Is the Bundesliga Tax real?
While that question contains the inherent shrillness that social media does so well, it’s become an increasingly valid one over recent years.
German football reached its modern zenith during the mid-2010s, with Bayern Munich facing Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final and Germany winning the World Cup a year later.
But, as the quality of the Premier League has risen, the Bundesliga has gone in the opposite direction.
Leipzig, Dortmund and Wolfsburg all failed to get out of their Champions League groups this season, leaving Bayern as the sole contender in the last 16.
And anybody who’s seen Timo Werner find new, inventive ways of missing sitters at Chelsea would be forgiven for thinking defenders in Germany’s top-flight must tie their laces together before matches.
But Jadon Sancho is starting to buck that trend.
Much was expected of Sancho when he made the £73million switch from Dortmund to the Premier League last summer but, for much of the season, the reputation of one of Europe’s brightest attackers has been collateral damage in United’s clusterfuck of a season.
Initially expected to make the right-wing slot his own, the 21-year-old was either shunted to the left or dropped to the bench in an attempt to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fell, weeping, onto his sword and Ralf Rangnick took over, Sancho finally had a manager who fully backed his ability.
“I’ve known Jadon since he was 17 when he still played in England,” Rangnick said recently. “I contacted him and his agent and tried to convince him to join us at Leipzig.
“The step to Manchester United is a big one, a massive step for a 21-year-old, and it takes time. The style of football we want to play fits perfectly with his assets, coming from the left side.
“I also try to show him my support, and tell him that he should have a go in this league. It is more physical and more competitive.”
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Given a run in the side, Sancho has started to come good in recent weeks. The England international scored against Middlesbrough and Southampton, his strikes representing a rare break in the cloudy horizon at Old Trafford.
And Sancho continued his renaissance in the rearranged Premier League meeting with Brighton.
United’s first-half performance would have done nothing to pacify supporters whose travel plans were affected by an outage on the city’s Metrolink.
Graham Potter’s side dominated proceedings but Sancho retained a certain swagger earned through his recent improvement and menaced the Brighton defence throughout.
Old Trafford has been a hive of neurosis this season but Ronaldo’s opener, his first goal of 2022, and Lewis Dunk’s dismissal seemed to calm the nerves of the natives – and one delightful piece of skill from Sancho matched the mood perfectly.
Luke Shaw, who’s struck up a productive partnership with Sancho on the left, slipped a ball down the channel into his team-mate’s path.
After taking a steadying touch, Sancho was faced with the looming presence of Joel Veltman, who was charging into the tackle with the speed of Laurence Fox reaching the wrong conclusion about vaccinations.
The solution? Sancho flicked the ball through Veltman’s legs and raced clear while his opponent visibly deflated behind him. If you look closely, we’re pretty sure you can make out Veltman’s soul leaving his body through his left nostril.
Never mind that his cross was intercepted or that he failed to get onto the scoresheet himself – this was a perfect demonstration that Sancho has grown in confidence over recent weeks and can provide the fluidity and ingenuity that United have lacked all season.
Speaking before United’s 2-0 victory, Shaw publically backed Sancho to become a United hero.
“For me, the maddest thing with Jadon is how young he actually is,” he told United Review. “I didn’t realise, even when I played with him for England, that he was that young.
“He’s a wonderful footballer. When you come here it’s not easy at the start – I know that personally.
“Now he’s starting to find his feet a bit more and that’s really showing in the way he’s playing, especially in the last few games.
“He’s starting to excel, he’s getting on the ball more and dribbling well, and doing what he was doing at Dortmund. He’s only going to get better and better.
“He’s going to be a world-class player and he’s got so much talent.”
As United look to rescue a disappointing season by finishing in the top four, Sancho’s blossoming could not have come at a better time for the club and its supporters.
And his ridiculous nutmeg against Brighton should be used as Exhibit A in any argument against the existence of the Bundesliga Tax.
By Michael Lee