Wonderkids

Has Sancho begun the next generation's Messi vs Ronaldo?

 • by Mark Thompson
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If articles were ships, Jadon Sancho uttered a sentence that launched a thousand of them over the weekend.

“It always pushes me when I see (Kylian) Mbappé, Marcus Rashford doing well, because I know they’re probably looking at me and seeing what I’m doing and it’s probably pushing them as well,” he said.

The prospect of the trio vying against each other, using each other as inspiration to dominate world football, brings to mind the current duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The next generation of football’s battle for individual supremacy being Mbappé, Rashford and Sancho is certainly an exciting one, particularly for England fans.

It isn’t that long since an Englishman was among the conversation for the best male football player in the world of course, but the triopoly of Messi, Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney quickly shed its Merseyside-born member.

Sancho, though, is well aware of the pressure that success at a young age can put on a player and seems to be guarding himself against it.

“I’ve seen a lot of young talents just disappear because it’s obviously come too early and it’s got to their heads,” he told Dortmund’s official YouTube channel.

“I’ve seen this and my family have seen this. But luckily enough I’ve got great people around me to just keep me grounded and humble. I’m grateful to have them tell me that what I’m doing is not enough.”

Sancho, Mbappé, and Rashford are all incredible talents. But could they really be the next generation’s version of Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo?

Sancho, still a teenager, is within touching distance of contributing a goal per game – he currently averages 0.99 goals or assists per 90 minutes for Borussia Dortmund. Mbappé, who, granted, plays for a side 20 points clear with a game in hand in Ligue 1 – averages 1.55 goals or assists per 90 minutes.

Rashford, unsurprisingly, is at a level below this. He’s eighth among players 21 or under in Europe’s major leagues (0.75).

However, he’s played far more than most of his age and it’s harder to keep up these very high rates over a longer amount of time. And, frankly, he’s on a team who’ve struggled to support him in attack this season.

Unfortunately for Rashford, though, if Messi is the benchmark then he’s not quite there. At 20, Messi was contributing 1.00 goals a game (goals and assists), and only went upwards after that.

Mbappé and Sancho are actually above the ‘Messi-level’ for their age, though. The Argentine wasn’t yet a regular first-team player during his season as an 18-year-old, 2005/06, and only registered a goal contribution rate of 0.59 per game.

At 19, it was 0.77. At 20, 1.00. And at 21 years old, it was 1.22 per game. So for Mbappé and Sancho, it looks like they’re on the good side of the Messi curve.

It took Ronaldo a little longer to reach the production levels that Messi did – he didn’t have back-to-back seasons of contributing at least a goal per game until he was 24 and 25 at Real Madrid. Messi did it four years younger.

That slower progression could provide hope to Rashford, though, particularly given that he hasn’t been a true focal point of a fully-functional attack like the other players mentioned.

In his final campaign at Old Trafford, Ronaldo only had a goal contribution of 0.59 goals or assists per 90 minutes. He was 23 that season and got his move to Real Madrid that year. So there’s still plenty of time for Rashford.

Coincidentally – as if fate wanted to further the narrative – the three players would line up as a perfect front three if they were on the same team. Mbappé on the left, Rashford in the middle, and Sancho on the right.

This is the new era. This is the new triopoly. And it’s two-thirds English.

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