Jadon Sancho has named himself alongside Neymar, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Robinho in his dream five-a-side team. bundesliga.com explains why the Borussia Dortmund winger would be at home with the Brazilians…
“Provided he doesn’t become restricted he could be our Neymar-type player - in terms of being unpredictable, playing on that left-hand side," Dan Micciche, Sancho’s former England youth coach, told The Guardian in September 2018.
"He’s flamboyant, entertaining to watch. But like Neymar he’s effective with it. In most games he’ll create something – it’s not a beauty contest. He’s not on the pitch flicking it over someone’s head for the sake of it."
The 20-year-old has hit double figures for goals and assists in each of his first two full campaigns of Bundesliga football, and was the first to do so in 2019/20.
Of all players under the age of 26 operating in Europe’s top five leagues, Sancho is the most prolific taker and maker of chances with 30 goals and 38 assists in 78 Bundesliga outings. That’s one or the other every 1.14 games.
When Neymar wrapped up his second season on European soil with Barcelona, he had tallied 31 goals and 19 assists in 59 appearances - one every 1.18 matches. He was three years older than Sancho is now.
Watch: All of Jadon Sancho's Bundesliga goals and assists in 2019/20
Sancho’s youth coach at boyhood club Watford, Dave Godley, saw it coming.
“Jadon knows how to twist and turn now and he doesn’t really do crazy skills, he does really unorthodox shoulder drops, and with that you think you know where he’s going and then he’ll just do a little double touch and he just kills you,” he recalled in an interview with Goal.
“My first impression was that he was technically better than the other kids, but he didn’t have experience of playing local football, he didn’t play for a team, as he used to just play football in the street, unorganised football.
“He’s obviously got natural ability and confidence but he did practise a lot, he was always with the ball. To me it seemed like he was just constantly playing football, and that’s why he’s so technically good.”
Much in the same way the Neymars of this world honed their craft on the beaches or in the favelas of Brazil, Sancho learned his trade on the streets of south London before joining Watford at the age of seven.
“Football is everything here, growing up it’s all I ever wanted to do," he said in summer 2020, after becoming the youngest Nike athlete to ever receive a signature boot collection. “I remember linking up after school to play ball around the estate or in the cages, trying to nutmeg the next man."
Sancho recalls taking his lead from a true Brazilian great. Ronaldinho is his name; elasticos, rabonas, step-overs and no-look passes were his game.
“I used to watch him on YouTube," he said of the 2005 Ballon d’Or winner, and first footballer to collaborate with Nike on a signature line of apparel.
“When Ronaldinho was doing his skills, no one said he was taking the [mick]. Football’s about expressing yourself. Remember he’s coming from street football as well. He’s just bringing it into the modern game. People just don’t expect these kind of things. You’ve got to repost people like that, who try new things. Sometimes it might not work, but it’s all about taking risks. If you don’t shoot, you don’t score."
Ronaldinho’s magic touch was worth a total of 70 goals and 162 assists in 543 appearances at club level. In his pomp, he had a direct hand in 120 goals in 145 La Liga outings for Barcelona - but he was nowhere near as fast out of the traps as Sancho. In 55 matches across his first two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, 'R10' returned 17 goals and 15 assists - or one every 1.71 games.
Robinho - once hailed as "the next Pele" by the legendary striker himself - scored 14 and assisted 11 in 69 games over the course of his first pair of campaigns at Real Madrid (one every 2.76 matches). Perhaps the most similar to Sancho in terms of playing style, he was brilliant on his day, but not consistently brilliant like the Dortmund No.7.
Watch: Sancho under the tactical microscope
The only member of the Sancho five ahead of the England star’s curve at a similar career juncture was Ronaldo. 'O Fenômeno' scored 54 of his 326 career goals at club level in his first one-and-a-half seasons at PSV Eindhoven, before rattling off a career-best 34 strikes and nine assists in 37 league matches for Barcelona between the ages of 20 and 21.
Yet Ronaldo was a strong-as-an-ox, sly-as-a-fox striker - surely the finest No.9 of the modern era not named Robert Lewandowski. Sancho is a lean and lithe winger, already posting numbers any top-tier forward would be proud of, despite being six or so years off a wide player’s perceived peak.
“You can see when he scores goals and dribbles past players it looks so easy,” commented BVB teammate Erling Haaland in June. "I played against him when I was 16 or 17 years old and he was the exact same - dribbling past players.
“When I played against him then he was the best player I played against, and now that I get to play with him it's fantastic. He has a very bright future.”
So next time you see a yellow shirt humiliate a ruck of opposition defenders, there's every chance it'll be a Dortmund player - not a Brazil international - working his magic. Sancho, not Neymar.