When Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s headed through ball trickled into the opening in front of Eintracht Frankfurt goalkeeper Lukas Hredecky, there was only going to be one winner. Lurking on the shoulder of Aleksandar Ignjovski, the 19-year-old Leroy Sané left his man for dead, briefly wandering to the left flank only to cut inside and serve both Ignjovski and Hredecky a plate of grass before slotting into the open net. For a player who, according to Bundesliga commentator Kevin Hatchard, ‘lacks composure’ and is ‘too raw’ for a big move, this was a goal as calm as they come.
I’d presume that every City fan in the world has seen that goal by now. They tell you not to watch YouTube compilations but in Sané’s case it’s clear that the acceleration, willingness to beat his man and confidence in front of goal on show in that short snippet is what our new £37m man is all about. And if the YouTube videos aren’t enough, it’s worth paying attention to the gaffer’s thoughts on the German wonderkid.
“He is a special talent, and an exciting player that I think our supporters will enjoy watching,” said Guardiola.
“He has great technical ability, is comfortable on the ball and there is much to admire about the way he plays football.
“He is fast, enjoys creating chances for others, works hard for the team and scores goals, too. He also has a very positive attitude and will fit in well with our squad.”
Sané was quick to return the praise as he spoke to City TV in his first interview with the club on Tuesday.
“I followed Pep at Barcelona and Bayern where he achieved a lot and worked really well with young players and brought them on.
“That was a big part of my decision to come here.”
The mutual admiration between the pair is bound to facilitate greatness. Guardiola, as he has shown with Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Jerome Boateng and Joshua Kimmich, has an otherworldly knack for developing young players on the condition that they show a willingness to learn. If we’re to take anything from Sané’s first interview, it’s that he is a humble character aware of the fact that under Guardiola’s tutelage he could develop into one of the world’s best players.
“He will bring me a long way in terms of tactics and I think he can help any player develop technically,” he added.
“I think he can make me more of a complete player.”
But on the pitch, the Schalke academy graduate couldn’t be less courteous. Sané completed more take ons (92) than any other player in the Bundesliga last season and 26 more than Sergio Agüero. He was also among the goals as Schalke narrowly missed out on a top four spot, scoring 8 and assisting 6. After an agonisingly tedious 2015/2016 campaign in which City seemed to play at 5mph and with the squad craving an injection something raw, uncooked and unconventional, there should be no surprise at how keen Guardiola was to bring him in. Reports suggest that City may have been able to snatch the winger for £9m less next season when a buyout clause comes into play, but with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid sniffing around the club’s negotiators were not about to let the Bundesliga’s most exciting young talent escape their grasp.
And with Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno also joining the club this summer, it says a lot about Sané’s maturity levels that he will be the only new young forward thrown straight into the first team. Jesus, described as the ‘next Neymar’ by Brazilian pundits, will be immediately loaned back to Palmeiras while Moreno is set for a spell in La Liga with Deportivo La Coruna once his move to City is confirmed. Only a year in age separates the two South Americans and Sané, but the German is deemed to be the only one of the three ready to take on the Premier League next season.
So what does this mean for Raheem Sterling? Nothing, probably. Sané, who spent most of his time on Schalke’s right flank, should be viewed more as a straight replacement for Jesús Navas than a player to heap more misery on what has been an unfortunate summer for Raheem. Sané is an excellent dribbler who likes to cut inside and received an average WhoScored rating of 7.42 on the right last term, compared to a rating of 6.19 on the left. It’s clear where he performs best, but his versatility also means he can be played centrally in behind a main striker or up top on his own as a false 9. With Kevin De Bruyne set to hold a regular spot in the no.10 role and Navas to assume a more secondary role, Sané can expect a lot of game time and should be confident of holding down a place in the starting eleven.
At £37.5m, Leroy Sané is Schalke’s most expensive export. Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil and Ivan Rakitić represent just a handful of the players who have benefited from the excellent academy in Gelsenkirchen. They’re world class players, and there is no doubt that Sané will enjoy similar status once moulded by the hands of Guardiola.