Manchester City boasts many modern-day greats, but few are as beloved by fans as Leroy Sane.
While he was on fire in the 2017-18 campaign when he helped City to 100 points and was named PFA Young Player of the Year, it feels like he has some unfinished business around the Etihad Stadium.
So it’s no surprise that the idea that City are interested in bringing him back from Bayern Munich next summer has been warmly welcomed by those who say he won’t leave.
“I haven’t thought about anything yet,” Sane said of his future late last week. The club wants to talk but I want to focus on this season.
Although he said very little, he gave the impression that something was really on the cards – not least because of how this move out of town came about. City did not seek to extend the deal.
First, Bayern want to extend Sane’s contract until 2025.
“This is the best Leroy Sane has ever had for Bayern,” sporting director Christoph Freund said recently. He is one of the players we want to build the future of the team.
Bayern, on the other hand, are confident that the 27-year-old Sane will renew his contract and it is no surprise that they want him – at the start of the season, Thomas Tuchel said that the Germany international “can dominate the league” and this season. He’s doing it.
But if Bayern get it wrong, there could be other suitors in the frame.
Liverpool have been linked in the past which represents a gut-wrenching situation for City fans. There is good news and bad news on that front: if the Premier League is ever to return, London is the most likely destination.
Sane’s partner Candice Brooks is British and has been criticized for repatriating in Germany this year, although that was a temporary move due to flooding at their home in Munich and they are now back in Bavaria.
Although Sane himself is seen in Manchester, life in the English capital could serve as a trump card if one of the city’s main clubs moves – Arsenal have already been linked. Any strong interest from Spain’s biggest sides could reduce that, though, and Real Madrid are keeping a close eye on him.
For those reasons, a return to the city still seems unlikely – perhaps as we called it in athletics earlier this year – but in sport, a return will make more sense than it has in recent years. Even in recent months.
Sane is playing brilliantly. In previous seasons, he has had the air of a player still trying to find his feet, and because of how the striker handles situations like this, his body language can suffer – he irritates those around him, as was the case with Pep Guardiola and the City players in Manchester and in Munich.
“Leroy is very interested in himself,” a senior Bayer source told The Athletic on condition of anonymity this offseason. “Everybody in the dressing room knows he’s one of the best players out there, if not the best. But when things don’t work out, he often gets frustrated quickly and throws his head around.
“He’s become more experienced and stronger. His previous mistakes won’t stop him. He won’t lose anymore.”
He has been the Bundesliga’s standout player this season, with Athletic’s Raphael Honigstein saying: “The amount of rest he’s had – which has had little impact in games – has reduced from whole weeks to a few minutes here and there.”
As you can see from where he takes the shot (in the graphic below), he is providing a regular goal threat. He is averaging 0.2 goals (xG) per shot this season, which suggests that one in five shots will result in a goal. That 0.2 xG per shot average was more than double his average from his first Bundesliga campaign.
Sane’s defensive work has also improved – certainly something that will be needed at City – and he has eight goals and six assists in 11 league games. It may be later than many expected, but he looks like the player he threatened when he flourished in Manchester five years ago.
In the year He was desperate to leave City in 2020, so instead of helping Guardiola’s men finish the season when football resumed following the enforced break due to Covid-19, he immediately moved to Bayer Leverkusen, despite not being able to play for his new club until further notice. Campaign.
Coupled with his stuttering form in Munich in his first two seasons, a return to City would have made little sense: he didn’t want to be there, he couldn’t play particularly well and Guardiola’s side won the title every year from scratch.
There was no interest in it, then, at least stylistically. In Sane’s absence, Guardiola has rebuilt another good City side, one that rarely featured a striker and needed “a thousand million passes”, as the Catalan likes to say: more controlled than ever and the counter-attack became a nightmare.
And given the overall tactical background at City last season following the arrival of Erling Haaland, Guardiola wanted to maintain the same control but had to find a different way. The answer ended up being John Stones moving from defense to midfield and then to attack, but involved wing players who made a lot of touches, didn’t want to run in behind, knew how to hold the ball for long periods of time. Allow their teammates to line up behind them.
The message from the training ground was that direct and passy wings were less important to Guardiola’s design than ever before. The approach from the manager’s early years was a thing of the past.
“It was more dynamic, more crosses: me on one side, Leroy Sane on the other, two motorbikes, just constant zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom,” Raheem Sterling explained of City’s final season. “It’s more patient now, it keeps the ball and it’s less dynamic, but both teams kept the ball well and scored.”
And then the Jeremy Docu happened. The 21-year-old, like Sane, lit up the Etihad, earning a place in the starting XI away from home at Chelsea, ahead of Guardiola’s favorite and assistant Jack Grealish in that role.
Although the document is not held in a careless manner. “What surprised me the most is how good he is when he has to make a decision, he’s very good,” Guardiola said, explaining why Doku has played so much.
Indeed, Guardiola highlighted the difference between Sane and Doku.
“Jeremy doesn’t have the same speed as, for example, Leroy, who has a long 40-yard dash.”
Not that this would be a bad thing; Since Haaland’s arrival, counter-attacking is back on the agenda.
And Doku showed there is room for wingers who can take their time to make a difference in City’s final third. Sane is still showing that he can do that – cutting in from both wings and the right, often into the middle – and while he can always create space for himself with a neat shimmy, it looks too much. Now comfortable in small spaces.
Given Bayern’s desire to renew the deal and competing interests from London and Madrid, a return seems unlikely at the moment, but the current Sané looks more likely to be in Guardiola’s plans than he has been for years.
(Top photo: Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)