BURTON UPON TRENT, England — Borussia Dortmund forward Jadon Sancho was just as surprised as everyone else at his call-up to the senior England team this week.
Sancho, 18, was selected in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the UEFA Nations League games against Croatia and Spain, despite only making one Bundesliga start so far this season and having bypassed England’s under-21s.
However, despite most of his domestic action coming from the bench, Sancho has already starred in the Champions League, contributed a goal and — almost more impressively — six assists, the joint most in Europe’s top five leagues.
“I was a bit surprised, to be fair,” Sancho, the first player born this century to win a senior call-up for England, said. “I knew about Theo Walcott, who was 16 [when he was called into the 2006 World Cup squad]. I’m so young and still have a lot to learn. I’m just grateful [Southgate] has seen my progress in the Bundesliga. I’m really thankful.”
London-born Sancho, who described his style of play as “a bit tricky” and “direct,” joined Dortmund in 2017 after turning down a contract at Manchester City, where he had been part of the academy after moving there from his hometown team Watford.
He didn’t believe City could offer him senior football, and in the short-term at least his choice has been vindicated. He made his first-team debut last October and is now a key part of the Bundesliga leaders’ squad.
“Moving away from home so young, it was taking one step further to move outside England,” the forward said, when asked if he thought moving away from England at such a young age was a courageous choice.
“I can’t just go down the road and see my friends, but it’s what I want to do long-term: to be a professional footballer You have to do what you have to do to make myself and my family happy.
“Not everyone is comfortable moving from home. If you’re ready to play abroad and you believe in yourself, why not? I’d recommend it.”
Sancho was part of the England squad that won the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, even if he couldn’t play beyond the group stage after Dortmund withdrew him from the tournament in India.
“A very special group, very special,” he said. “All of us had a great bond in the team in India. We didn’t know how great we were as a team at the European Championships [earlier that year, when they were runners-up], but reaching the final made us realise we had something special.
“I didn’t really want to leave at the time, but if your club really needs you, I’ll be happy because the manager wants me to play. It was a bit difficult, but I’m glad the boys brought it home.”
If Sancho does make his debut in Croatia on Friday, which he called “a dream come true — I can’t think of anything better,” it will be in an empty stadium. As part of a punishment dating back to an incident in 2015, when a swastika was daubed on the pitch in Split before a game against Italy, the World Cup finalists will play this game behind closed doors.
“That won’t faze me at all,” he said. “I’m playing for my country.”
Reports have already surfaced that the biggest teams in England could be prepared to pay £100 million for Sancho, something that seemed baffling to the teenager.
“That’s… I don’t know… I don’t know what to say to that,” he said, smiling. “You never know what could happen in the future. We’ll wait and see.”