“He didn’t arrive good. He didn’t make a good pre-season, he was not good in those games and he didn’t deserve to play.”
Those were the words of Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola on Leroy Sane in September 2017, but they could easily have been uttered twelve months later. Sane spent the initial segment of last season on the bench due to a perceived lack of sharpness and application, but would reclaim a starting berth and go on to win the PFA Young Player of the Year award for his part in City’s record breaking Premier League title triumph.
Surprisingly – at least for observers outside of Germany – Sane was left out of their 23 man World Cup squad. It must have been a bitter pill for the 22 year-old to swallow, and many predicted that it would stir extra motivation for him ahead of this season.
Instead, it appeared to have had the opposite effect. Sane didn’t begin any of City’s opening four league games and was reduced to cameo showings only. In the social media age where conclusions are arrived at instantaneously and knee-jerk reactions prevail, speculation was rife of a falling out between player and manager. Did Sane’s attitude stink? Had Guardiola gone full Mourinho ostracised a prodigious winger?
Whatever actually happened is another matter but, happily for City supporters, Sane was back in the team last weekend against Fulham. He immediately illustrated his worth, scoring in less than two minutes and having a hand in another goal.
On Wednesday evening, City suffered a shock defeat to Lyon in the Champions League, but Sane was their one shining light, terrorising Rafael during the second half. Guardiola praised the performance and reiterated his importance to the club.
“Leroy was so important, is so important, and will be so important for the club. There’s no doubt about that. It’s a challenge for him – not just for him, for everybody. There’s a lot of nice strikers and midfield players and the season will be judged in 11 months, not just in three weeks or one month. He’s a nice guy, so I don’t have any bad words about him – we are here to try to help, not just him, but everybody.”
Next for City is a trip down the M4 to face newly promoted Cardiff. Neil Warnock is notorious for setting his team’s up rigidly, so Sane’s speed and directness should be a prominent weapon for Guardiola as he looks to pick holes in that deep defence. Cardiff coped gamely with Chelsea for half an hour last Saturday, but Eden Hazard’s trickery and ability to go past opponents made it a comfortable home victory in the end. Sane is perhaps the next best dribbler in the division, so he’ll fancy his chances.
The key for Sane when regaining his place a year ago was, in his own words, his personality. “I am just quite laid-back,” he told dfb.de. ”I don’t think about it too much, I’m not the type of person to berate myself or constantly ponder about why it’s not going well for me at the time. I take care in those situations to do the simple things properly and to concentrate on my game. You need to take care the pressure doesn’t become too great when you’re a young player.”
That inner calmness and quiet confidence should serve him well over the coming months with increased competition at the club. City have added Rihad Mahrez and plan a more substantial role for Phil Foden, so Guardiola has the type of headache any other coach would love to have. Either way, you get the sense that the German is only properly getting his season underway now, so if you support Cardiff it might be time to look away.
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