Men's Team

Big interview: Leroy Sane

Big interview: Leroy Sane
In an in-depth interview, Manchester City winger Leroy Sane discusses life in the Premier League pressure cooker, what he learnt from his sports star parents, and the team-mate who 'sees everything'...

A switch to a new country and league at the age of 20 was a bold move for Leroy Sane, especially given the intense focus on Pep Guardiola's new era at City.

But this is a young man with huge ambition and the opportunity to test himself in the Premier League, arguably the most competitive division in the world, was too much to turn down.

The Bundesliga’s loss was City’s gain. Sane, 20, is lightening quick, with and without the ball, and possesses substantial technical ability. He is one of the most gifted young footballers in Europe, a player with plenty of room for improvement but whose potential is huge.

He is from a family with significant sporting pedigree. His mother, Regina Weber, won a bronze medal in gymnastics at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, while his father, Souleymane, was a professional footballer who played for FC Nurnberg and SG Wattenscheid. Both his older and younger brothers are involved in football, with 13-year-old Sidi a highly-rated member of Schalke’s youth setup.

Gymanistics is not my kind of sport,” he says of his mother’s chosen path. “But I have spoken to her about it and I know she was good. She was third in the Olympic Games. I think she was the first from Germany to win the Bronze medal. I am very proud of this.

“I played with my father a lot when I was younger. Me and my brother would always say to him ‘come on, you must play with us!’ and every time he would go in the goal and we would take shots.

“I talk with my father after every match about how my game was, what I have to do better, what was the bad things in the game and what I have to do better in the next games.

“My parents taught me a lot. I have the movements from my mother and speed from my father.

“They taught me to have fun when you play. They told me all the time have fun and do what you want to do.

“For me, that’s important. I try to enjoy every game and every training session.”

That sense of enjoyment has been obvious already. The physicality of the Premier League may have taken Sane by surprise at first, but his desire and ability to go past players is becoming increasingly clear. He wants to excite the crowd.

Pace is his major asset - and the nutmeg his not-so-secret weapon.

“I have been doing it a long time,” he says. “When I was young, every time I played if I could nutmeg, I would do it.

“It’s not because I want to annoy the other player. In my head it’s a way of going past a defender and that’s why I do it.”

Having shown flashes of his ability the previous season, Sane established himself in the Schalke first team last term, scoring nine goals in 42 appearances for the club.

On the counter, which was Schalke’s default style, he was their secret weapon – quick, fearless and direct.

His goal against Wolfsburg last season shows Sane at his best. He won a header deep inside his own half before setting off on a 75-yard run. No one could catch him. He took on two defenders on the edge of the area before slotting home with a superb low shot. It was a world-class moment from a player who, at the time, was just 19.

A move to the Premier League at such a young age was always going to require a period of transition, but in recent weeks, before his injury setback, we were beginning to see him flourish and establish himself in His performance against Arsenal, which saw him produce a number of penetrating bursts forward and score his first goal for the club, was hugely encouraging.

He says he is enjoying his new life – but admits there are differences between the top divisions in England and Germany that he needs to get used to.

“I am enjoying it a lot at City,” he says. “It’s a very big club. All the people who work here are good people and they have helped me a lot.

“I enjoy it because I am playing, I have a very good trainer and I play with very good team-mates – David Silva, Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne – they are all very, very good players and I can learn a lot from them.

“All the people who work here for the club wants the club to get bigger and bigger and bigger. That’s a very good thing. All the people help the here help the players. Also, the players that have come here also want to win for the club - the Premier League, the Champions League – and I think that’s great.

“The big difference between the two countries is every game is a difficult game here. Here, when the biggest club plays against the smallest club, okay the favourite is the big club, but everyone knows the smaller club has a good chance to win or maybe get a draw.

“That’s why it’s more difficult to play here than the Bundesliga. There, when you see Bayern Munich play against Ingolstadt, you know who will win.”

There are also some significant differences between the style of football favoured - for instance - by Schalke to the one Guardiola encourages at City.

“The players at City want to play more football and less long balls,” he says. “They don’t sit in their own half. They want to play and have more of the ball than the other team.

“There are still long balls here – but in Schalke there were more.

“Here, the quality is incredible. All the players at City are famous players who play for their national team. So the technical quality here is high.

“David Silva has impressed me a lot because if you see how he plays, he always knows what he has to do next.

“If you see the boxes [the passing drill in training that sees one player trying to recover the ball from a group passing around him in a tight area], he’s never in the box!

“He’s one of the players that really impressed me so far. He can read the game very well.

“He can see where everything is, he knows where to turn so that he has time. He can play on-touch and two-touch football.

“Training here was a step up for me because you are playing with players who have played at this level for a long time. You feel it straightaway by how quick they play and, yes, you need time to adjust. But now I am doing very well in the team.”

When it became clear he was open to the idea of a move away from Schalke in the summer, he could have had his pick of top European clubs. But it was Guardiola, who had congratulated Germany on producing as player as exciting as Sane while he was in charge at Bayern Munich, who landed him.

A personal phone call outlining his vision for the club and the player proved crucial. Guardiola, who likes pace in wide areas, was the manager Sane wanted to work with.

“It feels very, very good [to be wanted by Guardiola],” he says. “I was very happy when I found out he wanted me to play for him at Manchester City. It was a very quick decision for me to say I wanted to come here.

“He spoke with me before I signed and said he wanted to make me a better player, to improve areas I am not good in. That’s why I chose Manchester City.”

So which areas of his game does he need to improve?

“I need to improve my right foot,” he says with a wry smile. “I also need to feel more confident in the games, to concentrate throughout the whole game and not make too many mistakes.

“The players and the coach are helping me a lot to do this.”

If he can listen to those around him and continue improving the way he already has since arriving in England, City, you feel, could have a star for years to come.