The throng of autograph hunters outside Dean Court on Monday night had a new primary target, a currently priceless signature: Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus.
One City supporter held aloft a sign simply reading the words “Jesus, new Pele”. Not far behind him, though, when City got off the team coach, 20 minutes later than planned, was Leroy Sané, part of the coveted City front three that has left Pep Guardiola searching for more English adjectives.
Jesus left the field through injury after 14 minutes and then it was time for Sané to dovetail alongside Sergio Agüero, and the once-more impressive Raheem Sterling. The front three, although spearheaded by Agüero, looked to Sané for inspiration time and again, and it was the Germany international who was increasingly looking like Guardiola’s most dangerous weapon. He set the tone inside 25 seconds, racing through down the left, later leaving the full-back Adam Smith on his backside in one breath and supplying Sterling with a troublesome, low cross for City’s opener in another.
“The people said, in the winter transfer window that one guy arrived, it was Gabriel Jesus, but I think he arrived twice,” Guardiola said in his post-match press conference. “Leroy’s arrival was a little scary but since the game against Arsenal, something has clicked and he has shown us a lot of things. He is so fast, his intensity has helped us a lot. He is 20 years old, so I am so happy that Manchester City have a player for the next few years.”
As Guardiola said last week, Sané, alongside Jesus and Sterling – who continues to blossom under Guardiola – are “the future of the club”. It looks in very good hands. Sané, at £37m, was the third-most expensive player to join the Premier League last summer and the 21-year-old came from Schalke with a weight of expectation on his young shoulders.
There were, not surprisingly, many admirers at Bayern Munich but it was City who moved to secure his services. Born into a sporting family, Sané, the son of the former Senegal international Souleymane Sané and a rhythmic gymnast, Regina Weber-Sané, joined Schalke as an eight-year-old and made his debut 10 years later under Roberto Di Matteo.
Sané kept City waiting, after a hamstring injury ended his hopes of an immediate impact. He made a slow start to life in England, with City winning on only one of his first six starts, but he has not looked back since his lightbulb moment against Arsenal before Christmas, when he scored the equaliser in City’s 2-1 win. Although succumbing to a muscle injury shortly afterwards, Sané returned with goals in successive matches and he displayed further verve against Bournemouth. The clamour for Sané seems increasingly justified.
“You don’t need to be a manager to realise his improvement,” Guardiola said recently. “It’s not just about his goals. He has a quality that is difficult to find. Even without the ball he’s getting better. He’s so aggressive when he doesn’t have it. Hopefully he can keep going.”
The forward displayed a willing tenacity and indeed kept it going, rattling the bar before driving narrowly wide in injury-time, in an exemplary performance on the south coast. Only a few months ago it would have been difficult to think of Sané as one of the first names on the team sheet. But he is and Sané is a welcome piece in Guardiola’s high-octane jigsaw. “Leroy has yet to mature but he has a way of playing that can make all the difference,” Schalke’s sporting director, Horst Heldt, said last year but Sané showed maturity beyond his years to provide City constantly with an outlet on a difficult evening. Late in the first half it was he who drove into the Bournemouth penalty box, with big intentions, before being upended by Harry Arter. On another day the forward might have won his team a penalty. In the second half he proved capable of carrying out the dirty work, too.
Beneath his all-too-recognisable afro hair there is a self-confidence in his ability. “I never wanted to be an astronaut,” Sané said last year. “It was always football for me. I look forward to every training session and game. There was nothing else for me and I didn’t want anything else. When I was 16 or 17, I didn’t go to parties. I had only one hobby – the ball.”
While Sterling starred and Agüero, via a Tyrone Mings own goal, ultimately sealed victory on the south coast, there is a feeling that it might be Sané’s talents that prove pivotal in the Premier League run-in. If Sané, one of the most exciting European exports in this decade, continues to listen to his current mentor, Guardiola, the youngster at the forefront of City’s attracking trident will surely have a huge future.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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