During Chairman Khladoon Al Mubarak’s post-season address to fans, released earlier this week here on mancity.com, he spoke in glowing terms about Leroy Sane.
He invited us to think back to his debut away at Manchester United in September 2016. The German, then 20, came on as a second-half substitute and looked overawed by the occasion. He didn’t want to go past his full-back and decided instead to play with caution, often moving inside to lay a simple ball off to a teammate, the fear of losing the ball, of making a mistake, inhibiting his performance.
A new league, new surroundings and a big step up from the Schalke side he’d played with previously made for a difficult transition period. For six months, he was on the periphery of the side, unable to stamp his mark on proceedings in the way he would have liked.
But then came a watershed game: the 2-1 win over Arsenal in December of his first season. Sane scored his first for the Club and played superbly, using his pace to frighten the Arsenal back four throughout. From that moment on, his season was an upward trajectory.
And 2017-18 saw him truly announce himself as one of Europe’s finest young players. He scored 14 goals in all competitions and assisted a further 17. He completed over 84% of his passes and successfully engineered 2.8 dribbles every 90 minutes. For a young player still learning the intricacies of the game whose starting position is on the wing, those are frightening numbers, up drastically from the previous year.
But, of course, to reduce him to mere statistics is to underplay his contribution. Sane is lethal. His pace frightens defenders and his starting position, tight to the left-hand touchline, stretches teams, creating space infield for the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero to exploit. He is crucial in allowing Guardiola's style to flourish.
He possesses wonderful technique, with a fine first touch and the ability to produce moments of magic that allow him to take players on. With many of City’s players focused on short, sharp passing, Sane is often the catalyst for a more direct approach; a change of pace that opposition teams find unsettling. Bernardo Silva’s goal away at Arsenal is a fine case in point.
And he’s adding variety to his game. He isn’t simply an out-and-out winger. He often drifts inside and looks to cause problems in central areas, getting closer to the striker to offer support. His awareness is improving, too, and his understanding of when to keep the ball and when to run at players is getting better all the time.
Under Guardiola’s tutelage, the sky’s the limit for Sane. When the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or is over and the two greatest footballers of a generation finally begin to decline, the game’s most coveted individual prize will once again be passed around a larger group of emerging players. Should Sane continue to develop and improve the way he has over the past 18 months, expect him to be in with a shout of claiming it.
A Premier League champion, Carabao Cup winner and the best young player in England...it was a season to remember for Leroy.
If you want to relive the best moments from a truly memorable season, visit our Beautiful Football hub: https://www.mancity.com/beautifulfootball