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Player Spotlight: Leroy Sané

A young, blossoming talent at a world-class club.

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Manchester United v Manchester City - EFL Cup Fourth Round Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

For those who have left home for university at some point in their life, the difficulties of leaving family and loved ones is all too familiar. What those people haven’t experienced is having a 37 million dollar price tag attached to their abilities. Leroy Sané has.

The German winger has no hesitation admitting that he jumped at the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola, stating “[one] of the reasons I decided to join City was Pep Guardiola. He convinced me to come here and that I can continue to progress. I know I will learn a lot under him and now I can take the next step in my career". Sané continued, “I followed Pep at Barcelona and at Bayern where he achieved a lot and worked really well with young players. I think he can make me a more complete player.”

What Sané may not have taken into account is the personal transition to life in a new country. Sané's family have paid the German international a number of visits to his new home over the last few months and Pep Guardiola admitted Leroy may need longer to acclimate. Guardiola said, “sometimes you need a bit more time to adapt, to know the way that we play to feel ‘OK I am here, I am good enough to play.’” Ilkay Gundogan, Sané’s compatriot, has been trying to help him adapt but feels the youngster’s demeanor may be holding him back. “It’s normal,” Gundogan said earlier this month. “I believe that Leroy’s character is strong enough to cope with the situation". The central midfielder continued, “he’s confident and knows his strengths. You can see that he’s a bit shy, but he’s only 20, just like I was when I joined Dortmund from Nurnberg back then. That’s why I know how it feels. He will improve. He gets all the support he needs from me.”

While the difficulties of adjusting to a new club and a new country lie ahead for the Sane, let’s take a look back and just what got him here.

Youth Career

In conversations with those who know Sané best, a picture has emerged of a family of rare sporting talent. Leroy was reared in the district of Wattenscheid, amid the industrial heartlands of the Ruhr Valley. He is the latest diamond to be mined from a Schalke 04 production line that has also produced Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, and Benedikt Höwedes in recent times.

Leroy Sané began his football career at SG Wattenscheid 09 in 2001 at five years old, the same club his father spent six seasons at over the course of two different spells. Leroy is the son of former German rhythmic gymnast and the 1984 Olympic bronze medalist Regina Weber and former footballer and Senegal international Souleymane Sané.

Like his father, Leroy was destined to be an attacking player from the get-go. Now standing at just over six-feet tall, the winger’s speed and athleticism was noticed from a young age. “They are a family of real sporting prowess,” says Hermann Heroven, the Wattenscheid academy manager. “The dad was a powerful and speedy footballer. His mother was a gymnast, refined and delicate. When you bring those two together, it is clear the genetics can produce something rather special. Leroy is clearly magical. He would score 50 or 60 goals a season here. He was extremely good. But he is a fighter, too. The whole family are.”

After four years with his first club, Leroy moved on to Schalke 04 in 2005. Getting three seasons under his belt in the Gelsenkirchen side’s youth academy, the young German opted for a move to Bayer Leverkusen in 2008. After a three-year spell there, never receiving a call-up to the senior squad for Bundesliga action, Sané returned to Schalke in 2011.

Senior Career

On April 20, 2014, Sané made his Bundesliga debut in a match against Stuttgart. Replacing Max Meyer after 77 minutes in a 3–1 away defeat, Sané caught the only glimpse of a Bundesliga pitch he would have that season. Looking to build upon the confidence of making his league debut at only 18 years old, Leroy would only muster a mere 14 appearances for Die Königsblauen during the 2014/15 campaign. However, nn his Champions League debut in March 2015 (and his only Champions League appearance that season), Sané came on as a substitute against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu and scored a world-class goal past Iker Casillas in a 4-3 victory for Schalke.

It wasn’t until the 2015/16 season that Sané would become a regular first-team member. Notching 33 appearances in the club’s 34 Bundesliga matches that year, the young German exploded onto the European scene. After catching the eye of Die Mannschaft coach Joachim Löw during the his first few matches in a Schalke kit, Sané received a call-up to the national team in early November 2015.

It wasn’t long before the dual-citizen would make his first appearance, entering as a late sub against France in a 2-0 friendly loss on November 13, 2015. Because of his father’s childhood, Leroy was also eligible to play for the French national team, and after catching a glimpse of his talents first-hand that evening, Didier Deschamps acknowledged what the winger brings to a match: blistering pace and an seamless dribbling.

By the conclusion of the competitive season in spring 2016, Sané had tallied eight goals in the domestic league and one goal in his seven appearances in the Europa League for Die Knappen. Ultimately going out to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Round of 32, Sané had gained valuable European pitch time for the group winners that would add to his rapidly building resume.

Move to Manchester City

A steadily-rising club with a newly-appointed young managerial talent came knocking before too long. Amidst interest from top clubs all across Europre, Sané couldn’t ignore his desire to work with Pep Guardiola. Arsenal legend and former City EDS coach Patrick Vieira raved about Sané, and when Guardiola arrived this past summer, he confirmed the view that City’s scouts have had of Leroy for some time. Sporting director Txiki Begiristain accelerated the pursuit.

Sané, who is comfortable playing on either wing, as a number 10 or false nine, believed he would adapt quickly to the Premier League. “I think I will need a bit of time to start with because it’s another league and there’s a different style of play but I think I can adapt very quickly,” he said. Adaptation always come easier with an increase in playing time, something Leroy has yet to see for the Sky Blues. His manager vocalized, “‘he didn’t come here for three months, he came here for five or six years. He is a huge talent, his physical condition is fast one on one. I just want to help him to put it in the right moment and show us his qualities.”

Sané is not limited like an average winger may be. Rather than an orthodox winger who is restricted to using his pace in wide areas, Leroy is both adaptable and versatile. The German has the awareness to drift inside and find space in between the lines of the opposition’s midfield and defense, where he can utilize his attacking qualities: speed and dribbling. Sané is confident in possession and has an eye for the final ball in front of goal, making a living of taking defenders to the end-line. His ability to not just engineer space but discover the zones in between the lines could see him perform in a more central role in the future.

While Sergio Agüero and Kelechi Iheanacho currently spearhead City’s front line, suspensions and injuries could see Sané roaming the center of the park for the Sky Blues. While he works on finding his niche throughout his first year at City, one thing is abundantly clear: he has the support of his teammates and managers alike.

“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,” Guardiola stated. He continued, “at 20, he is still developing as a player but he is already a member of the German national side and I think he will be a fantastic asset to our Club. We are very happy he decided to join us.”