07 Sep Is there a way for Sancho to turn things around at Man United?
“I will continue to fight for this badge no matter what,” Jadon Sancho said in the final line of his bombshell social media statement on Sunday night, but the truth is he’s now fighting to save his Manchester United career.
After Erik ten Hag revealed in the immediate aftermath of United’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal that Sancho wasn’t part of the squad at the Emirates because of poor performances in training, the England forward hit back almost immediately, essentially accusing his manager of lying. “Please don’t believe everything you read,” he said in a statement posted within an hour of Ten Hag’s postmatch comments. “I will not allow people to say things that are completely untrue. I have conducted myself in training very well this week.”
Sancho wasn’t done and went on to suggest that the decision to drop him was influenced by other things.
“I believe there are other reasons for this matter that I won’t go into,” he added. “I’ve been a scapegoat for a long time, which isn’t fair.”
This was no hasty post that Sancho immediately regretted, either. His statement is still live, having amassed nearly 60 million views. Sources have told ESPN that Ten Hag was made aware of Sancho’s outburst on the journey back from London to Manchester on Sunday evening. It was at that point he could have issued a clarification, had he wanted to, but he instead decided to stand by his comments. “The manager gave a very clear reason why Jadon wasn’t selected,” said one source.
Ten Hag has been keen — almost above anything else — to add discipline to his squad since arriving at Old Trafford in the summer of 2022, and he’s expected to come down hard on Sancho for what, according to sources, he will view as a challenge to his authority.
Since he took over in June 2022, it’s been Ten Hag’s way or the highway. Alejandro Garnacho was reprimanded for poor timekeeping during the summer tour of Thailand and Australia in 2022 despite suffering from severe jet lag, while star forward Marcus Rashford was benched for a game at Wolves in December after missing the start of a team meeting by a matter of minutes.
Cristiano Ronaldo was suspended for one game and denied access to the first-team dressing rooms at Carrington after refusing to come on as a late substitute against Tottenham in October; less than a month later, his contract was cancelled by mutual consent after he gave an interview in which he said he “didn’t respect” Ten Hag.
Sources have told ESPN that the Dutchman and his coaching staff feel particularly let down by Sancho after believing that they went to extraordinary measures to help him last season. After noticing his form dipping and his mood dropping, Sancho was given indefinite leave away from the club and placed on an individual training programme in the Netherlands. It left Ten Hag short of numbers for a busy period of fixtures following the 2022 World Cup, but he insisted Sancho’s “physical and mental” condition was more important.
That was a low point of Sancho’s United career, which has been underwhelming at best. He arrived from Borussia Dortmund for £73m in 2021 as one of England’s best young players — having scored 50 goals and laid on 64 assists in 137 games for the German club — but he hasn’t played for his country for nearly two years.
There were hopes at United that this summer would mark a turning point. Speaking on the tour of the U.S., Ten Hag said Sancho was “in a very good vibe,” but a recurring theme during the 23-year-old’s time at the club has been a lack of consistency. Ten Hag sets high standards and, according to sources, has become increasingly frustrated that Sancho’s performance levels can dip wildly, sometimes from week to week, and often depending on whether he’s regularly starting games. The same has been observed in training.
Off the field, sources around the club describe Sancho as a complicated character. On occasion he can be loud and extroverted, but he can also be very reserved. At an Adidas kit launch in Melbourne in 2022, he asked the event host to avoid asking him questions and focus instead on Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay.
Some United staff members find Sancho to be rude and withdrawn, while others ascribe his demeanour to simply being shy. At one preseason broadcasters day — when TV rights holders ask players to fist pump and kiss the badge for videos that are played when lineups are announced ahead of matches — it was difficult to get Sancho to even crack a smile.
Manchester City know just how stubborn Sancho can be. During a contract stand-off with the club when he was 17 years old, Pep Guardiola decided to omit the youngster from their 2017 preseason tour of America. He was instead required to attend training sessions at the City Football Academy but failed to turn up on a number of occasions. Sometimes coaching staff couldn’t reach him to check where he was. By the end of the summer, his relationship with the club was irreparable and he was allowed to leave for Dortmund.
Guardiola said later that Sancho “didn’t want to take the challenge” of trying to win a place in the City team.
With the European transfer windows now closed, Sancho and United don’t have the option of cutting ties, at least not immediately. Even when the market reopens in January, his contract (£300,000 per week) has three years left to run and would be prohibitive for almost any other club in the world, as he has not played well enough over the past two years. As one source put it, Sancho should “accept his fate for the next four months.”
Ten Hag has shown himself to be ruthless with players he no longer trusts, telling Eric Bailly to train with the reserves before his free transfer to Besiktas and even axing Donny van de Beek — one of his former players from Ajax — from the 25-man squad for this season’s Champions League campaign.
“All I want to do is play football,” read another part of Sancho’s statement. It just might not be at United.