While the majority of young footballers leave their homeland at a young age to join a youth academy in some foreign country, for many years English born players have been the exception to this long-established footballing tradition.
Most English players join the youth team of a club in the English Football League pyramid at a young age, in the hope that one day they will be a first team regular. However, since the creation of the Premier League and its expansion as a global entity, more and more youth academies are recruiting more youngsters from outside the British Isles.
This, coupled with the popularity in buying players from the top European leagues, has slowly eroded the chance of young English players getting the opportunity to play first team football at a high level.
Over the past decade many young English players have failed to even get a sniff of the first team, playing second fiddle to the more experienced foreign player in their position.
So what can they do? Sit on the bench for a year or so, go on loan to a lower league club and then eventually get released once their contract is up and move down a division or two and maybe carve out a career in the Championship for themselves.
For Jadon Sancho that could have very well been his future, instead he took a gamble and moved to Germany, and is now bucking the trend having kick-started his own career and inspiring others to do the same.
Sancho bucks the trend
From a young age Sancho was being earmarked for the top, born to parents from Trinidad and Tobago, he was raised in Kennington, South London, at the age of seven Sancho joined the Watford youth academy.
After impressing at an underage level, Sancho was being scouted by some of the top clubs in England. In March 2015 at the age of 14, Sancho moved to Manchester City for an initial fee of £66,000 under the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), a sum that had the potential to rise to £500,000 in a few years time.
Sancho continued his development at Man City and routinely impressed in the youth leagues and was one of the top performers at the City academy. In May 2017, Man City chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, announced that he would be fast-tracked into the senior squad, it seemed like Sancho’s career was just about to take off.
However, two months later in July 2017 was omitted from Man City’s pre-season tour squad due to a dispute over assurances of playing time in his new contract. When these assurances could not be given, Sancho decided a move away from City was his best option.
With both Arsenal and Spurs apparently interested, it was expected that Sancho would return to London in time for the start of the season. However, Arsenal and Spurs were priced out of the transfer by Man City and when Borussia Dortmund entered the picture; City had no problem selling to a foreign club rather than one of their domestic rivals.
So at the age of 17, Jadon Sancho made the move to western Germany to try and finally kick-start his career.
Life at Dortmund began slowly. After being included in the first team squad it took until late October for Sancho to make his first appearance for the first team. It wouldn’t be until January that Sancho would make his first start in the Bundesliga for Dortmund; all in all he would make 20 appearances in all competitions in his debut season.
While his debut season was rough at times, since the beginning of the 18/19 season Sancho has been on fire, playing in every league match as Dortmund top the table after nine games. The reason for Dortmund’s good run of form has been down to the improvement Sancho has made in his game over the last few months.
So far in the league this season Sancho has scored four goals and assisted another six, with his vision and finishing particularly impressing fans and pundits alike. This good run of form has seen Sancho called up for the England senior squad for the first time, Sancho would go on to make his debut against Croatia in October.
Since Sancho made the jump to Germany, it has now given other players the appetite to try out developing abroad, and the first big name player to try out this new form of development is Jadon Sancho’s best friend, Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson.
In many ways Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho’s careers have been quite similar – both signed to big clubs at a young age, expected to be the next big thing and ultimately finding frustration in the lack of game time at their big club.
Since the summer of 2017 Reiss Nelson has been tipped for big things, and it was expected under Arsene Wenger he would develop into a world class player, such is Wenger’s reputation with developing youngsters.
However, Nelson wanted to play week in week out, but Wenger was more inclined to take the slower approach and slowly guide him into first team action.
While he was exciting fans with his performances in Europa League games, his lack of consistent first team action was beginning to frustrate the young Nelson.
This lack of game time caused him to stall on signing a new contract, once Wenger left it would be up to the new manager to tie Nelson down to a long-term contract.
Thankfully for Arsenal fans, Unai Emery could see the potential in Nelson and made it a priority to sign the Londoner up to a long-term contract.
On the day the European transfer window closed it was announced that Nelson had signed a new long-term contract at Arsenal and would immediately join Hoffenheim on a season long loan deal.
Since arriving in southern Germany, Nelson has flourished, playing in five matches for Hoffenheim, Nelson has scored four goals and assisted another, also scoring ten minutes after making his debut.
Nelson’s good form has seen him become a crucial focal point of the Hoffenheim attack and has seen him take on more responsibility as the season has progressed.
Away from the limelight
As mentioned previously, it use to be that a promising young player would join a club in the Football League on loan and learn their trade at a lower level, away from the spotlight that the Premier League brings.
Now that Sancho and Nelson have broken with tradition and are developing in one of Europe’s top leagues, this could spell the end for players dropping down divisions in order to gain first team experience.
For the first few weeks of the season, both Sancho and Nelson were going about their business quietly with not much fanfare from the English press.
However, in the last few weeks this has changed, now more and more English newspapers are writing stories about Sancho and Nelson’s exploits and how they are the next big things in English football.
The fact that Sancho and Nelson are playing in a foreign country could make the press uninterested in them in a few weeks time, this would be a good thing, as it would allow both players to continue their development away from prying eyes and without the weight of being called the next saviour of English football.
What the future holds
So what’s next for Sancho and Nelson? Well right now, the sky is truly the limit.
For Nelson, he will return to Arsenal in time for next season, as a much more rounded player who will be able to contribute much more to the team. While for Jadon Sancho the future is a little less clear.
In the past few days there have been reports that Sancho will join Manchester United in January, however, it is unlikely that Dortmund will want to part with their new star so soon, but nevertheless it is expected that he will one day make a return to England.
Whatever, Sancho decides to do next it will be the best move for him; he has already broken with tradition once, so don’t be surprised if he stays in Germany for the immediate future.
In breaking with tradition, Sancho has influenced other promising youngsters, such as his best friend Nelson, to try and make a name for themselves aboard, all the while developing his talent into becoming a much more rounded footballer, and it is great to see a youngster who is not afraid to take these risks in order to get the most out of their talent.