As Manchester United struggled to break down Copenhagen’s stubborn and well-organized defense in Cologne on Monday night, it was clear just why manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had set his sights on Jadon Sancho this summer.
Earlier in the day, however, Sancho had traveled with his Borussia Dortmund teammates to a preseason training camp in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, where sporting director Michael Zorc made an unusually clear and unmistakable statement, seemingly putting an end to the long-running transfer saga.
“We plan on having Jadon Sancho in our team this season — the decision is final,” he said. “I think that answers all our questions.”
And that, seemingly, was that. The internal August 10 deadline set by Borussia Dortmund had expired and United hadn’t offered the €120 million ($141.5m) asking price for the English forward.
An ace up the sleeve
United never thought much of that “artificial” internal deadline and still don’t. They were convinced that Dortmund – a selling club – would do a deal eventually. After all, it was common knowledge that Sancho’s contract was due to run out in 2022, meaning they would stand to get a much lower price next summer, even before factoring in the potential effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the transfer market.
Yet Zorc had one more ace up his sleeve: Dortmund, he revealed, hadn’t only increased Sancho’s salary to €211,000-a-week last August, they had also extended his contract by one year until 2023.
Unusually for a listed company – Borussia Dortmund’s football division is listed on the German stock exchange although the club itself retains majority voting rights in accordance with the 50+1 rule – Dortmund hadn’t issued a statement to shareholders about the extension at the time, leaving everybody in the dark.
United had reportedly been frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations but it’s no wonder the Germans were in no rush. “To be honest, we were a bit surprised by some of the reports in recent weeks,” said Zorc. “As you may have noticed, we’ve been very relaxed.”
As well they might be, having cleverly maneuvered themselves into a position from which they now cannot lose. Either United stump up the whole €120m by the end of the international transfer window on October 5, or ideally before the start of the Bundesliga season on September 18, or they try again next summer.
By that point, they may no longer be the only suitors for Sancho, potentially leading to a bidding war which can only benefit Dortmund. And in the meantime, the Black and Yellows retain the services of a player who scored 17 goals and assisted 17 more in 32 Bundesliga games last season.
“Jadon can be an absolute difference maker,” said veteran defender Mats Hummels on Monday. “He has unlimited potential. If he wants to show that with us for another year or more, I’m really happy about that.”
Assuming that Sancho does remain at the Westfalenstadion for another year, Dortmund now have a chance to take the next step in what has been a steady development over the past decade.
In March 2005, the club was on the brink of insolvency. Even after recovering and winning back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012 and reaching the Champions League final in 2013, they were still in no financial position to keep Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and Mario Götze out of the clutches of Bayern Munich.
Thanks to a commercial strategy based on globalization and digitalization, and a scouting and transfer policy based on uncovering young talents – especially in the French market – and selling at a high price, Dortmund are no longer obliged to sell to Bayern. But they still haven’t been able to turn down Premier League money and are still very much a selling club by design.
“When Dortmund buy a highly talented player and he performs well, it’s only ever a matter of time before you hear either from the club themselves or from outside that he’s up for sale,” said former Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness in a recent interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “How can a player really soak up the DNA of a club when he feels like he’s just an object for sale?”
That’s easy for Hoeness and Bayern to say, and the comments caused consternation in Dortmund, Zorc calling them “arrogant” and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke lamenting what he called an attempt to “undermine the respectful relationship which [Bayern counterpart] Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and I have tried to build.”
Now, in resisting the approaches of one of Europe’s biggest names, with an even bigger wallet (reports in England suggest United were willing to pay €80 million but no more), Dortmund have taken another step in the right direction.
But all that counts for little if it’s not followed by tangible success on the pitch and, in the past two seasons, Dortmund have missed two golden opportunities to capitalize on Bayern Munich’s transitional wobbles and managerial changes.
In their defense, Dortmund have endured their own coaching travails since Jürgen Klopp’s departure and there has been constant fluctuation in the playing squad. As Kicker magazine’s Thomas Hennecke points out, Dortmund have conducted a grand total of 129 transfers since 2015 – an average of 26 per season – and have regularly lost key players. But not this year. Not Sancho.
The end of Achraf Hakimi’s loan deal has been compensated by the arrival of the experienced Thomas Meunier, while Dortmund have also beaten Bayern and United to the next young English talent, Jude Bellingham.
The club have made significant strides off the pitch, now it’s time to replicate that where it matters.