Dominating older players, asking for extra sprints and a freakish natural ability… how a 13-year-old Jadon Sancho flew through the ranks at Watford and why his ex-coach thinks Dortmund star will win the Ballon d’Or
- Jadon Sancho is among the most sought-after young players in world football
- Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all been linked with signing him
- Louis Lancaster, his former youth coach at Watford, tipped him for the top
- He remembers how Sancho used to dominate players three years older than him
In the summer of 2013, Jadon Sancho was with Watford’s academy and 13-years-old, when one training session saw his age group paired with the 16-year-olds.
A daunting prospect for any youngster, surely, but then Sancho was no ordinary youngster.
As Louis Lancaster, his youth coach, recalls: ‘If you’ve got someone who’s going to be a top player then he needs to be outstanding in his own age group.
The promise Jadon Sancho showed as a kid at Watford has since been fulfilled at Dortmund
As a child, Sancho played above his age with older boys but was still the most gifted
‘If they play the age group above, they just need to be good. Two age groups, just need to survive. But he was the best player by a mile, competing with 16-year-olds.
‘Three age groups above and he was outstanding.’
Lancaster studied mavericks when completing his UEFA Pro Licence and Sancho had his attention instantly. One other story exemplifies his professional work ethic, even as a youngster.
Watford’s coaches would not simply stick to eight vs eight games, or six vs six. They’d mix it up.
One day, with 15 in the session, they set up a nine vs six match indoors. Sancho was in the team with fewer players – he always was.
Sancho used to always be put on a team with fewer players but still managed to thrive
Usually, rules stipulated that the losers had to do the forfeit – sprints, or put the goals away.
This time, those duties were destined for the winners.
Sancho scored the winner for the team of six, then barked at his team-mates to get on the line and start their sprints. ‘Come on, let’s do it.’
Then the losers wanted to join in but Sancho told them they couldn’t – because they lost.
Whenever normality returns and the summer’s transfer window opens, expect Liverpool or Manchester United to be linked to this starlet, who only turned 20-years-old last week.
Sancho spent eight years at Watford – the first three of which involved a two-hour commute from the family home in Kennington, south London, to their academy base.
The winger has fulfilled one of his major ambitions by being capped by England
Pictures of this future England international from back then show a skinny little thing. The ball appears oversized but he had wonderful control of it – and his opponents.
Indeed staff would describe him as a ‘traveller’, due to his innate ability to freeze time.
At age 11, he moved into accommodation provided by Watford to make his education easier. He was based at their Harefield Academy in Uxbridge, cutting out that commute.
His father backed the idea, fearing bad influences on the streets of their south London district.
Sancho could return to England with one of the Premier League’s top sides next season
At 13, Watford’s coaches asked him his ambitions. ‘I want to represent this country and play for a top European club to make my family proud,’ he answered.
Tick, tick and tick. The next objective, sooner or later, will be to prove himself in the Premier League, with several clubs interested in the Borussia Dortmund starlet.
Agents with clients at Watford’s academy are reluctant to go into detail, but they say Sancho always came across as a determined individual compared to the other boys.
One, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘He had such natural ability. You could sense something different about him, the way he moved and carried himself.’
It wasn’t always easy. As Lancaster explains, he had to work hard to get into the head of Sancho: ‘The body was present but mind and soul wasn’t.
Dortmund have benefited hugely from their decision to take Sancho from Manchester City
‘So I thought I’d only talk to him for 10 seconds at a time, and those 10 seconds would be praise. “Jadon, amazing, go do that again.” I did that for two or three weeks.
‘Then he started approaching me, so I thought, “Right, now is the time to up the game to 20 seconds”. So I’d give him praise, then I’d say, “How about this?”
‘People like Jadon are so positive. If I say to you that was “brilliant, amazing, well done” and then use the word “but”, that’s all you hear.
‘Do that on the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing and the audience boo.
‘So with Jadon, I’d tell him “amazing” et cetera before adding “and I’ve noticed something that can help…” Now you’ve got them.
Sancho is tipped by his former youth coach to go on and win the Ballon d’Or in the future
‘Everybody is different, own DNA, own personalities. Some kids just want success. Jadon just wanted to be challenged, and most importantly, everything had to be fun.
‘If it wasn’t fun or competitive, he didn’t like it. All teachers hold the same qualifications but we all have favourite teachers. It’s about the people.’
Lancaster adds this is only the tip of the iceberg for Sancho: ‘We’ve only seen a glimpse of what he can achieve. He’ll be a Ballon d’Or winner.’
Brazilian Ronaldinho has always been his hero. YouTube clips of his tricks are regularly watched.
It is that mastery that he imposed on opponents at Watford back in the day, setting him up for the Bundesliga and perhaps the Premier League soon enough.
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