The Sancho Factor: Why Young English Players are Choosing the Bundesliga

Say the name Jadon Sancho to any football fan and you will rightly hear exclamations of adulation for Borussia Dortmund’s shooting star, none more so than the man who signed the then 17-year-old in 2017 for just £7.5m from Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund’s technical director Michael Zorc: “I haven’t been surprised by his performances, but with how fast he managed to get to this senior level, because before that he only played on youth teams. He played nearly every game for us last autumn, always at a high level, but he could still play in our Under-19 team. That is unbelievable to me.”

In an February interview with the Uk’s Daily Telegraph, Zorc, who is regarded by many as one of the best technical directors in league football, went out of his way to emphasise that there is more to the English game’s success than Jadon Sancho.

Zorc more to the point believes there is a wider trend towards excellence in the English game which the Bundesliga can only benefit from, extolling the successes of the Three Lions since 2017. It is international tournament results that stood out, with the success of England’s U-17s and , both world champions in 2017. “You can recognise it in those results,” he said. “You know the English teams are reaching the finals of U-17 [World Cup], U-19 [European championships] compared to the German ones. It seems to me that they overtook us

He said: “Let’s go back say five to 10 years there was a time that English clubs signed German players and had a team of scouts to do that. There was a lot of discussion here – ‘It’s all about money, it’s too early for them to go from Germany to England’. But in the meantime we have the feeling that, yes, the education and development of youth players in the English academies is quite good, to be honest and we can only gain from English players in the Bundesliga.”

Another brace in Borussia Dortmund’s win over Mainz followed by a goal Sunday against Freiburg and Sancho’s record this season currently reads like a boyhood dream; 12 goals and 14 assists in 29 matches in the Bundesliga and the Champions League this season so far – a Bundesliga record for a 19-year-old. Add to that Sancho’s first senior England caps and it’s fair to say Sancho made a pretty good decision to swap Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund. Sancho is heavily rumoured to be subject to a £100m bid by new Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and UK Press reporting him to be ‘top of United’s transfer list’.

But it’s not just young Englishman Sancho who has made an impression in the Bundesliga over the last three seasons/  Former Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham prospects have made the brave decision to move to the German Bundesliga.

Reiss Nelson TSG Hoffenheim

With Sancho grabbing all the headlines at BVB, 19-year-old Reiss Luke Nelson’s performances on loan at Hoffenheim have gone slightly under the radar.

The 19-year-old, who has been capped at all levels by England from U-14-U21, admits he wasn’t considering a loan move away from Arsenal after breaking into their first team last season, but he has made an electric start to life in Germany scoring an impressive 6 goals in 18 appearances so far, while also having a taste of Champions League football.

According to Bild, Germany’s biggest Tabloid newspaper, Hoffenheim are already keen to make the forward’s loan move permanent, although manager Julian Nagelsmann has urged for patience with the player.

“Reiss has huge potential to develop,” Nagelsmann said last week. “He’s excellent one-on-one with a great drive towards the opposition goal. That’s why we loaned him.

“We must be mindful. Nelson’s scored six goals, including a brace against Nuremberg early in the season, but he’s also had bad games. Like all young players, Reiss needs time to grow healthily. It’s like in music – one song puts bread on the table but only for a few weeks.

“Be careful when evaluating him. Let him grow in peace and don’t get into his head. It’s not easy to keep your feet on the ground at 18.”

With manager Nagelsmann set for a departure to third placed RB Leipzig this summer and Director of football Ralph Hassenhutl having left for struggling Premiership side Southampton, Reiss may prefer a return to the Emirates stadium.

Nelson has undoubtedly made a strong impression on the Bundesliga and with sixth placed Hoffenheim looking well placed for another European place this season the trend of Premiership players going out on loan is not likely to end any time soon.

Chima Okoroji SC Freiburg

Born to an English mother and Nigerian father, Okoroji’s name will not be particularly familiar to fans in Britain given he has spent his entire career in Germany to date.

