When Jadon Sancho arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2021, the club was brimming with excitement and buzz that they had finally found the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo. Just over two years on however and that assessment seems unrealistic at best and willfully arrogant at worst. Since the England winger’s £73 million move from German outfit Borussia Dortmund, the 23-year-old has endured a torrid time. Upon his arrival then manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer believed that Sancho epitomised the type of player he wanted to bring to the club, one that brought creativity, flair and unrivaled pace, but he has struggled for form at the best of times and since Erik Ten Hag took over relations with the club have disintegrated entirely. The forward claimed he has been made a ‘scapegoat’ after recently being dropped from the squad for poor performance in training to which the Dutchman responded by suggesting Sancho may never play for the club again. The club later announced that the England international would not be training with the squad amid the public spat with the manager in a situation that is quickly getting out of hand. The 53-year-old boss has proven before he is not one to shy away from making big decisions on key players, but is the relationship beyond repair and would the club be better off cutting off ties entirely?
Firstly it is worth mentioning that some of the criticism thrown Sancho’s way regarding his form has merit. A fee of £73 million for a player doesn’t make the eyes water like it used to but it is still a gargantuan sum of money and United have seen very little return for their investment so far. While at Dortmund the winger scored 50 goals and earned 64 assists over the course of his 137 appearances for the club; a very healthy tally that earned him considerable praise and the high valuation that one of the most promising talents in European football deserved at the time. So it makes sense that a United side in desperate need of a rebuild and looking for a way to close the gap on rivals Manchester City were interested in signing the pre-eminent forward. However, since arriving at Old Trafford, the 23-year-old hasn’t even come close to matching those numbers with only 12 goals and six assists over his 82 appearances for the club thus far. To that end Ten Hag is well within his rights to be disappointed in his subpar output. High expectations can often be a burden on young players coming to big clubs and while many can sympathize with that, it is what you do on the pitch by which you are measured and Sancho simply has not been good enough.
On the other hand, Sancho can feel somewhat aggrieved by the scale of the criticism. Yes his form hasn’t been good enough, but out of the catalogue of calamities behind the scenes that have affected performances on the pitch, his downturn seems like a minor inconvenience. The Glazers don’t seem to know whether they’re staying or going, the club recently backtracked on the PR disaster of potentially bringing Mason Greenwood back into the picture, star Brazilian Antony is taking a leave of absence following recent allegations of assault, club captain Harry Maguire’s position seems untenable as fourth or fifth choice to start in defence, the list goes on. Despite all those issues, the Dutchman seems to be focusing his time and attention with Sancho’s decline. Given the club’s poor start to the 2023/24 campaign from which they have only won two of their opening five games in the Premier League, Ten Hag should have far more pressing matters to attend to than addressing what one of his players writes on social media. Even more so considering Sancho’s performances have very little to do with the defeats to Brighton, Tottenham and Arsenal that United have suffered. Online bookmakers in the UK have him at 11/10 to still be playing for United after February such is the manager’s disdain at the moment. The England winger has had 76 minutes on the pitch so far this term with most of those coming in their two victories over Nottingham Forest and Wolves. Sancho may have got the ball rolling in this saga when publicly calling out his boss and others amidst speculation, but the visceral response of “he is not available, so in this moment, he is not important, because he can’t contribute” from Ten Hag comes across as unwarranted and unhelpful.
A solution to this contentious dispute seems a long way off for now but not out of the question entirely. Sancho might currently be in stage one of replicating Cristiano Ronaldo’s dramatic departure after now being instructed to train alone, but we are not quite at the point of sounding off on national television in a groundbreaking controversial interview. Remember it was not all that long ago that Ten Hag spoke of his pride in the “magnificent” Sancho after the winger made a goalscoring return to the Premier League back in February. The public disagreement is more likely born of frustration from the inability to be at their best as of late. What would help put the issue to bed is if Sancho started to rediscover his form on the pitch and to that end reports from Spain of Barcelona weighing up a loan move for the England international in January will be music to Ten Hag’s ears. It would certainly help diffuse the situation for the time being and give Sancho a chance to get back to his best without being under the radar. Whether or not that time apart would only deepen divisions between the two parties is hard to say but one thing is for sure, United could certainly do with less drama behind the scenes. Sancho is still committed to the club, stating that he “will continue to fight for the badge no matter what” and at the very least some more game time couldn’t harm his chances of making his way back into the United squad. The temptation might be there for Ten Hag to cash-in and invest the money elsewhere, but it’s hard to believe the Dutchman isn’t confident enough in his abilities to bring the best out of the England international. As is almost always the case in football, everything gets better when you start winning matches and if United can rediscover the feel-good factor from last season soon then there will easily be a route back for Sancho if he can prove himself elsewhere.
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