Time running out for Jadon Sancho after two difficult years at Old Trafford | Manchester United

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It should never have come to this. Manchester United did their due diligence when scouting Jadon Sancho. Four years of it, in fact.

Their pursuit of the teenage cage‑footballer from south London, who had shone like a beacon in the academies of Watford and Manchester City, was judicious, stemming from 2017 and his days across town at the Etihad Stadium.

When it all finally came to fruition in July 2021, after a stunning four-year spell at Borussia Dortmund – 50 goals, 60 assists, 22 England caps by the age of 21 – it was a case of mission complete for the United hierarchy. They had finally snared their man; the missing piece in the puzzle for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s exciting United side who had just finished second in the Premier League, their joint-best finish in the post‑Sir Alex Ferguson era. Sancho, it was universally agreed, could propel the club to the next level.

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“This is his home. This is where he belongs,” the message on United’s social media platforms said upon the 23-year-old’s official unveiling. Little more than two years down the line, however, and Sancho could hardly feel further from home; “scapegoated” by Erik ten Hag, as he claimed on Sunday night, as yet another rankle between player and manager unfolds in ugly fashion at Old Trafford.

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Eric Bailly has completed a permanent move to Besiktas from Manchester United, the Turkish club have announced.

Ivory Coast defender Bailly, 29, had spent last season on loan at Marseille as he was not in Erik ten Hag’s plans going forward.

A statement from the Turkish Super Lig side read: “Our club has reached an agreement with Manchester United for the final transfer of Ivorian defender Eric Bailly.

“We wish Eric Bailly, who we believe will provide important services to our club, great success with our glorious jersey, and present it to the public with our respect.” PA Media

Photograph: Phil Oldham/Rex Features

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How did it come to this? United’s £73m signing of England’s brightest young talent ought to have heralded a new era. Instead, his future at the club is now unclear, overtaken in the past year by an academy product four years his junior in Alejandro Garnacho and – for the trip to Arsenal on Sunday at least – overlooked for a spot among the substitutes in favour of Hannibal Mejbri and Dan Gore, 20 and 18 respectively and with one Premier League start between them.

Tensions between Ten Hag and Sancho have simmered to the stage where the manager felt compelled to leave the winger at home, citing poor performances in training. This comes six months after Sancho was afforded a three‑month break to deal with “physical and mental issues” during which time United sent him to the Netherlands to work with Ten Hag’s dedicated coaches.

There has been a sense that Sancho is simply not meeting the standards demanded by his manager, either in training or matches, despite his claims to the contrary. His meagre return of 12 goals and six assists in more than two seasons at United are dwarfed by those Dortmund numbers that catapulted him to stardom.

Jadon Sancho on United’s pre-season tour of the US
Jadon Sancho got some game time on United’s pre-season tour of the US, including here against his former side Borussia Dortmund. Photograph: Lucas Peltier/USA Today Sports

On United’s pre-season tour of the US this summer, Ten Hag was asked about Sancho’s adaptation to the Premier League, which has taken far longer than the club anticipated. “I saw many [of his] games at Dortmund and Jadon is not such a different player in Dortmund as he is here,” the manager said. “Also for him, he has to get more consistency in his performance but he has to do it at a higher level.”

The instant impact made by Sancho’s former clubmate Erling Haaland since he also swapped Dortmund for Manchester creates a stark contrast. Jude Bellingham, enjoying a rocket-fast start to life at Real Madrid after an excellent spell at the Westfalenstadion, is another yardstick.

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Is Sancho simply a bad fit for Ten Hag’s system? He was signed specifically for the right wing by Solskjær but it quickly became apparent that he was more comfortable on the left – an area in which United are particularly well stocked, with Marcus Rashford and now Garnacho preferred there. Ten Hag likes to operate with inverted wingers and almost always picks the left-footed Antony, an £82m signing in 2022, on the right.

Sancho, not blisteringly quick but tidy in possession, is also capable as a No 10 but club captain Bruno Fernandes has that role locked down, with Mason Mount and Christian Eriksen as backup.

Competition has been fierce at United since Sancho’s arrival and he’s invariably been pushed to the margins. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, weeks after Sancho’s own arrival, limited his game time at the start of his United career. The Antony transfer was an early indication of Ten Hag’s intentions; with every new arrival Sancho felt increasingly peripheral.

There is goodwill for him among the United fanbase. The Stretford End roared Sancho’s name on his return to action against Nottingham Forest in February. His backers agree with the player’s assertion that he deserves more minutes, especially given the underwhelming form of United’s other forwards in the past year, Rashford aside.

Yet this is not the first time problems have arisen with Sancho behind the scenes. Gareth Southgate reportedly had an issue with the player’s timekeeping on England duty, while his training level was said to have fluctuated during the Euro 2020 campaign. There were whispers Ten Hag wasn’t satisfied with Sancho’s fitness levels at the start of last season.

Sancho’s social media outburst won’t help his case in the short term, prompting possible disciplinary action from the club, with relations with Ten Hag at breaking point. But all is not lost, with the player vowing “to fight for this badge” and the closure of the transfer window giving him four months to prove himself.

Failure to do so could make a January departure from Old Trafford likely. Time is ticking for one of English football’s prodigal sons.

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