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From hype to heartbreak – Jadon Sancho’s troubled journey at Manchester United

Borussia Dortmund will bid to salvage Jadon Sancho’s nightmarish 2023/24 campaign after Manchester United’s announcement of a loan agreement on Thursday. 

At loggerheads with manager Erik ten Hag and abandoned by the Old Trafford hierarchy after refusing to settle his dispute with the Dutchman, the 23-year-old has spent the last few months in exile. 

Pushed to the fringes of the first-team squad and forced to train with the youth academy players, the heavily criticised English winger was desperate for a way out ahead of the January transfer window.

Knowing Sancho’s bust-up with Ten Hag was beyond restoration, Man United shared the same view and had no intention of staying in the player’s way as he sought a new place to revive his faltering career.

However, months of absence from the first-team picture took their toll, and instead of a new destination, Sancho has returned to a familiar setting to try and get his career back on track. 

Maybe the work with Edin Terzic, the manager he knows relatively well from his previous stint at Signal Iduna Park, could help the Manchester City academy graduate rediscover his passion for football.

It should at least give him an opportunity to regain confidence and feature in top-flight action again, potentially offering Man Utd some resale value in return. 

Yet the question remains – how did everything go wrong for one of the most heavily anticipated signings in United’s recent history?

Time, Effort & Money

Man United first appeared in conversations around Sancho’s future on the eve of the then-teenager’s transfer to the Bundesliga in 2017. 

Following his illustrious inaugural campaign in Germany’s elite division, United realised he could be the poster boy of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s quest to restore the club to its former glory.

But compelling Dortmund to sell their prodigious talent proved complicated. It would take the Red Devils three years of relentless pressure to get the deal over the line.

Not only did Man Utd drive the price down, convincing the Bundesliga outfit to lower their initial €120 million asking price to €73m in the world still recovering from the pandemic, but they closed the deal quickly. 

Years of waiting and praying paid off in the blink of an eye as Sancho waltzed through the Old Trafford doors on July 1, 2021, surrounded by the hype of epic proportions. 

Despite investing significant time and effort, Man Utd thought they struck gold when they unveiled the fourth-most expensive signing in the club’s history. 

Another Rotten Apple

Following Sancho’s sensational four-year spell in the Bundesliga, an ominous proposition of him faltering at the Theatre of Dreams was inconceivable.

It was a stance shared not only among senior figures at the club, but within the Man Utd faithful as well. Yet, another unpleasant surprise was waiting in the wings. 

Even during his rise to stardom in Germany, Sancho’s reputation as a party boy preceded him, highlighting the need for an iron fist at the helm, someone capable of restraining his off-field shenanigans.

Solskjaer did not fit the profile. 

All the excitement surrounding his long-anticipated arrival vanished in a snap as the Red Devils announced a blockbuster return of superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo towards the end of the summer. 

By the time Sancho registered his maiden Premier League start in a 4-1 demolition of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Ronaldo’s comeback had overshadowed his full debut. 

Solskjaer’s repeated tactical alterations didn’t help either, decreasing the Englishman’s chances of a swift adaption. He would end the campaign with only three goals in 29 top-flight appearances. 

Many people perceived Ralf Rangnick’s appointment as Solskjaer’s interim replacement in early 2021/22 as a potential turning point for the youngster’s resurgence at Old Trafford.

It wasn’t the case. Despite being trusted to start in a preferred left-wing position after wandering between the number ten role and the right wing, Sancho continued to underperform.

Freefall Under Ten Hag

Given Ten Hag’s impressive track record at Ajax and his capacity to turn raw talents into senior first-team stars, his arrival in 2022 was deemed revolutionary for Sancho.

However, he has never found his place in the Dutchman’s system. 

Starting with Ten Hag’s decision to shift him to the right wing and an undeniable lack of communication between the pair, the 53-year-old’s appointment marked the beginning of the end for Sancho.

After a bright start to the new campaign, the new manager and his associates noted the winger’s significant dip in form, resulting in his departure to the Netherlands. 

Ten Hag hoped working separately from the group would help the troubled forward regain physical and mental strength following his omission from England’s 2022 World Cup squad. 

With Ronaldo gone midway through the 2022/23 season, many people thought it was Sancho’s time to assume the limelight as Man United’s headline performer. 

But he failed to take advantage of being given more freedom up top, delivering a string of disjointed performances, including a wasteful showing in the FA Cup final defeat to Man City. 

He would end the season with only six Premier League goals.

The Final Straw

Even before the commencement of the 2023/24 campaign, Sancho came as close as it got to earning a flop tag. 

Ten Hag still carried faint hopes for the marquee club signing as he spoke highly of him in the weeks preceding the relationship breakdown.

Seemingly frustrated with his marginal role under the Dutch manager, Sancho waited for the right opportunity to strike. 

One such presented itself on the first weekend in September as Ten Hag left Sancho out of his squad for a 3-1 loss at Arsenal, provoking a furious reaction from the player.

Instead of trying to resolve the matter internally, the Englishman took to social media to hit back at his manager, causing damage beyond repair. 

Sancho’s response didn’t sit well with the Man United hierarchy. 

Despite Ten Hag’s attempt to set his differences with Sancho aside after the player’s leave of absence during the international break, there was no way back. 

While he deleted the controversial post, his refusal to apologise to the manager forced United’s hand. 

The club released a statement on September 14 saying Sancho would ‘remain on a personal training programme away from the first-team group, pending resolution of a squad discipline issue’.

And just like that, it was over. 

Sinister Pattern 

Jose Mourinho’s famous ‘football heritage’ speech in March 2018, once considered the under-fire manager’s last-ditch attempt to save himself from dismissal, has proved a damning prediction of Man United’s reality. 

Especially in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, the Red Devils have become synonymous with splashing out insane figures on players ill-equipped for the red uniform. 

From an array of overpaid flops and unsettled stars at their peak powers, Sancho was supposed to be the one former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward got right. 

His mega-money arrival from Dortmund should have been Woodward’s legacy, the one signing he would leave behind as his crowning achievement. 

With his tenure at Old Trafford fast approaching its end, Woodward hoped the acquisition of Sancho would silence his critics and reconcile him with aggravated club supporters. 

However, Sancho has claimed a ticket for an ever-growing infamous club of Man United’s poor judgement calls, joining Paul Pogba, Harry Maguire, Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria and others. 

The list goes on, as Antony, the player once considered among the world’s brightest prospects and brought in on Ten Hag’s personal request, is on his way to booking a membership in this group.