The ever-changing story of Leroy Sane – from 'irreconcilable' to 'incredible' in less than six months
September 28, 2019 | News | No Comments
The Germany winger was in a bad place at the start of the season but has become one of the most dangerous players in Europe once again
Two things about Leroy Sane’s first season at Manchester City stand out as particularly strange now, more than two years down the line.
One is that some fans suggested that he was an unnecessary purchase, wondering whether the £47 million fee he commanded could have been spent better elsewhere.
The second thing is that Pep Guardiola once described Sane as ‘shy’.
Sane did indeed take a few months to show even flashes of his devastating best, but it has been a long, long time since anybody has said either of those two things.
The German takes a seemingly never-ending amount of self-belief into every game. With that allied to his natural pace, athleticism and mastery of a football he has already grown into an almost peerless Premier League danger man.
Sane managed five goals and three assists in his debut campaign, but since the start of last season he has more assists (24) than anybody else in England. Even adding on his comparatively meagre first-season haul, only Kevin De Bruyne (36) and Christian Eriksen (34) have more assists than he does (27) since he first arrived at City. And having hit ‘only’ five goals in 2016-17, he got 10 last season and has eight already this time around.
He is growing. When he pointed to exactly where Gabriel Jesus should pass the ball at Newport on Saturday he showed that he is not afraid to call the shots, and then take them.
Off the pitch he is certainly sure of himself. Too sure of himself for Joachim Low, who left him out of Germany’s World Cup squad partly because of perceived attitude problems and an incompatibility with the rest of the team.
That omission seems to follow Sane around even now but history suggests it is a weight that will hang heavier around Low’s neck.
Yet even if Low could have found a way to handle Sane better, as Guardiola seems to have managed, the World Cup-winning coach did not simply invent a problem out of thin air.
Sane’s City team-mates have at times been affronted by his nature, although a footballer with an ego is no rarity and you don’t necessarily need friends to perform at your best.
Of course, Guardiola has not always been happy with his attitude and, in fact, one source close to the City boss now says that the situation at the start of the season appeared “irreconcilable” at the time. Many expected Sane to hit the ground running for City having missed the World Cup, but it took several thinly-veiled public warnings from Guardiola and another omission – from the matchday squad for a Premier League game with Newcastle – to get the 23-year-old back to somewhere near his best again.
In fairness that came at a time of family upheaval, with Sane seemingly stuck in the middle of a family row, with his pregnant girlfriend on one side and his parents, who are also his agents, on the other.
The situation has clearly calmed down of late, with Sane, now a father, back in the kind of groove that has made him one of the hottest properties in Europe.
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Yet Guardiola, perhaps tellingly, was careful to strike the right balance when asked about Sane’s evolution as a footballer ahead of his return to boyhood club Schalke on Wednesday.
In the same press conference that the Catalan wrapped up some lavish praise of Bernardo Silva with the words “I love him”, he struck a more sober tone when Sane was on the agenda.
“I think it’s a question for him, he knows exactly how he was at Schalke and now in Manchester,” the City boss said. “I have the feeling he improved a lot, but I always had the feeling he wants to be an incredible player. As we have seen with his potential, and with the age that he has, he can do it.
“It depends on him. To be consistent in every game and to improve what he can improve. He’s already an incredible player and he will be more incredible. It depends on him, like every player.”
Even last season – when Sane was named the PFA’s Young Player of the Year – he seemed capable of lurching between incredible highs and, admittedly rare, shocking lows.
Those days seem to be a thing of the past now, too, as he becomes an ever more consistently dangerous performer.
City recognise his fantastic abilities and also his value. They have been trying to tie him to a new contract since last season, but as yet they have had no joy.
Raheem Sterling finally signed his new contract in November, a couple of months before City would have had to “make a decision”, according to a high-profile source. Or rather, decide whether to sell or not.
There is still a full year to go before City will be in “make a decision” territory with Sane, and things always seem to change quickly when the winger is involved.