Jadon Sancho has already mastered the important art of breaking spirits
We’re fast approaching the point where merely having Jadon Sancho on the pitch feels like an unfair advantage for Borussia Dortmund. Perhaps we’re already past it.
While Manchester City might not have been able to give the young Englishman the game-time he was so desperate for, Sancho is developing into one of those players who you let have whatever he wants, because such an arrangement will benefit everyone.
The teenager scored in Dortmund’s Friday night victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach, and it was an excellent finish from a tight angle, but you should know by know that simply scoring a goal isn’t usually enough to earn a spot in this column.
We have written about Sancho before on these pages, for his pirouette and nutmeg showcase against Freiburg earlier in the season, and he continued his services to fun against Gladbach.
Sancho isn’t the type of player to have a goal under his belt to get the confidence to showboat, but rather it’s his default position if he thinks it can achieve something.
Did this run help afford him the space a few minutes later to drive at goal and beat Yann Sommer? We can’t rule it out.
It’s hard to think of a player who can, at the drop of a hat, have so many opponents completely under his spell.
He manages to simultaneously give the impression of fragility while invoking his own personal forcefield, and it’s enough to trap Thorgan Hazard into doing some of his own work for him.
In the early part of the run, it’s simply a case of showing patience and waiting for the Belgian to overshoot his mark, wiping out Christoph Kramer as well as taking himself out of the equation.
He has taken out a coin and encouraged Hazard to guess which hand it is in, only to balance the coin on the Gladbach man’s head without him noticing as he deliberates over which of the two empty fists to select.
The trick isn’t an act of whipping an opportunity away from Hazard, but rather convincing him there was ever an opening to begin with.
If we didn’t already know Sancho was in control by this stage, it becomes clearer within seconds.
There’s no pause to get his bearings and set up for the next take-on – instead, we see constant movement, like a dance-off competitor practicing his moves in full sight of his opponent while waiting his turn.
It’s a string of micro-resets, which would make it tough enough for Denis Zakaria to adjust to his challenge even without the fact that Sancho is controlling their speed and frequency, not to mention retaining the ability to decide after two or three that he’ll leave out the anticipated next one in the sequence.
Regardless of the Swiss midfielder’s starting position, whether challenging head-on or giving pursuit, he cannot contend with Sancho holding the cards, especially when there’s a chance he’ll get sent for an impromptu game of 52 pickup.
The only person who has the right idea – aside from Sancho himself, of course – is left-back Oscar Wendt.
The Swede has had prime real estate to watch everything unfold, staring slack-jawed as Hazard and Kramer fall by the wayside before looking into his crystal ball and seeing a similar fate for Zakaria. He knows the only smart move is to run away, ensuring his problems become someone else’s.
Sure enough, Zakaria is left chasing shadows for a little longer as Sancho starts, stops and starts again before rolling the ball to Łukasz Piszczek with a lazy backheel.
It’s his way of saying “this is too easy, I’m bored now”, like a kid beating his dad at a game of driveway basketball and moving on to a new pastime before his old man can get as much as a sniff of a revenge victory.
We’re not naïve enough to think the next bit of flair isn’t just around the corner, and neither are the Gladbach players. The issue, though, is that they know simply seeing it coming isn’t going to be enough to stop it.
On this occasion, Wendt realises his earlier face-saving won’t cut it for a second time. He knows he has to at the very least try to make it hard for his opponent, even if he lacks an answer to the question “and then what?”.
The problem, of course, is that Sancho himself has been in this situation enough times to known Wendt knows this, and to use that to his advantage.
This is enough motivation for him to push the issue over and over, waiting for the defender to blink. And he will blink, however much he tries to resist, because they always do.
As the defender in this situation, you can’t help but feel it’s not a fair fight. Even when you put on the best possible façade and do everything right physically and mentally, you’re still at a disadvantage. In fact, ‘disadvantage’ might not even be strong enough – in essence, your position is hopeless.
Scoring goals might be important in the short-term, but breaking spirits has far more of a long-lasting impact.
When you find a player who can do both in the space of five minutes, and at just 18 years of age, you leave the rest of the league lamenting the fact that they’re in for a long afternoon, season and lifetime.
By Tom Victor