The 60-second story
Place of birth: Essen, Germany
Position: Attacking midfield
Current club: Schalke (57 apps, 13 goals)
International: Germany (4 caps, 0 goals)
Teams are always on the search for the player who can make the difference – and in 20-year-old Germany youth international Leroy Sane, Manchester City are certainly getting one.
The latest impact player to take the Bundesliga by storm is fresh out of one of the country’s best academies, and became a key member of Schalke’s youthful team which finished fifth in 2015/16.
The son of the former Bundesliga star and Senegal international Souleymane Sane began his dream career, like his father, at Wattenscheid 09 as a child. As an eight-year-old he joined Schalke and, following a brief spell with Bayer Leverkusen, earned his first professional contract after winning the U19 German Championship in Gelsenkirchen.
Despite the teenager’s name first being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after his involvement in a car accident with friends, Sane has earned the recent positive ones for all the right reasons. “I never wanted to be an astronaut,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung last year. “When I was 16 or 17, I didn’t go to parties. I had only one hobby – the ball.”
Why you need to know him
As one of Europe’s hottest young attacking prospects, Sane had been linked with serious interest from Arsenal and Liverpool in the past – indeed, the latter tried to snare him last summer – but he's now on the verge of having his move to City confirmed.
Last season the youngster gave his elders a belief that, despite his age, the Essen-born forward could be the difference-maker that Schalke had been craving. His first three Bundesliga goals were match winners, and he added another five throughout the campaign. In the Europa League group stage he demonstrated fine composure to round Sparta Prague goalkeeper David Bicik and earn the Royal Blues a point on matchday three.
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With his father as a role model and example to follow, Sane was never going to miss the chance to become a professional in his favourite sport. “It was always football for me. I look forward to every training session and game. There was nothing else for me and I didn’t want anything else.”
(As an amusing aside, terrace favourite Sane Snr. once broke a journalist’s nose during his time at Nuremberg, by headbutting him for writing ill of his wife during a time when racism in Germany was at an ugly high in the '90s.)
Sane Jr. was immersed in football from the beginning. He would watch his father play for the likes of Freiburg, Nuremberg and Wattenscheid, longing to follow in his footsteps. The now-20-year old played every weekend from the age of five, but stayed in school and, after repeating a year, collected his high school diplomacy in 2014.
Five months after finishing his studies, Sane broke into Roberto Di Matteo’s Schalke side to make his first-team debut in November 2014. In his third appearance he scored his first senior goal, and went on to notch four in all competitions – including a terrific effort at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Champions League which alerted the rest of Europe to the Knappenschmiede’s latest product.
Sane operates mainly from the right wing but cuts inside onto his favoured left foot, and his obvious self-belief has given him an edge on the pitch. His big hair has been matched by big confidence in his own abilities. “I trust my instincts, it has worked every time so far,” he told the Bundesliga’s official website.
Sane isn’t the fastest of players, but he's no slouch either, and the young German is able to produce from the wing thanks to his power and strength with the ball at his feet. Instead of beating his marker with raw speed, Sane prefers to outfight them, hustling on the ball to frustrate the opposition into submission – see his brilliant solo goal against Frankfurt below as a case in point.
While Sane is impossible to miss on the pitch, he is sometimes caught out thinking before he moves in attacking positions. Last season the winger let one-on-one opportunities go begging due to a poor first touch, with his mind already on scoring the goal.
Improving his composure will be key. Schalke’s management were cautious of the hype around him, having taken him out of the media spotlight. After Sane assisted Max Meyer’s 92nd-minute winner against Hertha Berlin in October, former boss Andre Breitenreiter noted grumpily: “If I go by the 89 minutes before, then I think that he still has to learn a lot.”
“He’s still an apprentice,” said Leroy’s father Souleymane in an interview with Bild back in March 2015. “A lot of players don’t keep their heads on the ground, because they know they can earn money quickly. Leroy won’t do that. He is grounded. If he brings fight, then he will earn his place.”
Schalke's sporting director Horst Heldt said: “Leroy has yet to mature, but he has a way of playing that can make all the difference. He isn’t put off if things aren’t going as expected; even if he loses the ball, he can complete a well-run counter in the next moment. That shows the quality of our coaching staff, they have developed trust in him – and Leroy listens carefully.”
Did you know?
In order to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional footballer, Sane chose to give up many things that youngsters his age were enjoying every day.
“You shouldn’t drink two litres of Coca Cola every day. It was no problem for me,” he explained when asked what he’d had to sacrifice with his friends. “[But] my favourite meal is penne carbonara – that’s good for an athlete, right?”
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What happens next?
Schalke announced on Monday that Sane was in Manchester to complete his move to Pep Guardiola's new side.
— FC Schalke 04 (@s04_en) August 1, 2016
Last summer Liverpool tabled a €15m bid for the teenager, which was duly rejected by the player himself, but the now-Germany international has decided the time is right – and so too have his club, who are set to earn a handsome £37m for his services.
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