It was December 2016 and the day before, Marouane Fellaini produced the worst football cameo since David Beckham in Goal! at Goodison Park, Sancho rocked United’s Carrington training complex. Sancho was 16 and Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz were also on the Manchester City U18 bus.
Foden and Diaz were in the XI but Sancho was a replacement. He looted seven goals in 11 appearances – most of them at the age of 15 – in his first season and scored two in his first four minutes at the U18 level. City coach Jason Wilcox described the performance as “sensational”, but competition for attacking spots requires rotation of youth coaches and Sancho, a starter in the reverse match at City Football Academy, has started on the bench in Carrington.
From City’s 2-0 CFA victory, Simon Bajkowski of the MEN wrote: “One day more for defense than for attack, Jadon Sancho played a key role in giving the hosts the lead. City sought to bring the ball back to him from the start and it became their main investment.
“Full of racing and cunning, United couldn’t contain the 16-year-old when he was running with relish at anything in red that appeared in his sight. Foden, Sancho and Joel Latibeaudiere were chosen by MEN as the three talents from the city’s academy to watch on the eve of the 2016-17 campaign, and in October Sancho trained with the first team.
Foden got preferential treatment that Sancho ended up feeling and the Stockport-born striker started 31 of 37 games under the City Under-18. Sancho started 19 and looted 15 goals – the same as Foden – in 22 outings.
Kieran McKenna was not in three months in his stint as U18 coach when he chose Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong in a united team that took the lead just before the break thanks to a chic goal from Callum Gribbin. City coach Lee Carsley hooked Luke Bolton – now with Luton Town in the championship – for Sancho before the restart.
Joshua Bohui earned United a penalty that Gribbin sent into orbit and Sancho caught the error. Playing on the left and wearing the number 15, he slalomed past DJ Buffonge and slid the ball across to Diaz to scruffly force the model’s defenders.
Soon it was Sancho who was motionless. Buffonge dispossessed the winger and started a breakaway that Sancho followed diligently to stop, although he showed little resistance in suppressing Bohui and crossed over to have Buffonge approve 81 minutes.
Three minutes later, Sancho isolated United left-back George Tanner, passed behind him and the desperate Callum Whelan, and aimed for the goal. Ilias Moutha-Sebtaoui made a credible step forward to deflect the ball but Foden immediately jumped on the rebound. The match ended 2-2.
Sancho had played a pivotal role in both derbies, but following level 1 Premier League equality at the CFA three months later, he had long since been recruited among the under 23s; only recalled for FA Youth Cup games en route to the final. Sancho helped dismantle United’s second tasteless chain in a 3-1 victory at Leigh Sports Village, where Scott McTominay took the lead alongside Devonte Redmond.
Academy director Nicky Butt had launched an aggressive recruitment campaign at the academy level, and United had been alerted enough times to touch base with representatives from Sancho unsure of its future. Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were going in circles and Guardiola ostensibly omitted Sancho from the US preseason tour team – but chose Foden and Diaz. Sancho started missing training.
The city president, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, had designated Sancho, Foden and Diaz as young people who had “very good chances” to be part of the first team. “They are extremely talented players. These are players who have a very good chance of qualifying for the first team.
“And these are players who, if you ask Pep today, he will tell you that they can and will be first-team players at Manchester City. Diaz joined Real Madrid last year.
Negotiations with Tottenham failed and United assured Sancho that they could reach an agreement outside the transfer window by agreeing to a compensation agreement with City. Sancho, emboldened by his recognition as the best player in the European Under-17 Championship this summer, wanted a clearer path to first-team football and City refused to sell him to a rival.
Borussia Dortmund offered £ 8 million and offered Sancho number seven. He can still put number seven in Carrington.