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Let’s talk about Jadon Sancho

United’s Star signing of two years ago, butting heads with United’s second year manager…

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Manchester United v Nottingham Forest - Premier League Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Jadon Sancho was not part of the traveling squad when Manchester United lost 3-1 to Arsenal in North London just before the international break. When questioned about his absence after the match Erik Ten Hag said it was down to Sancho’s poor performances in training.

Sancho apparently felt otherwise. Immediately following Ten Hag’s comments he posted a tweet saying:
Don’t believe everything you read. I will not allow people saying things that is completely untrue, I have conducted myself in training very well this week. I believe there are other reasons for this matter that I won’t go into. I’ve been a scapegoat for a long time which isn’t fair.”

Performance in training is a subjective matter. Sancho could believe he did well in training whereas Ten Hag could believe he didn’t perform well enough. Both things could be true.

It’s the line after, “I believe there are other reasons for this matter that I won’t go into,” that tells us something else is either going on or has happened. That’s not to say Sancho is correct - he could have been dropped due to bad performances in training - but if he believes something else is the reason, there’s obviously a something else he’s thinking of.

Perhaps we now know what that something else is. Or at least, a little bit of it, the part they’re willing to say out loud. On Wednesday The Athletic posted a behind-the-scenes article on the rift between Ten Hag and Sancho that ultimately amounts to, he has a history of turning up late sometimes and that history dates all the way back to his time at Borussia Dortmund.

Reaction to the news has been as expected. Fans are not going to be sympathetic to footballers. Footballers are seen as having a dream job. They get paid to play a child’s game every day - and in 2023 they get paid more than most people could ever dream of to play that game.

Surely it’s not too much to ask for them to get out of bed and be on time for work every day? After all, we all do that every day and we do it for less glamorous jobs and far less money.

But Jadon Sancho is not just a footballer. He’s also a 23 year old human being trying to make it in this world the same way you and I are. So let’s take a second to look at things from the perspective of Jadon Sancho.

Jadon Sancho left England for Germany at 17 years old. He had a very unique skillset and thus was signed - or rather hired - by Borussia Dortmund to play football for their men’s football team so they could benefit from that unique skillset. He was given an adult job but that doesn’t suddenly make him an adult. In many countries he still wasn’t old enough to vote, or serve in the army.

At 18 years old, Sancho’s job of playing football for Borussia Dortmund wasn’t much different then what his life was two or three years earlier. There was just more money and less school, but his friends were likely the same and his interests more than likely aligned with what an 18 year old boy would be interested in, rather than what a 25 year old would like his teammates.

In many situations, that would be enough to knock a player off the path to stardom. Many players can’t reach the top unless they give up the things that “normal teenagers” want while they solely focus on football. They make football their entire life. But some are so naturally talented they can get away with it.

Jadon Sancho falls into the latter category.

He wants go out at night, he wants to hang out with his friends. He believes he can because he’s learned all his life that he can.

He’s not the only person like this. In the youth ranks players that show that rare bit of potential are given a tremendous amount of leeway by their coaches - especially if they’re still performing on the pitch. A coach who’s job it is is to ensure talented prospects make it to the first team isn’t going to jeopardize that by potentially turning a player off because of too much discipline.

Sancho’s time in Germany corresponded with the age where kids tend to go off to university. It’s often at university where kids learn more about the real world and have to “grow up.” But no one is more coddled and babied than Division I athletes.

Every Division I school in America have staff members whose sole job is to ensure the football and basketball players get out of bed and attend classes. You would think schools could save money by not having these guys. After all, these are players who are desperate to try and make it to the NFL and NBA. You’d think they’d be doing everything to ensure they remain academically eligible to play and increase their chance of making it.

The reality is they’re still kids. Without those staffers many of these athletes wouldn’t be attending their classes and would have trouble staying eligible to play. Schools aren’t going to take the “tough love” approach and tell them to grow up. There’s too much risk in that. They’re looking to protect their interests and their interests are having these athletes on the field winning games for them.

Sancho is now just past the typical college age but that doesn’t mean that behavior would automatically be behind him. While many people do grow up and are ready for the real world after four years of college, many still aren’t.

The obvious argument here is, many people aren’t paid £350k/wk. For that kind of money you should be doing at least the bare minimum of getting yourself to work on time.

That argument completely misses the point. Jadon Sancho isn’t getting paid £350/wk to show up to work on time. He’s getting paid that kind of money because of what he could do with a football. Earning those wages isn’t going to get him to suddenly change his mental state and say “I better get to work on time.”

When I was 23 years old I got a job as a radio producer for the top sports radio station in the country. This was a dream opportunity getting my foot in the door to work towards what was my dream job.

(Yes, I realize I’m doing that thing where I’m comparing myself to a professional athlete).

