It only took them a year or so to pay up…
Well, I am sure you all saw the news. After a year of relentless pursuit and countless low-ball offers, Manchester United’s unrelenting desire to get their man finally paid off. Jadon Sancho is a Red Devil, and Fabrizio Romano can finally go about his life without United fans bombarding his Twitter mentions asking about this deal.
The Englishman returns to Manchester, but this time on the red side of the city, for an initial £72.6 million (€85 million) fee, likely with add-ons thrown in. He will sign a five year deal with the club, keeping him under contract until 2026, though the exact wage number has not been disclosed.
It is the most expensive transfer made by United since signing Harry Maguire for around £78 million from Leicester City in the summer of 2019. It also makes Sancho one of the 20 most expensive players in the world based on transfer fee. Interestingly enough, it is the fourth time in six years that United have eclipsed £70 million in a transfer fee for a single player, adding this on top of Maguire’s aforementioned move as well as their £76 million purchase of Romelu Lukaku from Everton and their (now including add ons) £94.5 million purchase of Paul Pogba from Juventus. Those four £70 million+ moves are more than the rest of the “Big Six” teams (and likely more than the rest of the league) in that same time period. For context, the rest of the “Big Six” teams combined have exceeded £70 million on a single player four times in the same time period (Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool, Nicolas Pépé to Arsenal, Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea, and Kai Havertz to Chelsea). Not bad for the money-tight Glazers, huh?
I am joking, United fans.
But this is a big deal. This is a massive signing for United. While I have been critical in the past in blogs and on podcasts of United’s desire to make the big splash, Hollywood-esque signings instead of effectively and cost-efficiently using their money and scouting to fill needs, this move does accomplish both desires. Jadon Sancho is a massive name in the football world, especially among English fans, and this fills the “big name” desires that it seems the Glazer Family and United hierarchy have while also effectively filling a massive need in the United team.
United want to be a deadly and devastating attacking team, and for the most part, they have the personnel needed to terrify defenses in several positions. Marcus Rashford has blossomed from a promising talent to a Premier League star, Bruno Fernandes’ and Paul Pogba’s qualities are well-known at this point, and United have stumbled across a perfect fit at striker in Edinson Cavani. The only real issue (aside from midfield balance, I have not forgotten) is the right wing, where United have tried desperately to fill that position by committee. Anthony Martial enjoyed an outstanding season playing as the number nine in 2019-2020, but he has been, to put it politely, less effective since then, playing as both a striker and a winger in 2020-2021. Mason Greenwood has shown promise and put in some strong performances on the right side, but we would be kidding ourselves if we thought Greenwood’s future was as a right winger and not a striker. Daniel James is, well, he tries hard, but he is just not good enough to be a main contributor for Manchester United.
In Sancho, United now have a world-class winger in that position, someone that can thrive on the right while being flexible enough to play across the front line. A front four of Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford, and Cavani might be among the best in the Premier League next season, and it certainly could rival Liverpool for the best attack in the league. He is a player who is immensely talented and, in good news for United’s marketing team, insanely marketable, but above all else, he provides United with two crucial things that they have longed for: creativity and options.
United have longed for an additional player in attack that can make things happen, as their current system seemingly does not get the most out of Paul Pogba and is reliant to an insane degree on Bruno Fernandes. The over-reliance on Fernandes has become a major issue, and we will put some numbers and context behind that over-reliance later on, but for this discussion, it is safe to say that if you have watched United play, you can see how much of their attack goes through Bruno. He is the best passer in the team, and it is usually through his feet that chances are created. In Sancho, they have another player who can play killer passes and create goal-scoring chances. In comparing the Englishman and Portuguese, it is actually Sancho that has a higher goal-creating actions per 90 mins and shot-creating actions per 90 mins stat over the last two seasons, even though he was not nearly as productive goal and assist-wise this past season as he was in 2019-20. He combines that passing ability with fearlessness and confidence that allows him to dribble at opposition defenders and attack space with reckless abandon, creating opportunities and opening up spaces for himself and his teammates. While there will be some translation hurdles to overcome while moving from the Bundesliga to the Premier League, Sancho’s creative numbers are still eye-catching, and he clearly provides another option in this United team, another player that can make things happen. The burden no longer completely rests on Bruno and Pogba.
This relates back to possibly the one thing United have longed for: options. The one major strike against Solskjær’s management is his unwillingness at times to stray from Plan A or what seemed to be working in the past, and that has not only limited United’s ability to come from behind in big games at times, but it also overworks their crucial players. Bruno Fernandes is the biggest example of a victim of this need to overwork United’s key cogs. Some crucial numbers gathered from the Daily Telegraph‘s James Ducker highlight the issue. Bruno has played more games for club and country during the 2020-2021 season than any player in Europe’s Top Five leagues. He has also played the third-most amount of minutes of any player in the Top Five leagues for club and country this season. Yes, he is United’s best player, but overworking him will only lead to devastating side effects for the player and, in the long run, will only make United worse. If United want to challenge Man City for the league this season while also going far in the Champions League, they need to have depth, and they need to be able to rotate and utilize that depth effectively.