The 21-year-old started out at Bayern Munich and had a spell at Augsburg but the left-back is currently with Bundesliga minnows SC Freiburg, where he made his Bundesliga debut earlier season. Munich-born Chima qualifies for England through his Liverpool born mother.

Chima is a popular figure at the Black Forest based club who are currently in 13th position in the Bundesliga and is set to figure more highly in the plans of manager Christian Streich, who stated in an interview with the club’s member magazine ‘Heimspiel’ regards the 21-year-old as ‘a very strong and versatile talent who can play in defence on the left and at centre-back effectively’.

Keanan Bennetts Borussia Mönchengladbach

Bennetts left Tottenham to join Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer, citing Jadon Sancho as the example he is trying to follow.

The 19-year-old, who is half German, has so far has already gained 17 appearances, scoring 1 goal playing for the club’s second team in Regionalliga West, although he will be aware Sancho had to be patient before breaking into Dortmund’s first team. Bennetts, capped at U-19 level by England, made his debut in the 3-1 loss to Poland.  He is determined to break into the senior side, and stated in a recent interview with The Sun: “If you live in England, the goal is mostly the Premier League, but I just wanted to become a professional. If such a possibilities arises, you have to take it.”

Gladbach’s sporting director Max Eberl, who also signed Reece Oxford on loan, is a big fan of young English talent. “We back him to make the step up to the Bundesliga,” Eberl said. “Keanan can play a variety of attacking roles.

“We’re delighted he’s chosen to sign for Borussia.” With Gladbach set for a new manager in RB Salzburg’s Marco Rose, Bennetts will be justifiably hoping for a breakthrough at Borussia Park in the new season.

Mandela Egbo Borussia Mönchengladbach

Another prospect at Mönchengladbach, 21 year old Egbo has been described by Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl as “a player with huge potential”.

Born in England to Nigerian parents, Egbo made his Bundesliga debut after signing from Crystal Palace in 2015. Like Bennetts Egbo has been plying his trade in the Regionalliga West where he has been in strong form featuring in most matches this season, Egbo has racked up over 60 appearances to date and the 21-year-old was part of the England squad that won the U17 European championship in 2014.

Like Sancho, Egbo believes the move to the Bundesliga will provide him with the breakthrough, “I’d read that the chances of coming through a club into the senior team were higher here than anywhere else in Europe’s major leagues.” Egbo declared in an interview with the UK’s The Guardian, and his faith looks justified making his Bundesliga debut earlier this season in the 1-0 win over Hannover 96.

Sancho and Nelson are already household names in the Bundesliga but will the Bundesliga prove to be the opportunity of a life-time for Okoroji, Bennetts or Egbo? Sky’s Bundesliga expert Rapha Honigstein underlines Michael Zorc’s admiration and believes the trend is here to stay ‘It’s the Sancho effect – everyone thinks they can get the next Sancho, and I also think from his point of view, many young English player think they can be the next Sancho, doing what Sancho’s done going to the Bundesliga’.

But not all English players have achieved the breakthrough and with the German U-21 team beating their English counter-parts in a 2-1 win in the European Championship qualifiers in Bournemouth earlier this month, the third England loss at this level in a row and Germany winning the U-21 European championship it seems the German game is starting to benefit from the ‘English transfers.’ With Chelsea’s 19 year old Callum Hudson-Odoi rumoured to be the next Bayern target the ‘English transfer trend’ can only go from strength to strength.

With this season’s Bundesliga race looking like the tightest since 2001, when Borussia Dortmund won the league by 1 point over Bayer Leverkusen, the young English players like Sancho couldn’t have picked a better time to be gaining their spurs in the German game.

 

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As a commentator and media presenter, Ben is the founder and president of the Borussia Dortmund Fan Club London, an official BVB 09 fan club in England since 2013. The largest BVB fan club outside of Germany with over 400 members, they meet regularly in central London to watch matches, and have their own football team. A true "home from home" for all BVB fans. You can follow them on Twitter at @borussia09fanslondon.

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