn’t want to hurt us younger guys. But they thought I was willing to play with them.”
“I would describe myself as a street footballer, that’s where I learned my tricks.”
Find a mentor
Sancho’s early journey was led by Sayce Holmes-Lewis, a former Southwark Council community coach who worked with a talented pool of young footballers in the area.
Holmes-Lewis recalled how the then 12-year-old prodigy showed off his fancy footwork.
He told SunSport: “Jadon had this little afro, always smiling. There was always banter between me and him.
“I would say, ‘I bet you can’t do this skill.'” I showed him and by the end of the session he got it.
“I was embarrassed because I was almost 30 at the time, I had been working on these skills all summer and it took him an hour to master!”
“Jadon always tried to prove how good he was, but in a humble way.”
During his academy years, Sancho enjoyed time at Watford and Manchester City.
In addition to his outstanding abilities, his ambition to reach the top was already evident back then.
Louis Lancaster, who coached Sancho at Watford’s academy, said: “There’s a great phrase in football that goes: ‘Prepare the player’ because he doesn’t change.”
“Jadon abolished this rule. For him, she paved the way for the player.”
“He has moved from the south to the north with one of the best managers and players in the world and has the choice of either staying with Man City U23 and not developing further or going to another country.
“How many players would have the courage to do that?”
Sancho was desperate to play and realized his path to the first team was blocked. He moved from Man City to Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for a fee of £8 million.
It was a groundbreaking and brave move for the teenager and one that many English footballers have since followed.
And it was its creation. Sancho terrorized opposition defenses, scoring 50 goals in 137 games.
A testament to his talent was his placement among the 2019 Golden Boy nominees.
Sancho came second behind Joao Felix and was ahead of Kai Havertz, Erling Haaland and Matthijs de Ligt in the annual poll by Italian publication Tuttosport.
The highlight of his time at the Westfalenstadion was winning the DFB Cup in his final season at the club.
It was Sancho’s form in the Bundesliga that led to Gareth Southgate’s wideman being called up – he made his debut in a UEFA Nations League game against Croatia in 2018.
In his first competitive start in 2019, he put in an outstanding performance in a 5-0 win in a Euro 2020 qualifier against the Czech Republic.
A brace in the 5-3 win over Kosovo appeared to cement his place in the first team.
He came on as a substitute in the Euro 2020 final against Italy in the 120th minute of extra time to take a penalty.
Unfortunately, he missed his penalty along with Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford, meaning the Three Lions missed out on the trophy in the most cruel fashion.
Amazingly, he has not contributed to his 23 England caps since 2021.
That same month, Sancho’s club career seemed to really take off – with a big move to Man Utd.
He was in poor form in his first season, scoring just five goals in 38 games.
In the following season, with seven out of 41 goals, he was nowhere near as dangerous as he was in Dortmund, where he scored double-digit goals in three of his four seasons.
A succession of managerial opportunities from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to Ralf Rangnick to Erik ten Hag have certainly not improved his chances.
The latter’s £85m signing of former Ajax star Antony, a similar player to Sancho, hampered his progress.
While the emergence of Alejandro Garnacho shows that competition for places on the wing at Old Trafford is fierce.
A disagreement with ten Hag over his attitude in training led to him being dropped from the club’s squad with Arsenal.
It was a statement Sancho rejected in a social media explosion.
He wrote: “Please don’t believe everything you read! I won’t let people say things that are completely untrue.”
“I did very well in training this week. I believe there are other reasons for this matter which I will not go into.”
“I was a scapegoat for a long time, which isn’t fair! I just want to play football with a smile on my face and contribute to my team.”
“I respect all the decisions made by the coaching staff, I play with fantastic players… I will keep fighting for this badge no matter what!”
The courage he showed in his youth is necessary if he wants to get his career back in the right direction.