England

Sancho should start Rooney return game

 • by Ryan Baldi
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It had taken him 45 minutes to find his rhythm, but by the time he burst clear of Mats Hummels, leaving the World Cup winner grasping at air in his wake, Jadon Sancho had taken control.

The 18-year-old Englishman had already made quite the impression in the early weeks of the 2018/19 Bundesliga season, gradually working his way into a starting berth for Borussia Dortmund thanks to a string of impressive substitute cameos.

Here, though, in front of 80,000 crammed into Signal Iduna Park, against champions Bayern Munich in German club football’s biggest game, Sancho had truly arrived at the highest level.

A senior England debutant against Croatia during the last international break, one can understand manager Gareth Southgate’s desire to keep the training wheels on the prodigious winger, protecting him from the intense scrutiny of the international state with the Three Lions.

However, as England prepare to face the USA in a friendly at Wembley Stadium on Thursday evening, a game in which Wayne Rooney controversially comes out of international retirement for one last encore, Sancho should play from the start.

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First and foremost, he is ready and he deserves his chance to crack the first XI. Sancho has scored four goals and registered six assists in just 545 minutes of Bundesliga action so far this season, additionally scoring and assisting in the Champions League for BVB.

Of the England squad members plying their trade in the Premier League this term, only Manchester City‘s Raheem Sterling and first-time call-up Callum Wilson of Bournemouth have been directly involved in more goals, and both men have played more minutes than Sancho.

The level of competition Sancho has faced can no longer be questioned, either. In addition to contributing to the maulings of Nürnberg and Stuttgart, he has starred in defeats of Atlético Madrid and Bayern, two genuine Champions League contenders who count some of the world’s best defenders among their number.

The prospect of a first senior international start at Wembley Stadium against a flawed USA – currently ranked 23rd in the world by FIFA, 18 places below England – while a notable career landmark and likely point of personal pride, is unlikely to daunt the youngster. Sancho is more than ready.

Indeed, Rooney, the focal point of Thursday night’s fixture, had already collected several of his 119 caps before he was Sancho’s age, debuting and scoring while he was still only 17.

What’s more, Sancho’s inclusion from the start would also mitigate against some of the misgivings many have expressed over Rooney’s comeback.

The root of the consternation surrounding England’s all-time leading scorer’s return, it seems, is not an objection to the idea of “honouring” a Three Lions great, nor that such sentimentality desecrates the prestige of international friendlies – that ship sailed long ago.

The issue for most appears to be that international selection in itself is still supposed to mean something: a combination of meritocracy and sound tactical planning. By these criteria, there is little reason for Rooney to pull on England white for a 120th time.

His form in MLS has been excellent, but that arguably says more about the still-developing division than about any grand return of the 33-year-old striker’s former powers – Bradley Wright-Phillips, for example, has never been considered for a call-up despite scoring 124 goals in 208 games for New York Red Bulls.

And we’re assured Rooney’s participation against the USA, which will take the form of a second-half substitute’s appearance, is a one-off, so there is no long-term team-building benefit.

Starting Sancho, then, along with Callum Wilson being given a first cap in attack, would be the perfect counterbalance to the Rooney nostalgia; a tip of the cap to the past amid a glimpse into the future.

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