On paper, this looks like one of the most exciting summers to be an England fan in recent memory.
Talismanic striker Harry Kane will be surrounded by some of the game’s best young talents, with Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount four in-form stars all vying for a finite number of places in Gareth Southgate’s starting lineup.
Perhaps the most exciting of that young core is Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, but his struggles to live up to expectations on the international scene have left his spot in the team under threat.
We all know about Sancho’s exploits at club level. He just bagged 16 goals and 20 assists in all competitions for Dortmund and is expected to seal a transfer worth the best part of £100m, with Manchester United desperate to finally land the 21-year-old. We know he is very, very good.
The concern for Sancho is that he hasn’t shown that kind of form for England, where he has managed just three goals and five assists in 18 games. They’re decent numbers, but not the kind of stats which command a starting role at Euro 2020.
Having sat out the Austria friendly on Wednesday, Sancho is likely to play a significant role in Sunday’s meeting with Romania, which will give him the chance to remind Southgate why he’s the most hyped-up player in the whole camp.
Despite being just 21, Sancho is somewhat of a pioneer for this new generation of England forwards. He took the world by storm at a time when the Foden, Mount and Saka were still finding their feet and would have waltzed into any starting lineup, club or country, on the planet.
These days, however, he’s not alone in holding that superstar status. Foden and Mount are bona-fide big names, Saka isn’t far off and there’s talk of Grealish sealing his own £100m transfer this summer. The island on which Sancho stood alone just 12 months ago is now overcrowded.
‘Being Jadon Sancho’ is no longer enough and relying on his club form will not get him far enough in a battle which has seen Foden, Mount and Grealish all prove themselves as deserved starters through their performances for England.
That’s why this Romania game is so important to Sancho. Sure, it’s a friendly against inferior opposition, but that’s not the point. It’s a game on the international stage and a chance for Sancho to do what he hasn’t done before and demand the spotlight in a Three Lions shirt.
If Sancho pulls out his Dortmund form and sends England to the Euros with an emphatic performance, he automatically becomes the starter on the wing, no questions asked. He deserves that spot on the back of yet another excellent season at club level, but so do a handful of others.
Sancho is everything this England side needs – an electric, unpredictable ball of excitement – but his struggles also sum up the team’s issues over the past year or so. There’s so much talent there (it’s almost scary just how good this team could be), but actually putting the pieces of the puzzle together hasn’t been as easy as it should be.
A big performance against Romania and Sancho will arrive at the Euros feeling like the £100m player we all know he is, and that could be all it takes for England to go all the way and bring the trophy home when all is said and done.