England got their Under-17 European Championship campaign off to the perfect start: with a 3-1 win over Norway. Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster netted two of the goals for the Three Lions, but he was not the man that enticed those that tuned in on Thursday afternoon.
Manchester City winger Jadon Sancho ran the show, quite literally, in Velika Gorica, Croatia.
Things looked bleak for England when they went 1-0 down as early as the eighth minute, but 17-year-old Sancho showed the character of someone well beyond his tender age, by assisting the first of Brewster’s brace just two minutes later.
Sancho did not play a direct part in the second goal, but an intuitive piece of skill got the move going that started the move that completed England’s turnaround.
Norway quickly cottoned onto the fact that Sancho was trouble, and doubled-up on the flamboyant winger, with little success, as the right-hand side of the Norwegian’s flank was under consistent scrutiny for the entire 80 minutes.
Sancho’s key attribute is obvious from the outset. Type his name into YouTube and you are inundated with ‘Amazing Skills and Dribbling’ compilation videos – the first sign that a Millennial footballer has arrived, one video even describes him as “The Future.” Maybe with good reason.
Manchester City certainly know what they have got, as three weeks before his 17th birthday, and two years after they paid Watford £500,000 for him, Sancho was offered a three-year deal to remain in Manchester following talk he missed his hometown of Kenington in south London. Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham were all ready to pounce, but had no luck.
Talk of homesickness seems strange, though, given that he describes his 2015 move to City as him “getting out of the hood” and that “bad influences were happening” around him. “If I moved, it would be better for me, to stay out of trouble”, he told the club’s YouTube channel.
“After school, it was just football, football. Other people were a bad influence on me, doing bad stuff and I just didn’t want to be around that, so there was the opportunity to come to Manchester and I’m really happy,” he continued.
Sancho wasted no time in showing his gratitude to his new club. On his debut start for the Citizens he scored two in a 6-1 demolition of Newcastle and, during the same season, he was part of a City under-16 side that went unbeaten during the 2015-16 season. While with the under-18 team Sancho scored a further five goals and ended the campaign with seven goals in four starts for Jason Wilcox’s side.
Progression has not slowed down for the tricky winger, as this season he has been training with the first-team under Pep Guardiola, in what was the latest indication on what City, and England, have got brewing.
“When I saw Pep, I just couldn’t stop smiling. When I walked on the training pitch I was very nervous, but I just remembered what my Dad said: no pressure.
“I just kept my head low and then Pep came over to me, I shook his hand, he put my arm around me and gave me great advice.
“He’s seen what I can do, he wants me to improve in certain parts, he doesn’t care if I lose the ball 1,000 times, he knows what I’m capable of.”
Guardiola is not the only one who knows what Sancho is capable of. At 16, Sancho was already heavily involved in City’s UEFA Youth League campaign, the Champions League for under-21s, playing six out of the seven games City played, and scored two goals – against Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic in the group stages.
City were eliminated in the play-off round, against eventual winners Red Bull Salzburg on penalties, but Sancho was one of the three men in blue to bury his spot-kick.
Sancho did reach one final this season, as him and the rest of the Manchester City EDS (Elite Development Squad) got all the way FA Youth Cup final, but lost 6-2 on aggregate to Chelsea, although there is clear signs of positive work on display in the City set up.
“I think our group is so special, because we have great chemistry on and off the pitch. When on the training pitch, we take it proper seriously, like it’s a game day, that’s how all of us work so hard and get results on match days.”
Sancho is getting results on match days, and if he continues in this vein he will certainly be getting results in his career.