Why can’t Jadon Sancho, set to join Man United for £80m, get a game for England?

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·4-min read
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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Jadon Sancho will become one of the most expensive English footballers of all time when he completes his move to Manchester United.

Yet a man Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes can follow in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham as an iconic winger at Old Trafford has barely had a kick of the ball for England at these Euros.

Given his lack of involvement during the Group stages — failing to even make the bench for the opening game against Croatia — there are serious questions as to whether he would have made Gareth Southgate's final cut for these finals if not for UEFA's decision to expand squad sizes from 23 to 26.

When Southgate was enforced into a shake-up for the final group game against Czech Republic last week, with Mason Mount self-isolating and Phil Foden in danger of suspension, it was Bukayo Saka who got the call — not a player who has established himself as one of Europe's most thrilling forwards over the past three years.

Sancho is a new breed of English player, with the self-confidence and technical ability to express himself on any stage. As a teenager, he had the drive and courage of his convictions to walk away from Pep Guardiola and Manchester City to make a new life abroad in Germany and excel at Borussia Dortmund.

Over the past season, only three Bundesliga players provided more assists than his 11.

His eight goals emphasised his all-round attacking threat and why United are set to pay close to £80million to sign him. So what is Southgate's reluctance to turn to a player who feels further away from England's starting XI than he has at any point since making his debut against Croatia in 2018?

Sancho's experience has been the most curious of any England player at these Euros — and while he has talked up the argument for his inclusion against Germany, it would be a major surprise if Southgate turned to him now.

"I know quite a lot of the players in Germany," he said. "I play against them week in, week out. If I play, I'd know the ins and outs of what players can do."

Yet Sancho's omission against the Czechs was the clearest indication of where he stands in Southgate's mind.

If Jack Grealish's long-awaited start saw the England manager answer the call of fans, Saka's inclusion came out of the blue. That both were so influential on the night — combining to create Raheem Sterling's winner — has made Sancho's route to the starting line-up all the more difficult.

Add the expected recall of Foden, Mount's availability again and further competition from Marcus Rashford and it underlines the wealth of options at Southgate's disposal, as well as possibly explaining why England are yet to find the right blend in attack.

They looked at their most fluid at times against the Czechs, yet that was without Foden and Mount, who Southgate considers pivotal to his system.

Sterling looked more dangerous through the middle and also provided Harry Kane with a foil he had lacked in the previous two games. And both Grealish and Saka provided a directness from wide areas that England had been crying out for.

Yet there is a growing feeling that Southgate will recall Foden, while Grealish's place could be dependent on whether Mount is sufficiently prepared after training alone since last Monday.

It seems remarkable England can afford to overlook someone of Sancho's ability — not to mention Grealish. But such an abundance of options could be a factor in Southgate's failure to get his forward line firing. Too many choices can be distracting.

Is Foden a winger or a playmaker? Likewise Grealish. Can Southgate afford to sacrifice midfield cover to be able to squeeze both players into his starting line-up? How does he get more crosses to Kane?

Three games into the tournament and England have scored just twice — both goals coming from Sterling.

While they have hit the woodwork on three occasions, genuine goal-scoring opportunities have been few and far between, with Kane's single shot on target so far conclusive evidence of the lack of service he has received.

Based on pre-tournament form, Sterling was fortunate to hold onto his place for the opening game against Croatia, yet his inclusion has been vindicated by two winning goals.

Still, this is an England side that has booked its place in the last 16 on the back of an unbreeched defence, well guarded by two holding midfielders. While Southgate bristles at the suggestion his team have been overly cautious, progress has been about function over flair.

Victory by any means against Germany would be gratefully received, but Southgate's revolution has been about creating an England team prepared to take risks.

The development and promotion of players such as Sancho, Foden and Grealish has been with that approach in mind. The idea is to get players who want to have the ball and make things happen even on the biggest stage. Something England have lacked from generation to generation.

Germany, at Wembley, in a round-of-16 tie at the European Championship, certainly fits that description.

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