Leroy Sane Has Quickly Become A Pivotal Player For Manchester City
With a mother who won bronze in rhythmic gymnastics at the 1984 Olympics and a father who made over 50 appearances for Senegal, you could say that being a sportsman and an athlete was a given for Manchester City winger Leroy Sane.
Sometimes, it's just in your genetics and the traits Sane has inherited from his parents Regina Weber and Souleyman Sane have been an incredibly useful weapon for Pep Guardiola's Manchester City side this season.
Sane made huge strides in the youth ranks at Schalke, including an impressive display against City in the UEFA Youth League a couple of years back in February 2015 and less than a month later he was tearing it up for Schalke's first-team at the Bernabeu in a 4-3 Champions League round of 16 second leg win for Die Königsblauen that gave Real Madrid a real scare of not reaching the next round.
Having been 2-0 down from the first leg, the odds of the game finishing 4-3 in Schalke's favour were at an incredible 500/1. In his first ever appearance in the Champions League, Sane scored a stunning goal to open his account in European football and his performance really put him on the map as a top talent in world football.
With Schalke lurched in mediocrity and failing to qualify for the Champions League in the last couple of seasons, Sane's potential was not being fulfilled and it was only right that he moved onto pastures new and have the opportunity to showcase his talent at a higher level, with better quality players around him.
And so when the German international became Pep Guardiola's fifth Manchester City signing in a £37 million move in the summer, a lot was expected from him. As it was with Raheem Sterling, although with a lot less pressure, fans were hoping for an instant impact after forking out big money for a young player.
But in all truth, Sane struggled initially at City. He had a injury lay-off to begin with and had to wait until 10th September before making his debut; a substitute appearance in a 2-1 win at Old Trafford over arch-rivals Manchester United.
In his early days, he looked timid and failed to impose himself - showing flashes here and there, including an assist for Kelechi Iheanacho to score against Borussia Monchengladbach, but ultimately he wasn't producing anything that was worth shouting about and was therefore not warranting a starting place in the side.
Guardiola, however, was well aware of what the winger was capable of having watched him so closely in Germany and showed his faith in Sane when he started him in three home games on the bounce against Everton, Southampton and Chelsea a couple months apart.
The two draws and one defeat went down as hugely disappointing results for City but Sane, playing as a wing-back, came out with a great deal of credit, showing real promise and beginning to get fans out of their seats at the Etihad. He wasn't living up to the hype as of yet, but positive steps were made.
Fast forward to early-March and Sane has become one of City's most important players. He had a coming out party of sorts in the 2-1 win over Arsenal in December, scoring a wonderfully taken goal in the second half and being a constant thorn in the Gunners' side. This was where his City career well and truly started.
The same impressive performance level was reached a month later against another team from North London in Spurs, where Sane again bagged a goal in a game that City really ought to have won. He continued his rich vein of form against London clubs with a third goal in as many games against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup third round.
And that purple patch has well and truly set him on his way as Sane has been utterly brilliant since the turn of the year. Terrorising full-backs, linking up with teammates, creating chances and having that conviction infront of goal when it matters, he has been a joy to watch.
Pundits alike have been raving about him, as has his manager and rightly so. When young players come to England, no matter how technically gifted they are, the period of adaptation can be incredibly difficult. Cristiano Ronaldo, now a four-time Ballon d'Or winner, looked lost in his early days at Manchester United until it finally clicked.
Sane's path in the Premier League has been similar to Ronaldo's, in the sense that he quickly went from looking out of his depth to looking like a world-beater in a matter of months. Guardiola spent much of his first months at City constantly chopping and changing in terms of team selection, tactics and systems but now appears to have found a system that brings the performances and the results.
Pep's Barca were renowned for their possession-based game and while he is indeed utterly obsessed with build-up and keeping the ball, his most entertaining side, in 2010/11, had blistering pace and movement in the front three - with Pedro and David Villa providing the width and creating space for Lionel Messi to strut his stuff.
It was the same at Bayern, where the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery were devastating on the break. In Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, Pep has two exciting young players who are full of confidence and are producing the goods on the pitch.
For a period, Sane and Sterling were tried in a variety of roles but it's been clear that they are their very best when playing on their natural sides. Sane in particular has been a massive beneficiary of the settled system in place and has been a key component in City's nine-game unbeaten run.
Sané Stats: Leroy Sané has been directly involved in 9 goals in 22 appearances for Manchester City this season. [G6 ' A3] pic.twitter.com/cvpR7qQyZp- City Chief ️ (@City_Chief) March 6, 2017
He's struck three times in his last three appearances against Monaco, Huddersfield and Sunderland - where he doubled City's lead with a perfectly timed run and emphatic finish. It's amazing what confidence can do for a player.
For the last couple of games, every time Sane picks up the ball, it seems like something is going to happen. City fans can sense that he's about to ruin an opposition full-back and dart towards goal. I almost feel sorry for whoever has the task of marshalling him because if he gets the ball enough on the left flank, you are not stopping him - Billy Jones and Sunderland were the latest victims in Sunday's 4pm kick-off.
His pace is electric on and off the ball, his balance and dribbling ability is something else and he's now adding that all-important end product to go with it. I don't think I've seen an out and out winger as exciting as him in the Premier League since Gareth Bale when he was at the peak of his powers at Spurs. Sane's pace and power is next level.
Of course, he is by no means the finished article and there is still development to be done. But his progression over the last few months from a bit-par player to a vital component has been exceptional. City fans have been crying out for a top-level skilful and direct winger for a long time and they looked to have found him.
Pep Guardiola has a reputation for demanding more from his players, even if he what they are producing pleases him. He also has a track record of taking young players to new, unprecedented heights and when you consider the fact that he has a youthful attacking trio of dreams in Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, City fans have reason to be extremely excited.
Words by Josh Lawless