Did Borussia Dortmund do their Jadon Sancho business with selling Erling Haaland in mind?
Background image: MKorsakov, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
There are all sorts of big clubs. At the moment, Bayern, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Ajax are the perennial champions. Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Juventus, Milan and, surprisingly, both Real Madrid and Barcelona are the underachievers. Then there is Borussia Dortmund. Like Ajax, BVB definitely challenge for silverware but the German club places something closer to exclusive priority on player development. Whereas the Dutch giants carefully structure player sales around their continued dominance in the Eredivisie, Dortmund are almost entirely about the Benjamins. They are happy to acquire young talent, improve them markedly, then sell those players for a healthy markup.
For the longest time, Bundesliga nemeses Bayern were also their best customers. Mario Goetze, Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels being only the most recent to move house from the Westfalenstadion to the Allianz Arena. Of late, though, Dortmund appear to be targeting the greater profits to be had in dealing with Premier League sides.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that Old Trafford was the first door on which CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke knocked. If you want to establish yourself in a bigger market, do business with the biggest merchant. Thus, Shinji Kagawa was flogged to Manchester United, then Henrikh Mkhitaryan and now Jadon Sancho. With each sale, the price tag grew incrementally from Kagawa’s £14.4 million to Mkhitaryan’s £37.8 million and finally Sancho’s reported £73 million.
Yet, if we’re being honest, Jadon Sancho was not the last move in Dortmund’s game of financial chess played out on an English board. There is one more piece in play. As much as United wanted Sancho, they crave Erling Haaland more. Watzke knows this and drew out the Sancho negotiations for as long as possible to exact the highest price. Doing so gave him the optimal starting point for the bidding war sure to come when his Norwegian prodigy hits the market in 2022.
While United may believe they have the inside track on Haaland given their long relationship with Dortmund, all is fair in love and business. Yes, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentored Haaland early in his career at Molde but the lad’s father, Alf Inge Haaland, was a Manchester City star whose career was ended by a vicious, intentional tackle from then United captain Roy Keane. That the Irishman’s ties to Old Trafford were severed years ago is immaterial. Alf doesn’t want to see his boy in Manchester red. Meanwhile, sensing that the younger Haaland may be tired of the tug of war between father and former coach over his future, Chelsea reportedly intervened in the hopes of snatching Erling out from under Alf and Ole’s noses. A bit of quick business didn’t interest Hans-Joachim Watzke, however. Visons of euro symbols followed by nine-digit figures dance in his head at the thought of three Premier League clubs to fight over his most valuable asset's signature.
Moreover, when you look at Sancho’s production on the wing for Dortmund, 16 goals and 20 assists in 38 matches this past season, 50 and 64 in four seasons overall, then note that Haaland has knocked in 51 goals and 15 assists in just a season and a half with Der BVB, you can do the math. Watzke understands that if his prodigious striker can match his audacious winger for goals in less than half the time, surely the Scandinavian ought to fetch a fee somewhere close to double that of the young Englishman. The presence of other interested parties only guarantees that further.
So, yes, acquiring Jadon Sancho gives Manchester United the true right winger thay have lacked since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure a dozen years ago. His presence on the right flank will prevent defenders from cheating as they long have toward Marcus Rashford on the far side, likely leading to greater production from the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Even better for the most fervent tribalists in the Stretford End, the sight of a City Academy runaway in a red kit will satisfactorily infuriate the noisy neighbours when the Manchester Derby rolls around. For their part, the cerulean savages will lamely attempt to mitigate their butt hurt by pointing out that neither previous Dortmund deal, not Kagawi nor Mkhitaryan, worked out particularly well for their rivals.
Still, it remains. The full effect of acquiring Jadon Sancho won’t be revealed for Manchester United until the transfer window opens again next summer.