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Conor O’Connell provides an in-depth scout report on Schalke’s exciting young winger, Leroy Sane.
Since its inauguration in 1947, the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid has showcased some of the biggest names to grace our game. Yet on 10th March 2015, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of two goals on the night, would be upstaged by a somewhat unknown quantity by the name of Leroy Sané.
Born on 11th January 1996 in Essen, Northeast Germany, Sané would begin his early playing days with SG Wattenscheid 09 where his father and Senegalese international Souleyman Sané spent two years of the latter stages of his career. In fact, the nineteen-year-old is of considerable sporting lineage.
His father was an established goal scorer in the (West) Germany top-flight with 52 goals in 174 appearances but even more prolific in the second division, scoring 21 goals in a single season. Sané’s mother, Regina Weber, was also rather talented, winning a Bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Though, it seems Sané is destined to surpass both his parents.
Talent Radar Accolades:
Just shy of his tenth birthday, Sané would leave Wattenscheid and join Schalke’s academy, highlighting his immense potential from an early age. But Sané would make yet another trip across North Rhine-Westphalia, joining Bayer Leverkusen in 2008 before returning to Schalke in 2011. He would soon progress on his return to the Royal Blues, becoming a regular for the Under-19s where he notched double figures in goals to help Schalke snatch the Bundesliga West title from Bayer Leverkusen.
One year on and on the European scene, Sané was an integral member of the Under-19 side that reached the semi-final of the first ever UEFA Youth League, only to lose to eventual champions Barcelona. Naturally, Sané’s performances in Europe attracted a number of admiring glances from across the continent, prompting the Schalke hierarchy to reward their young star with his first professional contract, running until 30th June 2017.
As expected, the youngster was gradually eased into the first team and attended training with the senior players before making his Bundesliga debut in April 2014. Sané replaced fellow academy graduate Max Meyer in 3-1 away defeat to VfB Stuggart, just one month after signing his professional contract. The following 2014/15 season saw Sané make a number of appearances from off the bench for Schalke and despite managerial instability, he would command more and more game time.
However, his major breakthrough game was in Europe’s biggest competition, the UEFA Champions League. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, Schalke were widely expected to be humbled at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu or at the very least beaten comfortably. Nonetheless to the dismay of Ronaldo and co. Schalke, who twice led on the night came from 3-2 down to win 4-3, narrowly missing out on a Champions League quarter final. Yet it was the introduction of a teenage Leroy Sané, replacing an injured Choupo-Moting after 29 minutes, who stole the headlines. Standing twenty yards away from goal Sané hit a curling effort past a dumbfounded Casillas to level the tie, on a night where he made Luka Modrić hit the turf with a subtle shimmy.
Talent Radar Accolades:
Next followed something perhaps even more extraordinary from Schalke’s teenage sensation. From defending a corner to VfL Wolfsburg, Sané took the ball from his own half and sprinted 75-yards of the Volkswagen Arena to knock the ball past Diego Benaglio in what was one of the season’s finest solo goals. Unsurprisingly Sané received an improved contract at the end of the season, tying him to the Veltins Arena until 2019, and was named Schalke’s newcomer of the season.
The quite remarkable goals have continued this season too, with a winner against Eintracht Frankfurt particularly standing out. Sané’s rapid development this season has seen him amass four goals and three assists from thirteen appearances, six of which came from the bench whilst collecting two man of the match awards along the way. Uncapped at senior level for Germany, Sané has been making progress with the Under-21’s scoring three in three.
Sané’s style of play is exciting to say the least and the sense of anticipation around the Veltins Arena is clear to see when the young winger has the ball at his feet. Despite being just nineteen, the frizzy haired forward can simply make things happen when an opportunity may seem scarce due to his natural ability and air of self-confidence. Operating mainly from the right wing, but quite capable of playing anywhere along the front three behind the striker, Sané often looks to cut in onto his favoured left foot, with an eye for goal as Real Madrid know all too well.
“I trust my instincts, it has worked every time so far.”
Sané is quite fearless with the ball and is constantly looking to engineer a yard of space to attack the opposing full-back, but when the game is tight and space is hard to find, he displays the maturity to retain possession when other players of his age group would not. As well as his lightening speed, perhaps inherited from his father Souleymane, Sané possesses wonderfully quick feet and the subsequent ability to dribble past his opponents – his winner versus Eintracht Frankfurt demonstrates this perfectly.
To a degree, Sané demonstrates some of the qualities of an old school winger. At times he is very direct and has the potential to be a defender’s nightmare, frequently looking to beat his man. His strength on the ball should also not be underestimated. Despite standing at six feet, Sané is rather light framed and still has the potential to bulk up, but has the intelligence to know where to place his body making it difficult to shrug him off the ball. Coupled with his raw speed and ability to dribble with the ball, Sané can hustle and bustle his way past a defender or through the centre of a defence.
Although Sané is not limited like an average winger may be. Rather than an orthodox winger who is restricted to using his pace in wide areas, Sané is both adaptable and versatile. He has the awareness to drift inside and find space in between the lines of the opposition’s midfield and defence, where he can utilise his attacking qualities including his speed and dribbling. Like many of the next generation emerging from Europe’s most respected academies, Sané is assured in possession and has an eye for pass, evident in his three assists thus far this season. Therefore his ability to not just engineer space but discover the zones in between the lines could see him perform in a more central role in the future. One must admit that it is clear that Sané will need a greater knowledge of the game to play in such a critical position at this period in time.
However the youngster is not faultless and at this stage in his career is still adding to his game. The obvious flaw with Sané, like many young players of his age, is decision making. On occasions he has been instinctive and somewhat fearless, bursting past players with ease. Although too often this season, Sané can be seen holding on to the ball for too long, seemingly still processing the situation and thinking what to do next, consequently being dispossessed. Two striking examples of his indecisiveness came against Hamburg and Cologne when his first touch saw the opportunity to go one-on-one disappear, while he was already thinking how to beat the keeper. Nonetheless, Sané did score a winner in the Hamburg game.
Sané seems destined for the top but, as described by his father Souleymane, is still an “apprentice” in the realm of professional football. He has something rather rare in players of his age and that is the ability to change the course of the game not only at youth level but at senior level, a factor that may fetch Schalke millions in the not too distant future. For now however, Sané should focus on becoming a regular in the starting eleven at Schalke and continue his development under André Breitenreiter whose positive attacking style suits his strengths.
Although, the allures of the Premier League have been mooted recently with Arsenal reportedly sending scouts to watch him in a Europa League match against Sparta Prague, a match in which Sané scored. Other potential suitors include Tottenham and Liverpool, with their interest confirmed by Schalke CEO, Horst Heldt: “Liverpool were ready to pay, but we are not interested in losing our top players.” The arrival of Jürgen Klopp on Merseyside will only fuel further rumours of a move to Anfield but Schalke are in a strong position economically, further enhanced by the sale of Julian Draxler to Wolfsburg in August for an undisclosed fee believed to be around €35 million (£25.5m).
Written by Conor O’Connell