Apparently you don’t always get what you want. And sometimes, not even anything like it.
Jadon Sancho has had most things his own way at Borussia Dortmund this season, like a cheery child at his own birthday party, but this wasn’t what he’d envisaged from his much-hyped return to London with the Champions League anthem ringing in his ears.
For a while, it had the promise of being one of those nights that youngsters dream about when they’re playing for nutmegs in a south London cage. Dortmund enjoyed the better of a scruffy, fun first half, spurred on by their teenage tyro daisy-picking through the minefield of a packed midfield. The ball stuck to Sancho’s feet as he pranced through the gaps between Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, and the 18-year-old was arguably the brightest attacker on either side before the interval.
He didn’t get the better of Alderweireld directly but tied Davinson Sanchez up like an S&M victim twice, only to be cruelly denied a dangerous free-kick when the Colombian tripped him on the edge of the box.
The referee’s shrill to send both teams back inside came too soon: Dortmund mustered their best attempt only moments before half-time when Dan-Axel Agadou forced Hugo Lloris into a superb save from Sancho’s fine cross to the back post.
And that was that. No moment to savour; almost definitely no progression beyond the last 16. Not this year, anyway.
On Saturday, Dortmund scored three times against Hoffenheim inside 66 minutes, only to concede three and draw 3-3. Here, they managed to repeat the hideous half of that frustrating afternoon, having been broken within three minutes of the second half and killed off for good by Jan Vertonghen and Fernando Llorente in the final 10 minutes.
Tottenham were far superior after half-time as Sancho spent most of his second half not touching the ball, chasing faraway shadows.
The bright side
But perspective, and all that.
This time last year the 18-year-old had played six senior matches for Dortmund and was nursing an injury after three straight games in the starting XI – his first serious run in a professional team. His struggling side were already out of the Champions League, however, and by the time he returned from the sidelines they were out of the Europa League too.
Sancho may have been wishing that was the case again during a torrid second half in north London which ended with his substitution in the 88th minute, but he will have these nights again and come out the other side better for them. For a player born on the day that Paul Scholes almost broke Bradford’s net in 2000, this is a more valuable education than he’d have got sticking around in the plush confines of Manchester City’s academy – just ask Phil Foden and his 91 Premier League minutes this season, or Callum Hudson-Odoi and his 74 in the top flight for Chelsea.
He will remember this feeling; how it hurts. But this is the Champions League, and one good half – for Borussia Dortmund, rather than Sancho specifically – is not enough. Margins are fine, and mistakes readily punished. Here, the Germans’ inexperience was exposed when Spurs cranked into gear after the break, inspired by the most unlikely of sources in a brilliant, marauding Jan Vertonghen.
Sancho probably won’t have more than one more Champions League match left in him this season, but he’s still right where he wants to be in Dortmund, under a manager with a fine record of developing youngsters – see Marco Reus and Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Borussia Monchengladbach as particular cases in point.
After FFT’s recent cover interview with the teenager in Malaga, during Dortmund’s winter training camp, our staff writer Andrew Murray returned with a gushing appraisal of the mag’s youngest cover star since Lionel Messi in 2005. Sancho had been confident, charming and happy to pose with random ‘90s paraphernalia – but was also firmly rooted to earth with the self-assurance that he had achieved nothing of note yet.
“Just try it, you know?” he said, reflecting on his brave move to Westphalia in summer 2017. “A few asked me, ‘What if it doesn’t work out?’ but I never thought about that.”
His first Champions League excursion might not be working out as planned, but there are other fish to fry for England’s most exciting teenage prospect since Wayne Rooney. Bayern Munich are still trailing in his wake, after all.