Ralf Rangnick has urged Jadon Sancho to start replicating his training performance on the pitch for Manchester United after a hugely disappointing start to life at Old Trafford.
United spent a reported £72million on Sancho in pre-season, his move from Borussia Dortmund being long in the making after the club spent well over a year courting him.
Having left Manchester City as a teenager, Sancho blossomed into one of Europe’s most promising young players in the Bundesliga – his haul of 51 non-penalty goal involvements over 2019-20 and 2020-21 was bettered by just five players across the top five European leagues.
Of those 51, 27 were assists, with Thomas Muller (39), Kevin De Bruyne (32) and Lionel Messi (27) the only three to boast a higher tally.
While some critics have argued Sancho’s 16.0 expected assists (xA) in that time shows that his form was unsustainable, that was still an extremely high figure as he ranked 11th among the same group of players.
He has found life a little harder at United, though, registering just two goals as his only goal involvements. He ranks fifth in the squad for xA (2.0) and sixth for non-penalty xG (2.2) across all competitions, and this is not even a team that is thriving.
The England international came in for criticism after a particularly anonymous substitute appearance in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, though it would seem the Sancho playing in matches is almost unrecognisable to the one Rangnick sees in training.
“Whenever I see him train, he’s showing that he’s one of the best players in the training sessions,” Rangnick said.
“But now it’s about transferring that to when he’s playing, and showing the same kind of level and performance on the pitch.
“I said that to him, by the way, the day before yesterday: ‘Confirm the performances you show in training when you’re playing on the pitch.’
“For me, it’s not at all a question of his position. It’s clear that in a 4-3-3 he’s a player for either of the two wing positions, either left or right. He can play both.
“I think he would prefer a little bit the left side, because he can then switch inside and have a go on goal or shoot on goal with his strong foot.
“But for me, there’s no question, no doubt about his position. He’s a winger. He’s somebody who can dribble fast with ball, and for me it’s not at all a question of which is the best possible position for him.”
Pressed for a potential explanation for Sancho’s struggles, Rangnick was hardly definitive, but he did offer a few theories, namely greater demands physically and psychologically.
“It’s difficult to say. I think it’s a different league, it’s a different competition. It’s more physical,” Rangnick continued.
“Now he’s playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. I think it’s also got to do with a lot of different things up here in his head. It’s a difference if you come as an 18-year-old, unknown, a talented English boy to Borussia Dortmund.
“From then on, you can only improve; you can only make a success out of that. The level of expectation was a lot lower compared to the situation when, at the age of 21, you come to a club like Manchester United for a high transfer fee, with a high level of expectation.
“Everybody expected from him that he would be one of the best players in the team. Again, this is psychologically, emotionally a more challenging situation than the one he had at Borussia Dortmund, and these are exactly the kind of steps that he has to make to become a top player for the next 10 years for this club.”
Rangnick is optimistic Sancho will rediscover his confidence with a few more decisive actions in the final third, though he did warn the 21-year-old that only he can take those steps, there is only so much those helping him can do.
“With those kinds of players, creative, offensive players, it’s all about confidence. It’s all about having that confidence, being aware how good they can be and then showing it in front of 75,000, or 45,000 at Villa Park.
“Of course, in the end he has to do that. He has [to make] that step again. As I said, in most training sessions he’s training on a very high level. Now it’s about having the transfer onto the pitch in the Premier League, in the FA Cup and in the Champions League.
“He can do that; he has the ability to do that. There is no doubt about that, but now we have to develop him into that kind of player, showing the same kind of performances that he showed at Borussia Dortmund.
“We can give him the guidelines, we can give him helping hands and show him that we are trying to accompany him on this way, and give all the necessary assistance that he needs, but in the end it’s up to him to take those next steps.”