Pep Guardiola was in full pursuit of Alexis Sanchez when Jadon Sancho decided it was time to force his way out of Manchester City and move to Germany.
It was August 2017, Sanchez was into the final year of his contract at Arsenal and Guardiola claimed the highly-prized 17-year-old had agreed his first professional deal, thought to be an offer of £30,000-a-week, before changing his mind.
‘Maybe he thought he would get more minutes at Dortmund and I can understand,’ shrugged the City boss, hinting that the teenager did not fancy the fierce competition. ‘If the player says no what can we do?’
Jadon Sancho left Manchester City in the summer of 2017 to go and join Borussia Dortmund
In the same summer, City wanted to sign Alexis Sanchez, who moved to Man Utd shortly after
There is no way to know how Sancho’s career might have developed had he stayed with Guardiola.
He could have two Premier League winners’ medals already in the bag. He could have been key to the domestic treble last season. He could be preparing to face Real Madrid for a place in the last eight of the Champions League. Equally he could have been heading out on loan.
It is impossible to question Sancho’s courage, however, or his willingness to trust his ability and stride out into the unknown.
He has made quite a habit of it during his four-step journey from the south London streets to the Theatre of Dreams and reaped the rewards, as he stands on the brink of a record-breaking transfer.
As English football endlessly debated the best way to create pathways for its most talented teenagers, churning over ideas about quotas and B-teams, Sancho simply went out and created his own — with the considerable help and support of his father Sean.
When Watford scouts spotted him at the age of eight and invited him to join their academy, it meant a four-hour round-trip to training three times a week. Later he left home in Camberwell and moved in with an aunt in Northolt, in the north-west of the capital, then into the club’s residential facilities.
‘We saw it as the next step,’ recalled Sean. ‘That was always what was in my mind. Whatever needs to be done needs to be done.’
Sancho moved from Watford to City at 15 years old – but did not stay in Manchester for long
Sancho played alongside current first-team player Phil Foden (right) in the City youth team
The same single-minded approach applied at 15, when City paid Watford the £66,000 in compensation prescribed by the Elite Player Performance Plan and Sancho, who supported Chelsea, left the capital for a lighter shade of blue.
City spare no expense when it comes to providing their academy players with the finest facilities and a private education. He sparkled in a successful youth team alongside Phil Foden — two months younger than Sancho and a fascinating comparison since he chose to remain under the tutelage of Guardiola.
Foden has been used sparingly by Manchester City over the last three years and yet is becoming increasingly influential. He appears ready to take a significant step forward after the departure of David Silva.
Sancho cut loose, opting for Borussia Dortmund and sparking a trend of others who left the academies of English clubs for Germany, either on season-long loans or as permanent transfers.
He went for the football education. He certainly did not select the Ruhr Valley for its climate or lifestyle. He and his father moved into an apartment on the outskirts of the city and focused on the football.
Sancho opted to move to Borussia Dortmund for a footballing education in the Ruhr Valley
The appeal was in Dortmund’s reputation for identifying and developing some of the most talented players in the world. It is the same reason 17-year-old Jude Bellingham has rejected domestic offers to join them from Birmingham City.
Dortmund gave Sancho the No 7 shirt as proof of how they valued him and thrust him into the first-team squad.
City were in pursuit of different targets and under different pressures having failed to win a trophy in Guardiola’s first season. Having missed out on Sanchez from Arsenal, they paid Leicester £60m for Riyad Mahrez.
Sancho made an impact towards the end of his first Bundesliga campaign and burst through in his second with a dazzling start which quickly earned him England recognition at the age of 18.
Foden has the medals, although he is still waiting for his first England cap. Sancho has 11 caps and far more minutes of senior competitive football.
Foden stayed with City and has won countless medals already under manager Pep Guardiola
Guardiola decided to let Sancho leave, and now he will become a English record £108m player
The move to Germany quickened the advance into a high calibre of senior football and perhaps there is a positive case to state for a young footballer making his mistakes in another country.
There was not the same scrutiny or race to judge when Sancho’s form ebbed and flowed. Nor was there a clamour when he was fined and dropped for turning up late for a team meeting as there might have been for a teenage Premier League star.
Three years in Germany has worked well for Sancho. He deserves credit for embracing the risk and showing the dedication to make it work. Plenty of others who followed have not enjoyed the same success.
It is not a free ride. There might be advantages but that does not make it easy.
Sancho will return to Manchester as an England international and a superstar in the making
Sancho will return to Manchester to show the nation what he has become.
At £108million, he will become the most expensive English footballer in history if his move to Manchester United goes through as expected.
And there is a pleasing irony for those who enjoy such twists — as United try to clear Alexis Sanchez from the wage bill to help fund the investment.