Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho became the first player born this millennium to represent England when he featured in the Three Lions' UEFA Nations League match in Croatia. But what will the Dortmund prodigy bring to the team?

England boss Gareth Southgate joked his assistant, Steve Holland, had been to the Signal Iduna Park in disguise to see Sancho for himself, but the precocious 18-year-old is largely a mystery to football fans and opponents.

Let unravel the riddle for you.

A big personality

"These are players that if you ask Pep [Guardiola] today he will tell you they can and will be first-team players at Manchester City," the English Premier League champions' chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak told The Guardian in May 2017. There were three players in question — Phil Foden, Brahim Diaz and, naturally, Sancho.

It did not take the razor-sharp perceptive eye of the former Bayern Munich coach to spot Sancho's talent — you don't play for City, Dortmund and potentially England without that immediately standing out from a young age — but the London-born youngster's attitude has also shone through from the off.

Jadon Sancho made his Bundesliga debut against Eintracht Frankfurt in October 2017. © imago

Leaving the comfort zone of his home in the British capital for north-west England is one thing, but then deciding to reject the offer of a professional contract from one of the world's wealthiest teams and decide Dortmund - and a new language - is your destination of choice takes courage. Lots of it. Especially given Sancho was just 17 when he made that call, and coming at a time when the only time English players — junior or senior — considered leaving the confines of their country was for a sun-drenched summer break.

Taking the No.7 shirt previously worn by Ousmane Dembele was another mark of Sancho's "tremendous belief in himself" — as Southgate described it — while Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc congratulated his club on having captured "one of the hottest prospects in European football."

Zorc was right about that, but wrong about one thing: timing. "We're convinced that we'll be able to help this very young player to further develop his game and to make him into a valuable addition to our team in the medium-term," the BVB icon had added.

Medium-term?!? Progress has been made, but even on the accelerated learning curve of football, the steepness of Sancho's linear progression from hot prospect and Bundesliga debutant to fringe first-teamer and now established top-flight performer is so Himalayan it is hardly surprising it takes the breath away.

Watch: Jadon Sancho made history with his first Bundesliga goal last season

If you can get on the good side of the Yellow Wall by turning Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League games for your club at just 18, you have those precious footballing commodities of talent and character that mean you can also potentially do it on a rainy October night in Rijeka or Seville (if it ever rains anywhere but on the plain in Spain).

Game intelligence

Peter Stoger was not convinced. "Always making mistakes and not enough end-product," was the Austrian's succinct and damning appraisal of Sancho last season. Lucien Favre, whose faith in youth dates back to his successful FC Zürich reign, has tweaked his young charge to put him on the right track.

"Sometimes the coach says: 'Let the ball go earlier," explained Sancho, while Favre also admits, "I like it when they take a risk with the ball at their feet." The combination of the pupil heeding the master's words and bolstered by his mentor's faith in him has been explosively successful. When you have provided more assists than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, you must be doing something right.

Sancho's stats this season are nothing short of sensational for an experienced performer, never mind a youngster who is — in theory — still learning his trade. His six assists have come from just 10 appearances. Highlight the fact there has just been four starts among those games, and the jaw drops lower still.

"When our opponents ease off a little and Jadon comes into the game, he's a weapon for us every single time," Dortmund captain Marco Reus said after the 7-0 thrashing of Nuremberg, in which Sancho scored one and set up another for Julian Weigl in a devastating Matchday 5 cameo. "We're happy to have him up our sleeve and he always gives us a boost."

Favre's intelligent, protective use of Sancho this season has been matched by the cleverness his English trump card has demonstrated in his play, showing a marked progression on last season, notably in delivering the end-product Herr Stöger was lacking.

While his pass completion is up from 84 percent to nearly 86 — an impressive rise in itself when you consider he operates in the suffocating climate of the final third — his ratio of teeing up one shot every 11 minutes, rather than one every 31 last season, is a dramatic improvement. According to Favre, there are "still some details to be corrected." Hear that? It's the sound of Dortmund fans rubbing their hands with glee.

Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre (l.) has given Jadon Sancho (r.) the platform to shine. © imago

A physical specimen

This time last year, Sancho was representing England at the U17 FIFA World Cup in India before being recalled by Dortmund. He may not have the bull-in-a-china-shop physique that Wayne Rooney sported at an even younger age, but Sancho's 5'11" frame contains a cast-iron determination that ensures he is no pushover.

Though he almost still has the age of a boy — he only turned 18 in March — make no mistake, he is solid enough to take the blows on the pitch like a man. Just ask Southgate, who said "he’s physically ready" when explaining why he had decided to call on Sancho now.

His motor has undergone an upgrade too, clocking 8.5 miles per game compared to 6.8 last term, while Favre's urging for him to be more at the heart of play has seen his sprints rise from 36 to a lung-bursting 54 per game.

Jadon Sancho is the youngest Englishman to play in the UEFA Champions League for a non-British club. © gettyimages / ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

A one-off

"Many players have enormous potential, but the nuts and bolts are that we have a plan," explained Reus when asked to decrypt Favre's strategy. "The guys know exactly what they have to do defensively, and in attack, we all have liberties. The coach always tells us that." 

Ask City captain Vincent Kompany and Dortmund's former skipper, Marcel Schmelzer, and they may say Sancho has liberties and takes them too. "I have nutmegged the Dortmund and Manchester City captains in training," said Sancho with a grin. "Both of them said I shouldn't do it again."

As dismayed as they might have been by their young teammate's brashness and bravado, the experienced duo will — like Reus — admit they have been in the presence of a rare talent, one that can express itself within the framework of what Favre wants from his players, and could do the same for his country.

"Provided he doesn't become restricted, he could be our Neymar-type player – in terms of being unpredictable, playing on that left-hand side," said Dan Micciche, who coached Sancho at U15 and U16 level for England.

"Of course we have certain solutions that we also work on in training, but in games you decide instinctively,"  added Reus after seeing Sancho and Jacob Bruun Larsen — aged a relatively senior 20 — bring Bayer Leverkusen to their knees on Matchday 6. "If you have street footballers like Jadon and Jacob then it's really fun."

A viable alternative

"I didn't know where he was playing because he would pick the ball up from the goalkeeper and dribble past four or five players," said former City, Newcastle United, Liverpool and Wales forward Craig Bellamy after seeing Sancho play for City's youth teams. "He was that good."

Watch: Jadon Sancho was the catalyst for a stunning comeback win at Leverkusen

Sancho's place in the Dortmund is more defined now — an out-and-out defender, he is not — but he has not lost the ability to be effective across the pitch, featuring on either flank and even through the middle in Favre's preferred 4-2-3-1.

Southgate's favours lie with a 3-5-2 formation, which he used to such positive effect in reaching the FIFA World Cup semi-finals. With the width provided by full-backs such as Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier, Sancho is unlikely to be given a game in that position.

But for one of the creative roles behind Harry Kane, Sancho is a genuine challenger. Current occupants Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard will surely be watching their new teammate's progress in training with the national team. And when he's on the ball, keeping their legs firmly shut.

Ian Holyman

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