Welcome to BetaSoccer’s weekly column on European football. Every Monday, Anthony Lopopolo scours the continent’s top leagues for the biggest stories.
When Jadon Sancho was benched for Borussia Dortmund’s match against Barcelona, it felt like the beginning of the end. Not for the first time, Sancho was disciplined for being late.
Dortmund had been here before. Ousmane Dembele went AWOL as he pushed for a transfer in 2017, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled a similar stunt a few months later.
CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and sporting director Michael Zorc wouldn’t let another player treat them like that again. Sancho was paying that price. Instead of nurturing him, the club seemed more interested in making an example of him.
In October, he was reportedly fined €100,000 after arriving a day late from international duty, one of the heaviest financial penalties ever imposed against a player in the Bundesliga, according to German network Sport1. He was then suspended for a game against Borussia Monchengladbach.
But he didn’t let any resentment seep in. Not when he was docked six figures, when he was substituted 36 minutes into the 4-0 loss to Bayern Munich on Nov. 9, or when he was dropped last Wednesday. Sancho overcame the humiliation at every turn.
He was one of the few to show personality at the Camp Nou, scoring a spectacular goal with his right foot to give a struggling Dortmund side a modicum of respectability in the eventual 3-1 defeat.
Sancho then put himself at manager Lucien Favre’s disposal last weekend at Hertha Berlin, switching from his usual position on the right wing to fill the void on the left. His goal in the first half – marked by an incredible display of patience and awareness to stay onside – set BVB on their way to a much-needed 2-1 win. His leadership on the pitch was equally impressive to watch: Sancho tracked back to defend and pointed this way and that to direct play.
The media’s attempts to paint Sancho as a spoiled brat are as inaccurate as they are desperate. He’s never been a hot head or a “crazy kid” like Aubameyang. The club certainly hasn’t helped matters.
“Maybe he’s a little bit undisciplined but I can understand why a 19-year-old kid is not always on time,” Stefan Buczko, host of the “Yellowwallpod,” told BetaSoccer. “It should absolutely be dealt with but I can’t really say anything bad about it because I was also late to things at that age.”
“This is not the same as Aubameyang or Dembele. I don’t think you can put him in the same bracket. (Sancho) is actually very humble and grateful for what the club has done for him. The kinks can be ironed out.”
Sancho has maintained a sense of humility throughout his rapid rise to stardom. Despite being in his teenage years, he’s done community work at his old primary school and recently teamed up with Nike to build a pitch in south London for young footballers.
Buczko blames the club’s public relations department for allowing all the rumors to define Sancho as a person and as a player. When he was fined, it seemed like he had gone on strike when that wasn’t the case at all. The rumors about his future fuel further suspicions that, like Dembele and Aubameyang, Sancho is using tactics to force a move.
“The journalists who cover the team see the PR team as more arrogant than the players,” Buczko adds. “They aren’t transparent enough. We had a report saying Sancho had missed breakfast, warmups, and a team briefing. The club did nothing to clarify the situation.”
Instead of controlling the narrative, the club is now faced with cleaning up the aftermath. Zorc is “known to be sparse with his words,” according to Buczko, but he’s had to step in and do public relations work for his staff. He sits with Favre during press conferences because, though the coach himself is fluent in German, his answers to questions are notoriously vague. He does little to provide clarity.
That has allowed what Bucko sees as a non-story to become international gossip. It has shaped the way the world views Sancho, making him out to be a headache in the dressing room when he’s really just a kid who can’t keep time. Dortmund have let it go too far.
It’s not like he’s pouting and taking off to destinations unknown like Dembele and Aubameyang before him. Sancho has answered the call during the biggest PR crisis of his career, scoring three goals and adding three assists in his last six matches. That says more about him than anything else.