Jadon Sancho has style. It is more understated off the pitch than on it. During games, he brims with confidence and flaunts his ability. Off duty, he is quiet, considered and focused. This is a player who wants to get better. That’s good news for England and a nightmare for their opponents.
The Borussia Dortmund winger is part of Gareth Southgate’s squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Kosovo. The 19-year-old is likely to add to his six caps but he knows that these are not straightforward games.
“Bulgaria and Kosovo will be physical,” says Sancho, speaking at an appearance with Head & Shoulders, Official Hair Care Partners of the England Teams. “They will not be easy to play against. It’s a big test for us.”
Sancho is used to testing situations. He grew up in a rugged part of south London and his technique was honed in the caged urban pitches of a troubled area.
Football was an outlet for creativity. In the cages, Sancho found purpose.
“I was expressing myself,” he says. “No one cared if you lost the ball because it was like free-styling sessions. Everyone just doing skills against each other – trying to embarrass people, that kind of thing.
“That was the fun part of it. That’s what made it so exciting – wanting to express yourself in front of everyone.”
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This ability brought attention and the youngster made the first big move of his career at 11, relocating to Watford, where he flourished in the academy.
“My attitude changed when I moved away from London,” he says. “Going to Watford at such a young age and leaving everyone behind and being around new people was very different for me.
“Adapting was a challenge. I was staying in a boarding school and in a different culture that I wasn’t used to. It was very hard to adapt, build confidence and change my attitude.”
What did not change was his approach to the game.
“Playing in the cages had created a greediness. When I was at Watford I was very greedy. I just wanted to show off my skills.
“As you develop you start to pass and move. It’s a different game to the cage game. It’s good to have both. You need to adapt the cage game into the professional world so that if three or four men are around you, you can try to find a way to get out with cage skills.”
The combination was intoxicating for a number of big clubs. Manchester City came calling and Sancho had no qualms about moving north.
Even before he was a teenager, he understood that the life of a footballer was likely to be nomadic.
“The Manchester move was okay. I was still in England and I knew I could go back home. It was a bit further away but I could see the family every three weeks or so. Settling there was not a problem.”
The relocation to Dortmund was bold but paid off very quickly.
“They have a good history of playing young players. I believed what they said. Christian Pulisic was there – he was 18 at the time and was starting every week. I felt I could compete with him.”
The breakthrough came more quickly than expected. Since then, Sancho has gone from strength to strength in Germany.
He is the youngest player to score 15 goals in the Bundesliga and crucial to Dortmund’s challenge for the title. Premier League clubs are queueing up to tempt him back to his homeland.
For now, though, his thoughts are focused on the national team.
“I want to win the Euros. And the World Cup and the Champions League. My dream is to be an England regular.
This squad has brilliant potential if we stick together and play as a team. It’s great to have other young exciting players in training, such as Mason Mount.”
Can Sancho get better? “Definitely.”
For a moment the boy from the cages reappears.
“I want to improve my skills,” he says. Then the steely-eyed professional speaks: “And score more goals.”
Defenders beware. Sancho is going to get better. Be very scared.
Head & Shoulders, Official Hair Care Partner of the England Football Teams and the UK’s #1 anti-dandruff shampoo brand, spoke to Jadon Sancho at St George’s Park ahead of England’s game v Bulgaria