After investing millions in Manchester City’s academy, their owners have been desperately waiting for a player that makes their cash worthwhile. 20-year-old Phil Foden, who has made 12 Premier League starts since his debut in 2017, is as close as they’ve got. With David Silva moving on this summer, City fans are hoping that Guardiola will finally start giving their Stockport lad, from a family of Reds, a prominent role in the team. Pep has been promising this for years, claiminig that the youngster had been ready to play regularly for City and England since the 2017-18 season, but it just hasn’t happened.
Guardiola was supposed to be the manager who helped allow their youth team players, who have reached the FA Youth Cup final in four of the last five seasons, make the transition to the first team, but instead their greatest prospects ask to leave thanks to a lack of playing time.
The City chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, had high hopes for City’s academy graduates and expected them to be in the first team seasons ago.
“What makes it special this [coming] year especially is that we have three or four players we can genuinely believe have a very good chance of making it to the first team,” he said in May 2017. “You look at Sancho, you look at Phil Foden you look at Brahim Díaz, just to name a few, these are players that are extremely talented. These are players who have a very good chance of making it to the first team. And these are players that if you ask Pep today he will tell you they can and will be first-team players at Manchester City.”
Despite being offered contracts by City, Brahim Diaz went to Real Madrid, Rabbi Matondo went to Schalke (and has recently been linked with a move to Real Madrid), while Eric Garcia is keen to return to Barcelona.
It’s Jadon Sancho who we are most interested in though, who rejected the chance to become City’s best paid academy player ever on £30,000-a-week and instead made the move to Borussia Dortmund in August 2017. United are set to spend around £100m on a player who City sold for just £8 million three years ago.
City paid Watford £66k for Sancho when he was 14, with the potential for the fee to rise to £500k. He had been keen to get away from what he called the “bad influences” that were around him south London and welcomed the opportunity of moving to Manchester so he could focus on his football.
The following month, he was named the best player in the MECUP, an Under-15s tournament that City won with victory over Barcelona. The following month, they won the Elite Neon Cup, with Sancho claiming two assists in the final. A couple of months later, City’s U-16s reached the semi-final of the Red Bull Salzburg Next Generation competition, getting knocked out on penalties, and Sancho was named Player of the Tournament.
“What will be said about Jadon Sancho in five years time?” an article in the Evening News from 2015 asked, likening Sancho to Raheem Sterling, who joined Liverpool for an initial £450k from QPR as a 15-year-old, and was then sold to City for £44m.
A month later, just four minutes in to his debut for the U-18s against Newcastle on the left wing, Sancho scored a brace. He was still only 15-years-old. Jason Wilcox, who is now City Academy Director but then was the coach of that team, couldn’t sing Sancho’s praises highly enough. “For a young kid playing his first under-18s football match I thought he was sensational,” he told the Evening News. “I’m really looking forward to working with him because he’s a talented boy who works really hard.”
It wasn’t just at club level where he impressed, but for England too, scoring 12 goals in 16 games at U16 and U17 level.
At the start of the following season, as a 16-year-old, he got a text telling him he would be training with the first team. Sancho was beaming when he reflected on the moment Guardiola came over to him in training, put his arm around him and gave him advice. “He’s seen what I can do and wants me to improve on certain stuff,” Sancho said. “He knows what I’m capable of.”
Sancho became a regular starter in the Manchester City U23 Premier League 2 side while he was still 17. In the summer of 2017 he was among the U-17 squad to play in the Euros where England were beaten in the final on penalties by Spain. Sancho was the third highest goalscorer and won the Golden Player award, having scored or assisted 10 of England’s 15 goals. He was the talk of youth team football after winning this prize that the likes of Wayne Rooney, Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas and Mario Götze had claimed before him.
Later that summer, Guardiola left Sancho out of City’s pre-season tour squad in the USA. United played City in Houston, beating them 2-0 thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford. The likes of Tosin Adarabioyo and Phil Foden got some minutes that day, but Sancho had been left at home, with clubs like Arsenal and Spurs, among others across Europe, being linked with him as a result. Spurs had already tried to include a transfer for Sancho in their deal for Kyle Walker but City declined.
Sancho went to London and didn’t return to Carrington for training having made his mind up that he was leaving the club. City had been hopeful of convincing him to stay but their pursuit of Alexis Sanchez, who eventually snubbed them for United, convinced him he needed to leave if he was going to get first team football.
“Believe me, we tried absolutely everything,” Guardiola said after the transfer had been announced. “Even after we shake their hands and regret that shake of hands, we said, ‘No, we insist’. We made a meeting with the father and the agent and another agent and with him. But if the players says, ‘No, no, no, no,’ what can we do? It’s disappointing because he’s [from the] academy and in the academy we tried to build him, help him and see the potential. He has to know, the family has to know, and especially the agent has to know we had a lot of confidence in him, a lot. Maybe he thought he would get more minutes at Dortmund and I can understand. If the player says no what can we do?’
Sancho has been incredible in his three seasons at Borussia Dortmund and is arguably the most sought after young player in Europe. In 70 starts and 93 appearances in the Bundesliga and Champions League, he’s scored 33 and assisted 37 goals. He has goals against Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to his name. Yet he didn’t make a single appearance for City, in any competition, despite showing ability beyond his years for the youth teams in Manchester and England.
Sancho has played 11 games for England and after making his debut he talked about leaving City, expressing his thanks for them helping him get to where he is now, but showing that he proved the doubters wrong over his decision.
“When I left City, there was a lot of people that doubted me – they were like ‘oh you shouldn’t have left Pep Guardiola’ – but I just thought that it was the best thing for me,” he told SoccerBible last summer. “They helped with a bigger step for me – making my debut. And now I’ve made my debut I’ve expressed myself and now I’m in the position where I am today. I’m just so grateful to everyone who’s been a part of my journey so far. Watford as well, started off life at Watford, so it’s been really good.”
In contrast to Guardiola at City, we have a manager who gives young players a go. Our starting XI had an average age of 24 or younger in 11 league games this season. The only teams to rival us were Bournemouth with seven games, Chelsea with five and Arsenal two. Against Brighton, the average age of our starting team was 23 years and 350 days, which is the youngest of any team in the Premier League this season. It’s no wonder that 20-year-old Sancho has his heart set on a return to Manchester, but for the team in red.
Cannot wait to see him in our shirt.