Sancho’s flexibility in attacking positioning gives United newfound options. Yes, Sancho is primarily a right winger, but he is technical enough and good enough with both feet to play across the attacking line, either as a left winger, a number 10, or even as a false nine or second striker. This now allows United to keep Sancho in the team while utilizing their growing squad depth to give crucial players a rest and still maintain the 4-2-3-1 shape that Ole has preferred since Bruno’s arrival. Want to rest Bruno? Play Sancho as the 10 and bring in Martial or Greenwood to play on the right. Want to rest Rashford? Play Sancho on the left and bring in Martial or Greenwood on the right. Want to rest Sancho himself? Then Ole will have solid options to choose from without having to automatically resort to Dan James. I know I said this when United signed Donny Van de Beek and it ended up being untrue, but United really have no excuse now for overworking their attacking players. There are plenty of options to choose from to replace really anyone in that front five.
It also provides them flexibility in formation, as they have several attacking players who can function in multiple roles. While Bruno’s need to be the number 10 does force them into the 4-2-3-1 at times, they have the ability to vary greatly should Bruno not be in the team. They have the ability to move into a 4-4-2 with Rashford or Sancho or Greenwood as the second striker. They could utilize Van de Beek or McTominay as a third midfielder and play Sancho anywhere in the attacking line. They could even experiment with a 4-3-3 with Pogba and Bruno as dual-number eights, a way to potentially get more creative output out of Pogba (should United sign a defensive midfielder). This move undoubtedly gives United more options and opportunities to tinker with the team when players need a rest or when things are not working. It is now on Ole to use those enhanced options.
Now a quick mention for what this addition of Sancho is going to look like in match scenarios. I cannot actually demonstrate what I am talking about so you will have to imagine it. As I said before, Sancho is a player who can fit across the forward line and not just in his right wing role. This means that the United attack will likely be very fluid behind the striker, with Sancho able to move around, swap wings with Rashford, or do whatever he feels is needed to exploit weaknesses in the opposition defense. He is a player who is able to play as a traditional winger or invert, which makes him very useful in the build up against a low block or when attacking on the counter. Rashford and Luke Shaw have built such a strong relationship on the left because of Rashford’s desire to invert and cut inside, allowing plenty of room for Shaw to overlap. Should Sancho find himself on the left wing, he is able to have that same relationship, albeit without the chemistry that Rashford and Shaw have built together. On the right, this ability allows him to invert or stay wider depending on the scenario, and having Wan-Bissaka behind him as defensive support will likely allow Sancho to be more adventurous and take more risks on that right wing. Should United sign a more adventurous attacking right back, Atlético Madrid’s Kieran Trippier as an example, then Sancho has the ability and comfort to be more of an inverted winger and work with and create space for the overlapping fullback. Options and flexibility is the theme of this signing, and it reflects on the pitch level as well as in the larger overall tactical and team management view.
In the grand scheme of things, United desperately needed to make some key moves this summer. Yes, they finished second in the league last season, but with the rise of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea and the likelihood of a bounce-back season from Liverpool, United’s grasp on the top four is not as strong as it appears. They not only need to narrow the gap between themselves and Manchester City, but they need to ensure that they are still stable and remain ahead of the rest of the chasing pack. Sancho coming in is massive in that regard, a statement signing from the United hierarchy which shows their intent to back Solskjær’s project and build toward serious contention. There is still more work that needs to be done, however. A defensive midfielder and center back need to be on the list of targets, and they need to get those two moves done this summer.
For Dortmund, this is probably their best-case realistic scenario. Sneaking into the Champions League gave them a massive boost in financial security, allowing them to hold out for their preferred offers for their top players. They had a gentlemen’s agreement with Sancho to move him this summer when an acceptable offer came in, and while that offer was not what they were demanding last summer, they are in a strong enough financial position to both deal with losing Sancho and be able to lose him without losing Erling Håland. Yes, they will have to lose Håland for relatively cheap next summer, but there was no way Dortmund could recover from losing Sancho and Håland in the same window. They will now be in the market for a Sancho replacement, and with Dortmund’s eye for talent, I have no doubts that they will pluck another young gem of a talent. With rumors linking them to PSV’s Noni Madueke and Donyell Malen, as well as Lille’s Jonathan Ikoné, they are certainly looking in the right places.
Well, there you have it. United got their man. Jadon Sancho is a United player, and I am really looking forward to seeing what the young Englishman can do in the Premier League. It is a move that can define United’s season, and it sure does look like we are building up for an amazing potential title race and/or top-four race in the Premier League next season. In the words of Fabrizio Romano:
Here we go!
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