Jadon Sancho’s redemption arc leads to a shot at glory under the Wembley arch

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Borussia Dortmund’s legend team made a trip to Glasgow last Sunday to play their Celtic counterparts and raise money for the Scottish champions’ foundation. Perhaps Dortmund fans don’t need nostalgic feelings right now, as their team prepares to return to Wembley for a Champions League final, 11 years after their last. Same stage, same place.

Nevertheless, there was plenty of consolation for those wanting to relive Jurgen Klopp’s glory years. Six of the players involved at Wembley in 2013 – Roman Weidenfeller, Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Marcel Schmelzer, Kevin Grosskreutz and Oliver Kirch – played at Celtic Park, a welcome sign of past glory before the attempt to set a new milestone to create against Real Madrid, things are going a lot better than then.

However, the way these names come to mind and the images they evoke (along with Marco Reus, who played his last game for the club in this final) clearly reminds us of where this BVB generation stands.

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They don’t feel like a particularly historic Dortmund vintage. It has been a season of largely uneven performances, shoddy tactics and serial underachievement, as they struggled to overcome last-day heartache at ceding the Bundesliga title to Bayern Munich last year.

There are names – Emre Can, Marcel Sabitzer, Julian Brandt and more – and a coach in Edin Terzic who represents Dortmund with heart and soul. But even if BVB are victorious on Saturday, they won’t go down in history as one of the club’s best teams of all time. More of a Liverpool 2005, full of curiosities and surprises, than Ottmar Hitzfeld’s personality-rich 1997 Dortmund, a collection of born winners.

Perhaps the most telling sign of developments in Dortmund is that one of those most likely to recommend himself for future legend status alongside Reus and Mats Hummels is a loan player. Jadon Sancho’s return to Signal Iduna Park in January was a clear result of the bond between both club and player. After a distinct lack of transfer strategy over years rather than months, Sancho’s temporary return from Manchester United wasn’t so much a precise plan but two sides in desperate need of a boost and feeling like we were great together before, so why not again ?

Even though the sporting fit was questionable, the will to make it work on both sides has always been clear, from the fitness check just before midnight that the club organized for him before the re-registration in early January (“this must be the latest medical ever,” Sancho said apologetically to the club staff) to Terzic’s booming greeting from a first-floor window on his first morning at the Brackel training ground.

If there was ever a place to nurse the winger back to his best, this was it. Sancho is at home, as he puts it. He’s not like other loan players. On match days, children wear shirts with his new number 10 on the back and the FanWelt sells scarves including an image of his face.

The reaction from the club’s X account to the announcement of England’s Euro 2024 squad was typical; his omission was met with the bulging eyes emoji, linked to a photo of Sancho. At no other club would he receive this warmth and loyalty and it seems it is mutual.

The 24-year-old was everything in Dortmund. Erik ten Hag seemed to suggest that he was not: modest, hardworking and committed. Not that this version of Sancho is unknown in Germany. Not only was he incredibly productive in his first spell, but he also knew when to intervene, probably because the club always struck a good balance between carrot and stick.

When he returned, the BVB management decided that they would tackle him with kid gloves instead of an iron fist. Whether it was for six months or ultimately longer, the affection for Sancho at the club is evident in the patience they have shown him with Terzic, his greatest champion, taking the reins.

He and the club knew that reuniting a player and a person in a vulnerable state would take time. For him it was important to forget the details of contracts, burned bridges or the context of permanent or temporary. Finding his happy self in his happy place was all that mattered.

There has been some kind of reward. What Dortmund and Sancho could be together became clear in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain, by far his best performance since his return.

Everyone wants to believe in the redemption arc and that night at Signal Iduna Park he was sensational. He highlighted his elite incision, sense of mischief and that he is more than capable of providing a good level of defensive effort for the team when required. It was pure joy to see Sancho dare to play like Sancho.

Those watching from a distance saw it as clear evidence that Sancho Is Back, the player from three years ago. The truth is a little more nuanced. Since he returned, he has been through a lot: motivated, flawed, applied, vulnerable. What he hasn’t been is consistent. The figures of that first period speak for themselves: 137 games, 50 goals, 64 assists; phenomenal statistics that would have been difficult to match even if he had not returned lacking confidence and match sharpness, shortcomings that became apparent in his second spell in Dortmund.

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He realizes this all too well and admits after his goal against PSV Eindhoven in the last 16 in March: “I can understand that the fans expect a lot from me. I do that too.”

A few days before Sancho reminded the world of his abilities against the French champions, Terzic said Sancho needed time to return to the level he previously reached. His performance on the return leg at the Parc des Princes was more indicative of his performance in Dortmund: willing, committed, with many moments of promise and flashes of his immense talent, but still far from his best.

But this is Wembley and Sancho is a big player who emerges at key moments, as that night against PSG reminded us. Twelve miles east of where he took his first big step into football when he moved from south London to Harefield in Watford’s academy at the age of 11, he has a shot at glory that seemed highly unlikely at Christmas and play themselves. to the immortality of Dortmund.

As we know, Sancho is doing incredibly well. As for the future? That can now wait, just like during his second period at Dortmund.

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