On Thursday afternoon, England manager Gareth Southgate announced his squad for the upcoming UEFA Nations League fixtures against Croatia and Spain. Among the side are maiden call-ups for Leicester City’s James Maddison, Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount (currently on loan at Derby County) and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.
Sancho, who recently signed a new contract with Dortmund up to 2022, has been in stellar form for Die Schwarzgelben this season and Southgate rewarded the youngster by answering calls to bring him into the senior fold. He is the first player born in the 21st century to be called up by England.
The eighteen-year-old currently leads the charts for assists (six), not only in the Bundesliga, but also in all of Europe’s top five leagues. This is remarkable, seeing as Sancho is yet to appear in Lucien Favre’s starting eleven, coming off the bench six times for a total of 124 minutes of action. He also holds a single goal to his name, a wonderfully taken finish in the 7-0 trashing of Nürnberg.
In addition to this, Sancho has made two starts in the Champions League, securing yet another an assist for Jacob Bruun Larsen’s opener against Monaco.
Previously, Sancho has been part of various England youth teams. His record for the Under-17s in particularly outstanding, with 16 goals and nine assists in 19 appearances. He was pivotal in their 2017 European Championship campaign, where Sancho finished with five goals and five assists in a run that saw England reach the final, only to lose to Spain on penalties.
Later that year, Sancho was part of the squad that won the Under-17s’ World Cup. He played in the three group games, notching up three goals and two assists, before disappointingly being recalled by Dortmund and missing the remainder of the tournament.
It’s the first time Southgate will get to work with the former Watford and Manchester City youth product. Whilst Southgate was in charge of England’s Under-21s, Sancho was barely breaking into the Under-16s national side. Speaking in his press conference following the squad announcement, Southgate seems keen to utilise the fresh batch:
“We’ve got a few injuries in the midfield. We think there are some exciting young players that we’ve been tracking, either through their clubs or our junior teams…This is a great opportunity for us to look at them.”
This marks the first time an English footballer playing abroad has made the squad since Ashley Cole (AS Roma) in 2014. It’s the Bundesliga’s first representative for the Three Lions in over a decade, the last being Bayern’s Owen Hargreaves in 2006.
However, not all seem excited for Sancho’s potential senior debut next week, with Raphael Honigstein believing the chance has come too early:
“I would not take him, personally…I’d try to turn down the hype a little bit and not make him the next saviour or the next Gazza [Paul Gascoigne] and just let him get on with it a little bit more…Give him time, he’s only a teenager, he’s still growing. I think he can do without those extra games.”
Presuming Southgate will maintain his preferred 5-3-2 formation, the BVB starlet will more than likely be deputising for Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. However, as we’ve seen so far in the Bundesliga this season, Sancho is fine with and perfectly capable of fulfilling the role of ‘super-sub’ (Or, as my colleague Abel reliably informed me, ‘Der Joker’). He of course wants more, which is understandable.
Southgate has been known to make some unorthodox decisions during his tenure, such as shifting Kyle Walker from his natural position on the right to centre back. Walker’s new role in the side has been an unheralded success, so who knows where Sancho may pop up on the field!
It’s an exciting time for England fans. The team is looking to build upon the semi-final run in Russia that sent the nation into frenzy. Southgate’s side is a young and promising team. Sancho fits the bill perfectly.
England will play Croatia in Rijeka next Friday in their second UEFA Nations League match. Kick off is 7:45pm BST.
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