Jadon Sancho, the 'generational' player who could be a bargain for Manchester United | Jamie Jackson

Forward should enhance the team and the glamour factor but more signings are needed to make United champions again

Jadon Sancho is a £73m signing who may go down as a steal as his Manchester United career unfolds. Even before the former Borussia Dortmund forward pulls on the United shirt, his price appears akin to a Black Friday buy.

For £8m more than a centre‑back, Rúben Dias, cost Manchester City, Ole Gunnar Solskjær acquires a 21-year-old who joins Mason Greenwood as a “generational” footballer who can light up the attack for a decade. If Sancho is integral to a 21st title for United, it will cast the fee as more apt with a decimal point between its digits.

This, remember, is a club that can claw back millions on a transfer via image rights and myriad global commercial tie-ups. If Paul Pogba is the current billboard player, his successor just joined. If the asking price for Harry Kane, who is six years older, is north of £150m then Sancho’s acquisition is slick work by Ed Woodward, who can expect a rare Twitter amnesty even in a rabid social media age because no criticism should be aimed his way.

What the executive vice‑chairman achieves in signing Sancho is to elevate Solskjær’s side, while enhancing the United glamour factor because the lad from south London’s goal- and assist-rich displays come sprinkled with stardust. For the sole English club whose allure has them in the Club Hollywood bracket with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, his arrival is a statement that the world’s finest young talents with their best years ahead can and do choose United.

In the summers when a knee‑troubled Bastian Schweinsteiger or the underwhelming Daley Blind arrived, recruiting a player like Sancho seemed a universe away. Now he joins a side boasting Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford.

Sancho was, of course, supposed to be in a United shirt last season. Instead the transfer broke down after United priced it at the thick end of €250m and walked away, with Solskjær still able to guide his team to second place, one better than the previous season. What Sancho brings is a pedigree that shows inclusion in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Bundesliga team of the year, 38 goals in 104 appearances in that competition, and 51 assists.

Jadon Sancho scores for Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final win against RB Leipzig in May.
Jadon Sancho scores for Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final win against RB Leipzig in May. Photograph: Annegret Hilse/AFP/Getty Images

In the Champions League the numbers read five goals in 21 games, with six assists. To create a league goal every other outing and approximately one every third time he faces the continent’s cream is impressive for a footballer who walks through the Old Trafford door for a little less than the £75m United paid for Romelu Lukaku in July 2017.

This stressing again of Sancho’s price must come with the caveat that the market has dipped markedly because of the pandemic. Yet whatever the cost he is a pointless investment should United fail to strengthen more as they strive to catch reigning champions Manchester City, whose own improvement-quest takes in the pursuit of Harry Kane, the Premier League Golden Boot winner and Jack Grealish, who may be England’s most talented player.

Last season United scored 73 times in the league: 10 fewer than City, who are heralded as attack masters. Goals, goals, goals and more goals is the United way, too – a credo of which Solskjær, a former striker of the Sir Alex Ferguson school, is an apt custodian. To trail 10 behind a garlanded City suggests the forward end of the side is not the weak part.

Not quite. Scan the final 2020‑21 table and United’s goals against column reads 44, far poorer than City’s 32, which was the lowest, and worse than Liverpool (42), Arsenal (39) and Chelsea (36).

Although in goals scored they were second only to City – Liverpool, Leicester City and Tottenham (all 68) were the next best – the draws show 11 for Solskjær’s men and five for Pep Guardiola’s.

Manchester United need to improve on a centre-back partnership of Victor Lindelöf (left) and Harry Maguire.
Manchester United need to improve on a centre-back partnership of Victor Lindelöf (left) and Harry Maguire. Photograph: Ash Donelon/Manchester United/Getty Images

This indicates how the adjustment of the odd strike at either end is required: one fewer at the back or one more at the front. Sancho’s acquisition should address the latter but if Villarreal’s Pau Torres, Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane or AN Other centre-back is not added then a Maguire-Victor Lindelöf axis susceptible to speed should be as exposed as United’s title pretensions.

Yet even a Torres or Varane may not be enough, as United’s midfield is as short of artistry as City’s is oversubscribed via Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gündogan, Bernardo Silva and, if he arrives, Grealish.

But Sancho is a start. He is slick business done relatively early in the market and sends a strong signal: that this is an arrival that not only improves the team but can also be a gateway signing for other A-list recruits United need to make a sustained title challenge.


Jamie Jackson

The GuardianTramp

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