Man United has made a step toward restoring its reputation in the transfer market by finally completing the signing of Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho. The deal proved tricky to complete; Dortmund held out for a larger transfer fee than United was willing to pay last year, and United wanted to avoid the huge agent fees reported to be involved.
This summer, the financial consequences of the pandemic plus the public relations disaster of the “Super League” may have helped move the transfer along. On the public relations front, the signing will do little to calm fan protests against the Glazers. Whether the owners will decide to follow up with a couple more big signings to soothe them further... We will see.
Off the pitch, the club’s branding will be heavily influenced by the signing, potentially convincing more companies to ally themselves. We can expect to see his smiling face front and centre of much Red Devils’ marketing from here on.
On the pitch, United has a player who offers a tremendous amount for his tremendous fee. In the last few seasons, Solskjaer has tried a number of players in the right wing / right side attacker role, including Juan Mata, Andreas Periera, Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Mason Greenwood. None of these players is a natural in the role.
This may have been less of a problem Solksjaer had a more attacking starter at right back, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka, while improving slowly on the attacking front, is currently a fullback for his defensive strengths. As a result, the Red Devil attacking patterns have leaned very heavily to the left side, with Rashford/Martial cutting in and the rejuvenated Luke Shaw overlapping from left back.
Sancho’s arrival will immediately bring a better balance to the attacking movements, making the squad more difficult for opposing managers to predict. Sancho will also not be restricted to the right; in 120 games for Dortmund he started 75 on the right side and 45 on the left. His ability to go either inside and outside opposing defenders will add to the challenge of building a defensive plan to address Ole’s formation and tactical choices pre-game and mid-game.
Sancho adds pace, but more importantly brings both goals and creativity. In the 38 games he played for Dortmund in the 2020-21 season, he scored 16 goals and provided 20 assists. Since 2018-19, he has provided 41 assists; only Thomas Muller’s 48 and Lionel Messi’s 43 provided more service across the top 5 leagues. Mueller and Messi are two of the best players of their generation, Messi one of the best of all time. If you consider Sancho was 18-21 years of age during that period, those are some amazing numbers that will likely get even better.
That creative ability is a clear need within this United squad when looking at the home record last season. Nine wins, four draws and six defeats is not the home record of a title contender. In those 19 games, Man United scored 38 goals; only Man City with 43 scored more at home. Look closer though, and 15 of those goals came in just two goal-fests (Leeds and Southampton); 24 came in five games; the other 14 games produced only 14 goals.
Breaking down sides that employed the low block was a consistent problem. Sancho's creativity will help with this, as will his ability to line up on either side of the pitch. Most of all though, the better balance will now open up more space and chances for Edinson Cavani and Co.
Moreover, for fans of football in general and especially for United fans like myself, Sancho will bring entertainment. A blur of pace, ball control, vision and tricks galore, he will be a highlight reel machine getting more bums up out of their seats than most players in the world.
Introduced into the Fantrax platform at the default new-boy price of $7.00, he looks set to be in every Fantrax side for most of the season. In FPL he presents us with a more difficult decision.
At a launch price of £9.5m in FPL, Sancho is mighty tempting, giving us a dilemma that seems likely to cause us stress right up to the GW-1 deadline. Do we go with the proven Premier League player Bruno Fernandes, the man who has scored and assisted non stop since joining in the winter of 2019? He is well rested, and knowing Bruno, is extremely motivated with a point to prove after the Europa final and the Euros. He is also rarely going to get benched. But what about that dip in form? Is it a simple dip or the sign of something more?
Or we can go with the young heir apparent who has more natural talent and all the data to convince many a fantasy player that he offers better value. Sancho will not face the normal cultural differences many new signings confront, but he still needs to adapt to his new team and most of all the extreme media focus of playing for Man United.
Expectations will be huge, and every failure will headline the day’s sport coverage. Pressure and criticism will come from the fans for his actual performances. And sadly, racial comments/attacks show no sign of stopping. Finally, there is that penalty miss. Something like that may not affect a player at all or it may haunt him. We don’t know yet how Sancho's character will respond but it’s possible for all of these issues to apply a heavy burden on him to begin with.
It’s a conundrum, especially if you have followed his performances in the Bundesliga over the last few seasons rather than the cameo role he had in the Euros for England. For those bold enough, he could potentially offer you a way to gain an edge in the opening weeks. For those playing safer and buying Bruno, it’s easier to drop down to Sancho if the Englishman impresses. Or of course you can try and find a way to have both, which is a whole different worry.
As I write, Sancho is enjoying a very nice trip to the Turks and Caicos with teammate Marcus Rashford and will have just two weeks of training before United hosts Leeds. With the intensity at which Bielsa’s team plays, it is reasonable to think Sancho begins that game on the bench with Ole looking to unleash him against tiring legs late on.
We are still a little way from match day one decision time, but with many fantasy managers looking toward an early wildcard, my current view is that the sensible choice in FPL is Bruno. In Fantrax it’s almost impossible not to pick him with any news that he may start. A quiet GW-1 showing will see his price crash and make him the most obvious early-season buy-and-forget.
In the long term, I’m certain he will take Bruno’s crown as the must-have Man United fantasy player; it’s just a question of whether that be opening day, a few weeks in, by the season’s end, or longer.
What do you think? Is it Sancho or Bruno for you on match day one? Please join the conversation in the comments below.
Which player will be the must-have Man United asset this season?
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