It was an auspicious full Borussia Dortmund debut for Jadon Sancho against Wolfsburg on Matchday 18, despite the eventual goalless draw. The first-ever Englishman to start in the Bundesliga for the six-time champions, Sancho is reaping immediate rewards of what was construed as a risky decision to leave England for Germany last summer.
Indeed, in a promising first full outing in black and yellow, Sancho showed just why English football fans were so disappointed to see him leave, catching the eye not only because he rattled the post in the 53rd minute, but also because of his defensive diligence and constantly providing an out-ball for his side. Stationed wide on the left of a front three, the 17-year-old touched the ball 60 times in total and put in 39 sprints, the latter figure more than any other BVB player.
Raw data aside, Sancho's display also prompted praise from his teammates – Julian Weigl described it as "very good," while Roman Bürki said that BVB's youngsters are "going to keep growing" – and his coach, Peter Stöger, who said he saw "a good base".
Watch: Highlights of Sancho's impressive performance vs. Wolfsburg!
Such a performance, and the fact that Sancho got the nod ahead of Andre Schürrle, a 2014 FIFA World Cup winner and established Germany international, underline the progress the Englishman has made since joining the Bundesliga giants last summer.
A world and European champion at U-17 level in 2017, Sancho boasts international honours of his own, but it was – as he hinted in an interview with bundesliga.com following his full debut – a desire for senior football that prompted the move to BVB.
"I'm in a happy place at the moment," he said. "I'm just thankful again that the manager has faith in me, and all his team. That's a big thing for me because I need to improve as a player, and [the way] to do that is to play games like this."
Sancho had hinted at that hunger previously, claiming in an interview in December with highsnobiety that his focus was "on becoming a starter at Dortmund".
That Sancho's desire to play regular first-team football is being fulfilled in Germany - more senior appearances will no doubt follow if yesterday's promising display is anything to go by - is in large part down to the teenager's hard work, most recently at Dortmund's winter training camp in Marbella, where he caught the eye of Stöger – and not for the first time.
"Jadon is a very, very talented lad, a real livewire," said the 51-year-old, who indicated that he wanted to bring Sancho to his former club, Cologne, when speaking prior to the Dortmund's meeting with Wolfsburg.
"Jadon took part in a proper training camp. It was a good step for him. He has real quality, even though he isn't quite the finished article in front of goal."
Stöger is the second BVB head coach Sancho has impressed since that deadline-day move to North Rhine-Westphalia. Peter Bosz, who was relieved of his BVB duties in December, described the teenager as a "big talent" and took a shine to the London-born winger, handing him his first Bundesliga minutes as an 84th-minute substitute against Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 9 and then throwing him on for the last 10 minutes of Der Klassiker against Bayern Munich two weeks later.
Watch: Hear what Sancho made of his full Dortmund debut!
On this occasion, the paying Dortmund public had the full 90 minutes to appreciate Sancho's gifts on Matchday 18 against the Wolves and appreciate they did; Sancho's direct dribbling and fearless running added a dimension otherwise lacking in the absence of USA youngster Christian Pulisic.
If Sancho's risk-taking on the field impressed those in attendance at the Signal Iduna Park, it is perhaps his risk-taking off the pitch that should be most commended on the long road to the 17-year-old stepping out as a starter in one of Germany's football temples.
While Sancho's hard work has played a key role, recognising that Germany offered better conditions for regular senior football was another important milestone on that road to featuring in front of the Yellow Wall.
Leaving Manchester City, where Sancho had plied his trade since departing Watford in 2015, is not the obvious decision at present: the club are flying in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League, and retain the chance of doing an unprecedented quadruple.
Pep Guardiola – formerly of Bayern Munich – is moreover renowned as a coach who gives youth an opportunity. In the hunt for first-team football, however, Sancho, was prepared to take the risk of moving to a new country and embracing a new football culture, opting for the less-trodden path to Dortmund.
Admittedly, he is not the first English youngster in recent years to grow frustrated at the lack of senior opportunities amid the bright lights of the Premier League and turn instead to the Bundesliga: Mandela Egbo (Borussia Mönchengladbach) and Kaylen Hinds (Wolfsburg) have both made the move in recent years, while Ryan Kent (Freiburg), Reece Oxford (Gladbach) and Oliver Burke (RB Leipzig; Scottish, but brought through an English academy system at Nottingham Forest), have since departed.
Increasingly, German clubs are able to capitalise on English youngsters' frustrations at the short-term culture of their domestic league, with the Bundesliga long a playground for young players, as Sancho is only the latest to prove; indeed, the league's unofficial motto could probably read 'if you're good enough, you're old enough'.
As if to underline the point, starting alongside Sancho yesterday was Alexander Isak (18), while Josip Brekalo (19) lined up for Wolfsburg. That was in part because injury had deprived Dortmund of the services of Pulisic (19), one of the world's most lavishly talented under-20s. It is noteworthy, though, that on a weekend in which nine teenagers were starters in Germany, only one began a game in the Premier League.
Another aspect of the equation that makes the German top flight so conducive to bringing through young players is young coaches. In a revealing comment to The Set Pieces last season, then-BVB boss Thomas Tuchel said that, with the coaches who brought through youngsters in the youth system now being handed their chance to work with senior sides, they are in turn promoting the youngsters who they nurtured in academies, knowing they can trust them and that they are capable of implementing the desired style of play.
With six Bundesliga coaches still in their 30s (and, in Julian Nagelsmann's case, only just!), the promotion of youth is a trend that looks set to continue.
Fresh from his first BVB start, Sancho is, like his continental cousins (ever more French youngsters are also trying their luck in the Bundesliga playground), one of the beneficiaries of the Bundesliga's youth-oriented approach: indeed, given that conditions are geared towards young players succeeding, one has to ask now why this was ever framed as a risky move for Sancho, but rather why it was not seen as anything but a wonderful opportunity for the crown jewel in England's youth setup to further his development.
In fact, the real question that needs to be asked is: having seen Sancho's initial success, how many more young Englishmen are already considering following suit?