If Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the greatest of their generation, and Kylian Mbappe next in line, when should Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho enter the conversation? Spoiler alert: there’s more than a strong suggestion he already has…
Sancho made his Bundesliga debut aged 17, six months and 26 days. Since that milestone cameo from the Dortmund bench in an October 2017 match with Eintracht Frankfurt, he has added a further 64 German top-flight appearances to his resume. In that time, the 19-year-old has scored or assisted 45 league goals at an average of one every 1.42 games.
With his most recent strike in the 5-0 rout of Union Berlin, Sancho became the first teenager in Bundesliga history to reach 25 goals. He doesn’t turn 20 until 25 March, while almost half of that record tally has fallen in the first 21 matches of 2019/20.
The 11-time England international struck 12 times across the entire 2018/19 season - his breakout and first full top-flight campaign - but goals are only half of the story for one of football’s brightest innovators.
Sancho provided four assists during the latter part of 2017/18, registered a league-high 14 last term, and is already on a level-best 12 for the current campaign.
No player under the age of 26 operating in Europe’s top five leagues has produced more at this juncture. No player has hit double figures for goals and assists. No one has scored one and made another in as many games: the Dortmund No.7 has done so nine times this season alone. Compare that to Messi and Ronaldo’s combined goal-and-assist match count of two.
That’s not to say Sancho has reached their level yet. GOATs in their own right, Messi and Ronaldo have shared over 1000 goals, 400 assists, 40 team trophies and 11 Ballon d’Ors - and continue to uphold the gold standard into their mid-30s.
Objectively, they are on another level - but not even two of the most gifted and enduringly top-level footballers known to man were performing with such razor-sharp precision at Sancho’s age.
Watch: All of Sancho's goals and assists in the first half of 2019/20
Messi made 50 La Liga appearances for Barcelona during his first three years on the professional circuit, scoring 21 and assisting four.
Arriving at the debutant’s ball two years earlier but five months older than the Argentine, Ronaldo totalled 12 goals and nine assists in his first 76 league outings, split between Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United of the English Premier League.
Numbers crunched, that means Messi averaged a goal or assist every two games to Ronaldo’s 3.48.
Sancho trumps both (1.42), while only Kylian Mbappe outperformed the lot as a teen, laying on almost half as many (51) as he has scored (109) in 172 competitive club appearances for Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain before turning 20 in late December 2019.
France’s top division is nevertheless fifth in the UEFA co-efficient rankings, while PSG have marched almost unopposed to the Ligue 1 title in Mbappe’s first two seasons at the club.
Sancho is also ahead of Messi and Ronaldo - but behind Mbappe - on the European stage. The former Manchester City youth player has three goals and as many assists to show for his first 13 UEFA Champions League outings. Messi totalled two and two in 11, while Ronaldo was 20 before he opened his account, adding to a pair of teenaged assists.
Mbappe has hit 19 goals and 12 assists in 30 appearances in the competition, albeit as the focal point of the PSG attack. Messi played withdrawn on the left in his early days; Sancho - like a young Ronaldo - is a right winger.
The positional angle makes Sancho’s return all the more remarkable. Whereas all but one of the top 10 assist providers in Europe’s top five leagues this season are categorised as either midfielders or wingers - with Bayern Munich second striker Thomas Müller the exception to the rule - Sancho is the only nominal wideman among the leading 20 goalscorers.
As for the five players with a stronger combined hand - Ciro Immobile (Lazio, 25 goals/ six assists), Erling Haaland (Red Bull Salzburg/ Dortmund, 23 goals/ seven assists), Timo Werner (RB Leipzig, 20 goals, six assists), Odsonne Edouard (Celtic, 17 goals/ nine assists) and Robert Lewandowski (Bayern, 22 goals/ three assists) - they’re all centre-forwards.
All that time spent wiling away on YouTube when he should have been knee-deep in algebraic fractions has paid off.
"I remember one of his teachers saying: 'Jadon, can you get off YouTube and carry on with your work,'" Sancho’s former U15s coach at Watford, Louis Lancaster, told BBC Sport. "I look over at his computer and he's got Ronaldinho on the screen. Down goes the browser. She turns around, I look back - Ronaldinho's back on the screen."
Watch: Jadon Sancho celebrated his 25th Bundesliga goal by paying tribute to the late Kobe Bryant
Five years on, it’s fair to assume school children the world over - and a good number of teachers, if only they’d own up to it - have Sancho compilations bookmarked on their smartphones and tablets.
With every goal or assist, another aspiring young footballer probably gets a stern ticking off; after-school detentions must be at an all-time high. If only implementing a weekly Sancho Studies session into the curriculum was as easy as the English whizz has made emulating Ronaldinho, Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappe look.
Sancho is ahead of the curve, and could yet come out as best in class.
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