Jadon Sancho: following in the footsteps of Kevin Keegan


When Kevin Keegan arrived in Hamburg in 1977, a fanfare followed the England captain – already a global footballing icon – to one of Germany's and indeed Europe's most ambitious clubs. Jadon Sancho, on the other hand, was heralded by Borussia Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc as "one of Europe's brightest young talents" who could "become a real addition – in the medium term" when he joined the Westphalian club 40 years later.

The contrast between the two was stark, yet both now belong in the same breath referring to the best English players ever to have plied their trade in the Bundesliga, and the latter is further enhancing his reputation as a worthy successor to German football's first English superstar.

HSV fought off stiff competition to sign Liverpool legend Keegan after he had won three English First Division titles, the FA Cup, two UEFA Cups and, ultimately, the European Cup in six seasons on Merseyside. The northern Germany side were gambling on him bringing similar success to the shores of the North Sea, but despite having one of the most impressive CVs in the game, his first few months in the Bundesliga were hardly headline material.

Kevin Keegan swapped Liverpool for Hamburg, and soon became a HSV legend. - gettyimages

A 7-1 aggregate defeat to his former club in the UEFA Super Cup formed the low point of a trialling first six months, but the tide eventually turned with Keegan turning inspirational for Die Rothosen during the second half of a campaign which may have ended in a disappointing 10th-place finish on a collective level, but concluded with a Ballon D'Or for Keegan, duly confirming the Yorkshireman as the world's best footballer.

"I never ever once felt 'I don’t want to continue here'," Keegan told bundesliga.com. "I just kept thinking it's a challenge. I was captain of England, my country, so it wasn't going to be something that I was going to give up on."

Once finally settled in his new surroundings, and a key figure in the dressing room, Keegan delivered on all the expectations in his second full season on the Elbe.

"What those players at Hamburg showed is what can be achieved if everyone rows the boat the same way," he said. "When you get something together and everyone believes in it, and they know that the direction from the top is right, there's no knowing what you can achieve."

Kevin Keegan helped Hamburg win their first ever Bundesliga title in three years with the northern Germany club. - imago/Baering

Keegan duly helped HSV lift their fourth German league title, their first in the Bundesliga era, contributing 11 goals in the final 12 games of the season, and defending his throne as the world's number one footballer with a second successive Ballon D'Or.

His third and last term in Hamburg ended in the bitterest of disappointments, however, with a 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest in the European Cup final coming just four days after HSV had relinquished the Bundesliga summit to Bayern Munich following a 2-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. A 4-0 final-day win over Schalke did not suffice to earn Keegan and Hamburg a second straight Bundesliga title, with two trophies going up in smoke within a week.

Keegan subsequently returned to England, joining Southampton and taking back with him the fondest of memories of his time in Germany. "I enjoyed playing in the Bundesliga, the football," he said. "I learned a lot. Without doubt they were my three best years of playing football."

Fast-forward four decades and, now like then, one of the Bundesliga's biggest draws is an Englishman.

Watch: Jadon Sancho's best moments

Sancho may not have had Keegan's curriculum when he landed in North Rhine-Westphalia in the summer of 2017, a 17-year-old initially earmarked for experience in Dortmund's reserves before being fed into the first team.

His first full training camp with the club during the 2017/18 winter break (his arrival in late August meant he missed all of Dortmund's summer preparations) accelerated his promotion to the first team, though, and – a ligament injury aside – he became a regular starter in the second half of his first year in Germany.

Like Keegan, since Sancho has settled in his new surroundings, there has been no stopping him.

One goal and six assists in the first seven games of the 2018/19 season saw Sancho rewarded with his first senior caps for England. He returned from international duty with a swagger in his step, scoring three in his next two Bundesliga outings. With 12 goals and 12 assists, Sancho ended his first full season in German football with the first parallels to Keegan already being drawn, and having earned a place on the FUT 19 Bundesliga Team of the Season.

Watch: Jadon Sancho speaks exclusively to bundesliga.com about his explosion in Germany

Before the 2019/20 season was interrupted in March, Sancho had supplied 14 goals and 15 assists in 23 appearances, having become the first player across Europe's top five leagues to reach double figures on both accounts.

His spellbinding dribbling skills, dizzying bursts of pace and conjuring ability have more than a Keegan-esque resemblance, and as the league resumes this weekend, with Dortmund facing local rivals Schalke in the Revierderby on Saturday (kick-off 3:30pm CEST/2:30pm BST/9:30am EST), Sancho knows how important a winning return would be to boost his hopes of emulating Keegan even further by winning the Bundesliga title.

"Every game in the Bundesliga is a must-win game," he told bundesliga.com. "Because last season’s results, as you can see, we drew to some teams while we were winning, and we should've won those games. If we had got those points, maybe we would've been champions. So every game is vital."

Jadon Sancho and Borussia Dortmund will be aiming to return to action with a win when they host Schalke. - imago

Dortmund can reduce a four-point deficit on league leaders Bayern with a win at Signal Iduna Park and head coach Lucien Favre will be looking no further than Sancho to provide the goals and assists required to beat the Royal Blues, just like Branko Zebec relied so heavily on Keegan in the late seventies.

Where Zebec had the world's best player to pick, Favre has a man who, thanks to his Bundesliga education, is showing signs of emulating Keegan also in that regard.

Forty years on from 'Mighty Mouse', as Keegan was most affectionately known in northern Germany, the Bundesliga has another English superhero to worship as Fußball makes a welcome return to our screens this weekend.