Dropped by Man City, Sane gets early-season wake-up call
From a World Cup snub to being dropped by his club, it has been a sobering few months for Leroy Sane.
At the age of 22, he was a Premier League champion in a record-shattering Manchester City side, he had just been voted not only the top young player in English soccer but also among the six best players in the country after a breakthrough season, and was being talked about as one of the stars to watch at the upcoming World Cup.
So how has it got to the point where, on Saturday, he didn’t even make City’s 18-man matchday squad for the league game against Newcastle and ended up watching with his feet up in a corporate box?
The answer appears to be a combination of factors: Attitude problems, a teammate’s resurgence and potentially a hangover from a summer when his World Cup dreams were snatched away.
Sane was surprisingly omitted by Germany for the tournament in Russia, with national team coach Joachim Loew preferring a different kind of attacking-midfield option than the touchline-hugging Sane.
Germany’s loss would be City’s gain, the club’s fans were saying — he would come back early in preseason, fresh and firing while others would be fatigued after the World Cup. It hasn’t turned out that way.
He was on the bench for the team’s first three matches, the last being the 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers when Sane struggled after coming on as a 77th-minute substitute. Then came this weekend, when Sane was left out of the squad entirely.
There are reports that City manager Pep Guardiola has concerns about Sane’s focus and attitude, although he hasn’t said that in public. There might still be some lingering resentment after his World Cup disappointment.
Then there is a tactical shift by Guardiola that has seen left back Benjamin Mendy, who missed most of last season with injury, starting the season explosively and doing the work not only of a defender but also a winger. There is no need for Sane to also be wide on that left flank and Guardiola has instead fielded Raheem Sterling, who operates as more of an inside forward.
Sterling has been one of City’s best players in its unbeaten start, scoring the opener in the 2-1 win over Newcastle and further diminishing Sane’s appeal. Also counting against the German is the fact that, with City signing Riyad Mahrez in the offseason, the champions have an abundance of wide attacking midfielders — Sterling, Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Sane.
“We have two wingers plus another one on the bench. That’s why we decided this game he wouldn’t be there,” Guardiola said. “In the next games he will be ready to play. He played 10 minutes (against Wolves), he tried. He was not precise but he tried.”
All is not lost for Sane. He had a similarly slow start to last season — Guardiola even called him out on it, saying Sane “didn’t arrive good, he was not good in the first pre-season games. He didn’t deserve to play” — but came back strong.
It’s a long, grueling season, with City potentially going deep on four fronts, so Sane will be needed. He’s also back in the Germany squad ahead of the first game of UEFA Nations League, against France on Thursday.
Sane is too good a player and prospect for City to simply overlook, so Guardiola will be hoping this weekend acts as a wake-up call for a winger who, on his day, is among the best in the world in his position.
Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi could be in trouble after celebrating his goal in the 3-2 win over Cardiff on Sunday with a hand gesture that made headlines during the World Cup.
Mustafi put his hands together and flapped his fingers in what appeared to reference the two-headed eagle, an Albanian national symbol, as he celebrated with Granit Xhaka. Xhaka is an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, while Mustafi was born in Germany to an Albanian family from Macedonia.
Kosovo is a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize that independence.
The Football Association could sanction Mustafi if it deems the celebration to be a display of political symbolism.
Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri were fined during the World Cup for making similar hand gestures while playing for Switzerland.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80