Jadon Sancho

Why Jadon Sancho is a future Ballon d'Or winner

The young Englishman has excelled in Germany since making the move to Dortmund, and the sky is the limit

7:00am on Sunday 6th September 2020
Lee Scott

In recent seasons Borussia Dortmund have developed a reputation as something of a finishing school for talented footballers.

A lot of clubs were aware of the potential of Ousmane Dembele when he was at Rennes but Dortmund were the ones that won the race for his signature. They did so not only thanks to a significant investment but by presenting the player and his representatives with a plan for the player’s development.

With that said, however, there were few who predicted that Dembele would have such a meteoric rise and that he would spend just a year in Germany before moving to join Barcelona for a fee reported to have been over the £100m mark.

Now, for Ousmane Dembele, read Jadon Sancho. As the transfer of Dembele to Barcelona was finalised in August 2017 there was speculation as to how Dortmund could replace a player who had been so effective for them in the 2016/17 season.

20 yrs - AM (RL) - Dortmund
JavaScript chart by amChartsLDefendingCreativePassingAttackingShootingDecisiveAerialsPhysical10-10-5051015100%
Played matches
Shots P90
Dribbles P90
Crosses P90
Final third passes P90

Dortmund, however, being one of the best-run clubs in the world in terms of talent identification and recruitment had already begun talks with the player who would go on to replace the Frenchman. A matter of days after the sale of Dembele was made official, the German side announced an £8M deal to sign Sancho from Manchester City.

Sancho rose to prominence in the European U17 Championship when he helped England to reach the final. He had already joined Dortmund when the call came to join the English squad for the U17 World Cup later that season and his release for the tournament was delayed. When Sancho did join up with the squad, however, he played a key role as the English side won the tournament.

At first, the coaching staff at Dortmund were careful with the integration of Sancho into the squad. The young attacker had to acclimatise to a different culture and learn a new language while also getting used to playing and training permanently at the first-team level. Gradually, however, his creativity and ability on the ball saw him firmly established at first-team level.

While Dembele has struggled to fully establish himself at Barcelona and may be on the move this summer, we have seen Sancho firmly establish himself in the conversation for the players who may eventually compete for the Ballon d'Or as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo come towards the end of their careers.

To gain a better understanding of why Sancho is one of the most coveted young players in football we will turn to data. This data has been filtered to players who have played at least 600 minutes and who are under the age of 24.

Data in graph taken from 1 June, 2020

The first thing that we will look at is Sancho’s goal contribution. This is a metric that we find by combining his goals P90 and assists P90 to get one number that tells us how many of Dortmund’s goals Sancho is directly involved in. This is then compared to his expected goal contribution where we repeat the process but for expected goals and expected assists.

Sancho is one of the clear outliers with a goal contribution of 1.30 P90 from an expected goal contribution of 0.7 P90. To put this into context, Sancho is performing at almost twice the level that we would expect in his goal contribution.

This overperformance gives us an insight into the kind of levels that Sancho is able to achieve. It could be that he is benefiting from playing with excellent finishers who are able to take his creative passes and turn them into goals or maybe his own finishing is far above the expected levels. In truth, it is likely that his expected goals numbers are affected by taking shots from sub-prime positions.

Data in graph taken from 1 June, 2020

The shot map for Sancho over the 2019/20 season is indicative of this. We can see that Sancho is a shooter who likes to test the goalkeeper from outside the penalty area and at various angles across the width of the penalty area. Look at how many of those shots from outwith the penalty area, that carry a low xG value, are scored - none.

All of his goals come from inside the box.

If the young Englishman was told to stop shooting from outside the area then his xG would rise substantially. This is a sign that his overperformance in front of goal is sustainable over the rest of his career.

Data in graph taken from 1 June, 2020

Next, we will assess how creative Sancho is and how well he progresses the ball up the field for his team. To do this we take a simple metric of key passes P90 and then compare it to another combined metric with progressive passes P90 and progressive runs P90 combined to create progressive actions P90.

Once again we see Sancho in the cluster at the top of the graph, Kylian Mbappe is, perhaps unsurprisingly, out in front, with Bundesliga colleague Serge Gnabry included after a fine season with Bayern. It is interesting to see Moussa Diaby of Leverkusen there as well although he has less minutes than the others. Sancho performs well in both metrics with 1.2 key passes P90 and 10.63 progressive actions P90.

This should come as no surprise given the role that Sancho plays for Dortmund. We often see the 20-year-old picking the ball up just inside the opposition half from where he can turn and run at the defence of combine and link with his more advanced team-mates.

When we talk about the players that are likely to be in the conversation for the best players in the game tag, after Messi and Ronaldo, it is clear that we should include Sancho. The 20-year-old has made huge strides over the course of his time in Germany, with his physical capacity and tactical understanding now reaching the levels of his technical ability.

The next step is for Sancho to take an even bigger role in the attack of whichever club he joins next. That next step is the key. Should Sancho and his representatives make a poor choice then he could find himself playing for a coach who favours a style of play that does not suit the strengths of this exciting wonderkid.

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