In the grand narrative arc of his career, no doubt Jadon Sancho envisaged this summer’s European Championship as the explosive breakthrough that led to a mega-money move back to England.
That may yet prove to be the case. But the 21-year-old could do with actually getting on the field first.
Sancho certainly wouldn’t have expected a mere six minutes of group stage action for England and such close acquaintance with Wembley’s red seats.
Jadon Sancho finally got on the pitch towards the end of England’s win over Czech Republic
Prior to that, Sancho had been warming the Wembley subs’ bench without being involved
Fellow Borussia Dortmund player Jude Bellingham has come off the bench in two of the games
Gareth Southgate left him out of the 23-man squad to face Croatia in the tournament opener, didn’t bring him on in the dire goalless draw with Scotland and gave him no more than a late cameo against the Czech Republic.
Despite this, there is a strong case for Sancho to start Tuesday night’s last-16 showdown with Germany.
The same applies to Sancho’s Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jude Bellingham. He’s done a little better – eight minutes against Croatia, 22 against the Czechs – but can hardly claim to have been over-used so far.
But both should be knocking on Southgate’s door over the weekend and pressing their case to start at Wembley. Insider knowledge is their strongest argument right now.
17 members of Germany’s squad are based in the Bundesliga and you’d imagine at least six Germany-based players will be in Joachim Low’s selection for the match.
Bellingham and Sancho play against many of the German players for Borussia Dortmund
England manager Gareth Southgate will no doubt pick their brains about German weaknesses
At the very least, Southgate should be picking the brains of Sancho and Bellingham for a few tips on how to outsmart their Bundesliga adversaries (or allies in the case of Mats Hummels and Emre Can) in the biggest meeting between the old rivals since the 2010 World Cup and possibly even longer.
Hummels already looked vulnerable at the centre of Germany’s three-man defence in their group stage games and has an ongoing knee issue, so surely it makes sense to play Sancho directly against his club-mate?
Sancho and Bellingham train alongside Hummels each and every day at Dortmund, they will know best where to probe the defender’s weaknesses.
Of course it works both ways. Hummels will have plenty of experience of bringing Sancho’s weaving runs to an end in training games and know how to intercept Bellingham’s passes.
There’s also the fact Germany’s squad has many more Premier League-based players than vice versa. No doubt Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger has been briefing Low on how to stop Mason Mount or Ben Chilwell, if they are available after their Covid isolation.
Mats Hummels, a Dortmund team-mate of Sancho and Bellingham, scored an own goal against France in Germany’s opening Euro 2020 game
Southgate will no doubt be asking Sancho for some pointers on how to unsettle Hummels
Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan will understand Phil Foden’s weaknesses and maybe Robin Koch of Leeds United knows what Kalvin Phillips really hates in terms of midfield marking.
So it’s a trade-off in intelligence and England are on the wrong side of the balance. But that’s all the more reason to consider throwing Sancho and Bellingham in.
‘Jude and Jadon will know them [Germany] very well,’ said Jordan Henderson on Thursday. ‘They are two big players for us, they have been training really well and I’m sure they will be telling a few of the lads one or two things.
‘We have a few days to prepare properly and see what we can exploit, what the game plan will be and take that into our training sessions. Preparation is key for this fixture.’
Jordan Henderson expects Sancho (R) and Bellingham to reveal Germany’s secrets
The Germany squad includes five Premier League stars including Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Bernd Leno (L-R)
It’s a knockout tie and time for Southgate to throw the conservatism that marked their group matches to the wind.
Sancho, coming into the tournament off a season of 16 goals and 20 assists for Dortmund, will be champing at the bit to show what he can produce. He’s sat on the bench for too long.
Trouble it, Raheem Sterling has been England’s only goalscorer so far and is tried and trusted by Southgate, while Bukayo Saka impressed in Tuesday’s win over the Czechs, so Sancho’s inclusion is far from guaranteed.
But if Mount misses out, Jack Grealish will again occupy the No 10 role, allowing Sterling to play on the left and Sancho on the right side.
Sancho’s lack of minutes so far has baffled the German fans who see his Dortmund performances more closely.
Raheem Sterling has been England’s only scorer so far and is likely to keep his place
Bukayo Saka made a strong case for inclusion against Germany with his display on Tuesday
‘England must have the best offensive line in Europe. Otherwise I cannot explain to myself why Jadon Sancho has yet to play a minute at Euro 2020 so far,’ tweeted the Sport1 journalist Patrick Berger prior to the Czech game.
Newspaper Bild said: ‘With his speed on the ball, the Dortmund player is a headache for defenders when he is in the right mood. He’s unpredictable and can change games.
‘The problem is that Southgate doesn’t trust him to do so.’
German legend Lothar Matthaus even suggested a change of allegiance might be necessary.
‘He was one of the best players in the Bundesliga for the last two years. If he is not good enough for England, we would like to give him a German passport,’ he told The Sun.
Germany legend Lothar Matthaus can’t understand why England don’t start with Sancho
The most likely explanation is that Southgate preferred to use more experienced and therefore trusted figures to steer England through the group stage.
Sterling has 64 caps to his credit, while Mount has made himself indispensable to Southgate in the same way he has to Thomas Tuchel. Sancho has just the 20 caps so far, half off the bench.
But what England have been crying out for is a wide attacker willing to take on defenders, get to the byline and cut the ball back or cross. Saka was an improvement last time out but Sancho could take it to another level.
His considerable experience of the Champions League and other big occasions with Dortmund also stands him in good stead for an occasion that will feel like a pressure cooker.
Bellingham has performed well but more experienced names are likely to fill the midfield
Bellingham hasn’t put a foot wrong so far and there’s no evidence to suggest the 17-year-old will be overwhelmed on Tuesday.
But Southgate will rank Declan Rice, Phillips and Henderson ahead of him in the midfield pecking order and there may be little Bellingham can do despite his insider knowledge.
There’s a strong argument in favour of Sancho and Bellingham being unleashed to take on the Germans. Whether they will get such a chance is another matter.