The Jadon Sancho transfer rumblings have dragged on for the best part of a year now.
Over summer rumours have intensified, cooled, reignited, and then collapsed. Bar Manchester United fans, there will be few who will enjoy or take any interest in the perpetual saga.
Assuming the Englishman will stay in Germany for the foreseeable future, the question must be raised, does this strengthen Dortmund to the point of a full fledged title bid?
The Latest False Dawn
The dawn of a new Bundesliga season routinely brings speculation and debate about who will push Bayern Munich closest. Julian Nagelsmann’s electric RB Leipzig have certainly entered the fray in the last two years. Marco Rose’s exciting Monchengladbach unit are also capable of beating any side on their day.
Yet it is Borussia Dortmund who are considered Bayern’s sternest challenger. Since 2010/11 the club have only yielded three finishes outside of the top two. This is second only to Bayern’s eight consecutive title wins in this time.
Sancho has been a part of the club for the three most recent of those seasons, with 2018-19 seeing BVB finish just two points adrift of their Bavarian rivals.
Sancho’s presence alone has clearly not proven decisive enough in the club’s pursuit of domestic silverware. However the feeling attained from retaining a player of his calibre may well fuel the club to irresistible form. Dortmund’s model has seen them build the early careers of their talented youngsters, signing them young or from rival academies, before selling them for huge profit within five years.
Mario Götze, Mats Hummels, Ousmane Dembélé and Christian Pulisic epitomise this method. Held on for long enough to demonstrate world class ability, yet sold young enough to warrant huge interest form potential buyers. It seemed that Sancho would be the next in this list.
Yet to retain such a player would shun this selling mindset, and even reinstate an elite mentality that has arguably been absent since Jurgen Klopp’s departure. This could prove priceless in their objective to bring down Bayern.
Sancho’s Superstar Status
If Bayern are laden with proven elite level talent and Champions League winners, Dortmund represent a different breed of club. Bayern are able to sign the likes of Leroy Sane to bolster their ranks, whilst BVB operate by bringing through raw and exciting youth talent. Their current roster of young players is undoubtedly the best in Europe, and arguable the club’s greatest yet.
In Erling Braut Haaland and Sancho they possess two of the best young players this generation has seen. Add to these two the even younger Giovanni Reyna and Jude Bellingham, and Dortmund possess four of the top ten young players in Europe.
Raw talent and youthful exuberance are seldom enough to fuel a title win. However this team also contains stalwart like figures of experience.
Marco Reus continues to perform at the top level, albeit in between all too frequent injury breaks. Mats Hummels may not have the legs and energy he once had, but adds composure to their youthful defence. Emre Can only signed permanently this summer, but his move to centre back in a back three has proven useful in solidifying the backline whilst adding superb distribution from deep.
Sancho and Haaland are undoubtedly the stars in this team however. Haaland’s situation may become similar to Sancho’s in the coming years. Europe’s biggest will no doubt come sniffing around this rarest of talent. Together they have established a lethal chemistry that has allowed manager Lucien Favre to field them together in a front two.
Sancho has featured in only two of the four opening league fixtures owing to a respiratory infection. Yet their link up play in the 3-0 win against Borussia Monchengladbach was astonishing to see. The Englishman is able to carry the ball so quickly without ever leaving a decision too late. Haaland’s anticipation of space and arced runs give Sancho that threatening final ball.
A final year of this combination before Sancho leaves, with the rocketing development of Reyna and Bellingham, could give Dortmund the strongest individual team they have ever had.
The Strength of Opposition
Bayern Munich are not just starting the season on the back of eight consecutive league titles. They are also champions of Europe, and have lost only three of Hansi Flick’s 41 games in charge.
They have also added Leroy Sane to their ranks, yet their may be cause for concern on the horizon.
The departure of Thiago to Liverpool this summer is a huge blow to their philosophy. Alongside Joshua Kimmich, the two established themselves as the best midfield double act in Europe. Put simply one can not replace the array of talent at the Spaniard’s disposal in one signing. Thiago’s tight ball control, exceptional passing ability and underrated pressing, make for a rare package that few possess.
Leon Goretzka has shown he can deputise in the role, offering a more box-to-box and physical presence. However for this to come at the expense of a player of Thiago’s ilk only weakens the side long term. Corentin Tolisso is also a good depth option, but lacks the quality to make up for Thiago’s loss.
Sane has also arrived off the back of an injury plagued 2019/20. The German played only eleven minutes in the Premier League after a severe cruciate injury. For him to be the starting left winger after little football is a huge risk, only exemplified by Kingsley Coman’s own injury woes in that position.
Bayern are undoubtedly a phenomenal side, and their achievements last year must not be underestimated. Robert Lewandowski continues to be the best striker in world football, and Kimmich could well prove himself in the Thiago role single handedly.
However the presence of Sancho in yellow and black may well disturb this superiority. Any such player has been sold within two years of them reaching this level. Yet in keeping Sancho as he truly explodes as a world class player, coupled with the loss of key personnel in Bayern red, could prove a significant obstacle.
What to Expect?
Frankly most within the game will be glad to see the Sancho transfer saga end. Like most that involve Manchester United, it has dragged for so long that few have enthusiasm for whatever outcome is achieved.
Sancho alone does not make Dortmund title favourites, or even takes them to Bayern’s level. There are other factors to observe, such as the quality of the coach, and whether fans’ absence from the yellow wall will prove detrimental.
However the psychological boost from keeping such a player could well push Dortmund into new territory. As Lewandowski, Dembélé, and Pulisic departed just as they were taking the step up to their potential (Dembélé is arguably still trying to take that step), Sancho could be one of the few to remain.
The threat this could pose to Bayern might just take an edge of their superiority complex. Stranger things have happened. It is probably well due after a summer of muddled negotiation away from the pitch by Sancho’s pursuers.
If it does take Dortmund to their first title since 2012, United will not be alone in hunting Sancho. How foolish the dithering will seem then.