I worked my ass off to try and move up the ladder and get more opportunities. I was good at it. I was the youngest person to be working on the stations flagship morning show and within a year I was trusted with being only guy around on a holiday and making sure the station stayed on the air.

I was also a 23-24 year old guy living in New York City. I wanted to do the things that guys in their mid 20s do in the big city. I wanted to hang out with my friends, attend birthday parties, the lot. Since I worked a lot of nights and weekends, I had to take advantage of the time I wasn’t at work.

That lead to a lot of cutting corners and a lot of bad decisions. I have to be at work at 3am on Saturday morning? Yea I can come to your birthday party, have one drink, catch a nap at midnight before powering through my shift and going to sleep Saturday afternoon. Working 4pm on a Saturday? Sure I can come to Saturday brunch, take a nap, and then go to work!

Far too often I got through things in what would certainly be considered “no shape to work.” Eventually I realized I had to cut that behavior out and get my act together. What made me realize that? It wasn’t that I realized this company was paying me to do a job and this behavior was preventing me from doing it to the best of my abilities. It was that I realized that they were hardly paying me at all. I was extremely expendable.

Had the company promoted me and offered me a $1 million a year salary (a mere $19.2k/wk) I can assure you it would have sent me the exact opposite message. It would have told me my behavior wasn’t getting in the way of doing my job. Even if I could do better by cutting that out I was still kicking ass as it is. I know there were people who had these sorts of issues and had exactly this attitude because their skillset commanded those salaries and they wouldn’t be fired.

That’s where Jadon Sancho is right now. Every part of his life he’s had his behavior excused because of what he could do on a football pitch. It got him a high paying job when he was 17 and when he was 21 it got him another company offering him wages of £350k/wk. Those wages tell you that your indispensable. Those wages give you the belief that since you got here behaving a certain way you’ll still be able to do that. Those wages give you power.

Until now, Jadon Sancho had never faced a moment where he’s had to grow up. His ability always superseded whatever issues he had off the pitch.

Jadon Sancho should not just be reinstated to the team because he makes £350k/wk or because United are suddenly devoid of right wingers. He needs to get his act together, and he needs to earn his way back onto the pitch.

But for as much as this is a Jadon Sancho issue, it’s a Manchester United issue too.

Sancho’s behavior dates back to his time at Borussia Dortmund. As The Athletic’s report states, Edin Terzic used to personally knock on Sancho’s door to get him to meetings on time.

That means one of two things; Either United didn’t know this when they signed him and thus didn’t do proper due diligence or they knew about it and signed him anyway.

Manchester United have invested a lot of money in Jadon Sancho - due to his ability to play football. He’s useless to them if he isn’t playing football. Therefore it’s in their best interests to make sure he’s both mentally ready to play, and not behaving in a way that puts him in a spot where the manager isn’t willing to play him.

If that means having someone be at his house every day to drag him out of bed every day that’s what you have to do. This is surprisingly uncommon and many teams across different sports employ people for this exact purpose for one or two players. They’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts though, they’re doing it because those players can help them win games and they want them on the field.

United have tried different strategies. They sanctioned him being away from the club for three months last season. They tried tried telling him to be an hour early and had success early on, only for his bad habits to come back. The club can’t give up, whenever a tactic stops working try a new one.

There’s no question Sancho has to commit to getting better. Making that commitment isn’t going to lead to change overnight. It’s a process and a process he shouldn’t be undertaking alone. The club should be there every step of the way to help him through this process and to keep him on the right road. For whatever reason it is - mental or whatnot - that’s preventing him from doing whatever it is he needs to be doing, the club should be doing everything they can to put him a position where he can do those things.

The common belief among the fanbase is if you speak out against the manager or you can’t get your ass to the training ground on time they should just sell you. In older times, that’s what would happen no questions asked.

In 2023 that’s not an option. After Sancho’s tweet, United offered him to Turkish and Saudi Arabian clubs for a £65 million fee, but Sancho rejected any move.

The last line of Sancho tweet said, “I will continue to fight for this badge no matter what.” This is where he wants to be, and since United gave him a contract, he doesn’t have to leave if he doesn’t want to. Even if the manager doesn’t want him, the power still lies with Sancho.

Which means United have to find a way to work this out. While Sancho isn’t playing that amortized transfer fee is still sitting on their books. His wages are still on the books. Both of those things significantly impact their ability to out and sign a replacement for him, or make signings elsewhere in the team. He may never hit the levels on the pitch you hoped for when you signed him but you should be doing everything in your power to give him that chance. Doing any less is just negligence on your part.

This is the first time in Sancho’s life he’s not been able to skate by on his god given talent. No one can make him leave Old Trafford but if he wants to actually play for Manchester United again he needs to get his act together. He needs to grow up.

Most of us have to do that on our own. Most of us aren’t insanely talented footballers. If Manchester United want what’s best for their player - which ultimately means what’s best for themselves - they should be doing everything they can to help him do that.