One of the less savoury characteristics of the demanding world of Premier League football is how quickly the press, fans and even fellow professionals can be to call out the flaws in new arrivals. Before the turn of the year, it was touch and go whether Leroy Sané had what it took to perform for one of Europe’s most demanding and ambitious clubs. His progress had been noticeably underwhelming, especially when the then 20-year-old had cost just shy of £40 million to secure from Schalke 04.
While lesser players would have just kicked back, assured of their multi-million contracts and just played online casino for the next five years – Sané has proven he is made of much tougher stuff. Seemingly a totally rejuvenated and far more confident player during 2017, there’s a number of reasons we can propose to explain this dramatic transformation.
The influence of Guardiola and senior pros
It’s been clear for a couple of seasons that while vastly talented, the Man City squad has had a noticeably older average age than most other teams. During the 2015-16 season, this had started to make their midfield and counter-attacking play just too slow to compete against the very best. For this reason Guardiola – a proven expert at developing talent at every club he has managed – brought in Sané to provide the explosive pace that had been sorely lacking.
When purchased it was no secret that Sané – already a full German International – had an incredibly bright future ahead of him providing he was carefully nurtured (hence the huge transfer fee). Despite his struggles during the first half of the season, the player himself has publicly thanked his manager and senior team-mates Yaya Touré and Pablo Zabaleta for taking him under their wings and helping rebuild his confidence.
This team ethic is essential to the Guardiola vision – and something City have again lacked in prior seasons – and this must be considered the core reason for Sane’s progression now he has settled at the club.
Sané’s style is essential to the City game plan
We’ve already noted how Sané was bought to provide fast and direct wing play, but the effect his sudden improvement in form has had upon his team-mates is equally important. His ability to use his physical strength and superb technique when running with the ball at pace allows him to swiftly stretch the opposition defence, often with devastating results.
Unsettling rival players has allowed the likes of New Year’s arrival Gabriel Jesus to start his City career with a bang before falling foul to injury, as well as allowed more space for Sterling, Agüero, Silva and De Bruyne to exploit. When they’re all fit, City have one of top forward lines in world football, and Sané has been essential in adding a different dimension to their attacking play. Selecting who starts from this selection is one of those headaches that any manager would love to have.
A player used to overcoming the odds
It’s worth remembering that just three years ago, Leroy Sané’s career in elite professional football was far from certain. Despite his blatant skill and physical attributes, he has always had to strive to overcome the impression that he was a ‘first-half’ player who tended to go missing for long stretches of the match. Many clubs would have overlooked this simply because of his raw talent, but when playing at City’s standard such bad habits simply aren’t going to cut the mustard.
As he has done consistently during his fledgling career, he has knuckled down and put in the hours at the tactics board just as much as on the training pitch. Guardiola has evidently drummed in the role he expects his flying winger to play and the message has been received loud and clear. The reward has been, at the time of writing, getting on the scoresheet for three games in a row, including a standout man of the match performance in a 2-0 win away at Bournemouth.
All the signs are, now he’s settling down and feeling an integral part of the City squad, that Sané will go from strength to strength. Considering he’s only recently turned 21, it’d be understandable if rival defences are starting to feel a hint of trepidation.