What went wrong for Sancho at Man Utd?11 January 2024
Last updated on .From the section Man Utd
Jadon Sancho's return to Borussia Dortmund on loan for the rest of the season is the latest stage of a troubled £73m transfer.
The move provides a temporary resolution to a dispute between Sancho and Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag that erupted into the public domain at the beginning of September and has not gone away.
But it also allows all sides to press reset on a costly deal that has not turned out as United or Sancho hoped.
Allegations, accusations and recriminations
When it became apparent Sancho had been omitted from Ten Hag's squad for the Premier League defeat at Arsenal on 3 September, it was something of a surprise.
Off the back of a decent pre-season, Sancho had made three substitute appearances as United made a stuttering start to the new campaign.
There was no word from United beforehand about any issue, so it was not until the post-match news conference that Ten Hag was asked about Sancho's absence.
Ten Hag's response was blunt: "Because of his performance in training, we didn't select him. You have to reach a level every day at Manchester United."
Sancho did not accept the reasoning and in a now-deleted social media post, hit back almost immediately.
"I will not allow people saying things that is completely untrue," he posted. "I have conducted myself very well in training this week.
"I believe there are other reasons for this matter that I won't go into. I've been a scapegoat for a long time, which isn't fair."
The touchpaper had been lit. Ten Hag demanded a public apology for the clear challenge to his authority, otherwise Sancho would be frozen out.
Despite numerous pleas - from team-mates and United officials - Sancho has remained silent. Though Ten Hag has repeatedly said Sancho has it in his power to bring the dispute to an end, the 23-year-old either thinks he has nothing to apologise for, or that the Dutchman is being disingenuous, or both.
A drawn-out signing & poor researchSancho's return to north-west England turned into a lengthy saga
This was not how it was supposed to be when United, finally, ended their long pursuit of the former Manchester City academy player on 23 July 2021 - paying £73m for Sancho, who had just been part of the England squad beaten in the European Championship final by Italy.
Sancho described the move as "a dream come true". It turned into anything but.
Then United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made his first play for Sancho in the summer of 2020. A £90m fee was spoken about, personal terms were not going to be a problem. However, United got their negotiating strategy wrong.
When Dortmund made it known they were setting a hard deadline of 10 August to agree a deal, which they felt was needed to give them time to find a replacement before a season with a delayed start because of the logistical impact of Covid-19, United ignored it - putting it down to negotiating tactics.
It was a mistake.
Sancho remained at Dortmund for the 2020-21 campaign.
With 16 goals and 20 assists in all competitions, Sancho's final domestic campaign for Dortmund was a success. He scored twice in the German Cup final victory over RB Leipzig, which he started alongside Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham.
"I wanted to sign him," Solskjaer told The Athletic in a recent interview.
"Jadon was put up as the number one target for the right wing by the scouts and when you look at his talent, I could see why. Unfortunately, it has not worked out.
"He's immensely talented and we haven't seen the best of him. I hope we do but he prefers to play left wing… where Marcus [Rashford] plays."
Sancho's timekeeping issue
Both in their negotiation and assessment of where their expensive new signing would fit into the team, United erred.
They also either missed, or overlooked, a flaw in Sancho's character that first came to light in March 2018, not long after he had made his first-team debut for Dortmund and fewer than five months after he had been part of the England squad that had won the Under-17 World Cup in India.
Sancho was picked for the England Under-19 squad for the elite qualification round of the European Championship, being held in Macedonia. Before one match against Latvia, Sancho and former Manchester City team-mate - and player of the tournament at the Under-17 World Cup - Phil Foden were late for training and dropped as a disciplinary measure.
Timekeeping was a recurrent theme during Sancho's spell in Germany, but his performances on the field balanced out the hassle of trying to deal with the problem.
The same was not true with England and, despite an excellent first pre-season under Ten Hag, neither was it at United once Sancho's form nosedived in the autumn, after it became obvious he would miss out on selection for the World Cup in Qatar.
'Not in the right fitness state'
Sancho missed United's final four games before the 2022 World Cup with an unspecified illness.
Ten Hag addressed the issue during his club's December training camp in southern Spain, which Sancho missed as he travelled to the Netherlands to work with coaches Ten Hag knew on his personal training programme.
"He was not in the right status or fitness state," said Ten Hag. "I have had several talks with Jadon.
"When the league started, he played some good games, but after we got a drop of levels. Sometimes you don't know why or what is causing it. Most of the time it comes slowly. First you observe but the stats back it up. In the start of the season he had goals and assists but his key moments and key actions became less and less.
"It's a combination of physical but also mental. We're trying to research and get him back."
It was 1 February 2023 before Sancho featured in a competitive game, but with two goals in his first five games, it did seem whatever resolution had been worked on, it had been successful.
Sancho scored in his final Premier League appearance of the campaign and started the FA Cup final defeat by Manchester City.
As with United as a whole, the 2023-24 season promised much. As with United, the disappointment has been immense.
No regrets but what happens now?
In his most recent comments on Sancho - in an interview with the fanzine United We Stand - Ten Hag was asked if he had any regrets over how he had handled the Sancho situation. His answer was as blunt as it was after the Arsenal game.
"No," he said. "I would not do anything different."
One of the reasons Ten Hag was brought to Old Trafford was to instil a sense of discipline. Some observers feel he has been perfectly justified in taking the stance he has. Others feel Sancho has been treated unfairly, especially considering some of the other issues involving players that have not triggered the same hard-line stance.
United's hierarchy have backed the manager. This has come at a price.
The club say the loan to Dortmund is financially attractive to them. Dortmund sources question how this can be the case given how their side of the deal stacks up.
There is no doubt if United were to try to sell the player in the summer, they would get nothing remotely close to what they paid for him. It is hard to imagine any club matching the player's £300,000-a-week salary either. For now, a return to Dortmund makes sense.
The space will also allow Ineos representatives Sir Dave Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc a chance to get their heads round the situation and determine next steps. Ten Hag's own future will be significant in that.
Holding out to see if Ten Hag stays as United manager may just have been Sancho's long-term plan all along.