2018 22under22 Countdown – #2: Leroy Sane

Leroy Sane

“Leroy has huge potential. We cannot forget that he is only 22.” – Pep Guardiola

Date of Birth: January 11th, 1996 (22 years old)
Nationality: German
Position: Winger
Club Appearances: 143 (36 goals, 29 assists)
International Appearances: 12
EiF Ability Rating: 71

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.

Leroy Sane’s season seemingly couldn’t get any better. He scored 10 goals and assisted 15 more in an incredible Premier League season that saw Manchester City win the Premier League with a record number of points and to cap it off, he was awarded the Young Premier League Player of the Season award. All that was left for Leroy was to head to Russia with the German side and try to help them defend their World Cup crown. But then, the squad was announced and there was a major surprise. Leroy Sane would not be heading to the World Cup with Germany.

Despite being one of the best players on a record breaking Premier League champion, Sane was somehow left off the plane by Joachim Low. The decision has drawn much scrutiny. Some are sympathetic of Low, arguing that Sane hasn’t come close to replicating his club form when he dons the white of Germany, while others are furious, arguing that Sane has that something special and simply had to go to Russia regardless of his international form.

I’m certainly in the camp of the latter.

World Cups are about moments. You don’t need to dominate each and every game, you don’t need be at your best, you don’t even need to have the best squad. You simply need to be decisive in the key moments and hope you have players who can create and score goals out of nothing when times are tough. And that is exactly what Leroy Sane offers.

After a relatively difficult first season in England, Sane completely stepped it up in his second. Showcasing all of the talent that he teased us with last year, Sane quickly cemented himself as one of the very best wingers in the league. Acting as the outlet on the left hand side, Sane tormented full backs week in, week out using his blistering pace, deft footwork, and potent left foot. The ability had always been there. We’d known about it since his wonder goal in the Bernabeu in 2016. But, he finally was able to maintain that kind of level for a full season and it only leaves you wondering how much better he can get. He’s only 22 years old and given the large strides he made this season you have to think he will only continue to get better, which is a scary proposition for opposing teams.

And that is the scary thing. Despite his successes and despite his talents, there is clear room for improvement. For one thing, Sane could become a better goal scorer. 14 goals and 10 in the Premier League is a solid return for a winger, but in this day and age, the very best wingers are expected to do more. He strikes the ball incredibly well (just look at his goal vs. Liverpool), so that isn’t the problem. The problem is his desire to score goals and his movement off the ball.

Too frequently, Sane lurks outside the area on crosses. When the ball is swung in from the opposite flank he generally isn’t in the box. This is something I’ve criticized Eden Hazard for numerous times. Wingers need to think like strikers because they’re often in superb positions to ghost into the box unnoticed and score. Cristiano Ronaldo is the prime example of this and is the player Sane should study. In his younger days, Ronaldo was similar to Sane. Strong, fast, and super skillful, but he didn’t score enough goals. Then, Rene Meulensteen challenged him to score more goals and to never be satisfied and the rest is history. This is something Sane (and many other up and coming wingers) need to understand. Just because you are a winger doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the same desire to score as strikers. Get into the box, find opportunities, score goals. That’s a trait that often separates the best wingers from the very good ones.

While a lot of goal scoring is down to that mentality, he also needs to improve his movement. His movement down the flanks is good and has been improved by Pep, but he could do better in the box and could make more direct runs off the ball. He generally angles his runs away from goal where as he should try to learn some variety and arc his runs towards goal to be more of a goal threat. This is something Salah has mastered and it makes him a much more dangerous and decisive player.

Another thing Sane could do to improve massively is to try and develop his game in central areas. Not every winger needs to pull a Messi or Hazard and effectively turn into a central withdrawn striker, but the ability to be a threat on the flanks and through the middle is a very important skill. It makes you more difficult to mark as you can as easily drift out to the wings or drift into the half spaces in the middle. This is something that Mbappe is mastering and something that Sane would do well to learn himself. If there has been one thing that you could criticize Sane for this season it is that at times he looks too one-dimensional. He gets it out wide, tries to beat you down the touchline and tries to whip in crosses. Of course, this is exactly what Pep wants from him, but he needs to test himself a bit, try to come inside, and develop some new aspects to his already impressive game. It’s been said that that is the reason he didn’t end up making the German side. Low wants wingers comfortable at drifting inside and receiving the ball in the spaces between the defense and midfield and Sane hasn’t shown a proficiency at that just yet.

Ultimately, Leroy Sane is an incredible player, but even more incredibly, he could still improve SO much and that is a frightening proposition. He now has the summer off to re-charge his batteries, re-focus, and think about what he can do to improve as a player and ensure that the next time the World Cup rolls around, he’s the first name on the team sheet. By most accounts, Sane exceeded expectations this season, so the challenge now will be can he maintain his stellar form and truly develop into one of the best players in the world because he undoubtedly has the ability to do so.

Written by Marc Geschwind (@mgesch13)