As Borussia Dortmund struggle in the Bundesliga this season, Jason Sancho has continued to be one of their few shining lights.
The German side, who face Sevilla in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday, currently sit sixth in the league and are in real danger of missing out on qualification for Europe’s elite club competition next season for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign.
And, with a host of Premier League clubs hovering, the next few months will prove crucial for England forward Sancho – as well as Dortmund’s own future.
So could Sancho finally leave the Westfalenstadion this summer and could his exit spark a mini player exodus?
Sancho and Haaland a rare bright spot
The 20-year-old England international did not have an ideal start to the season, looking unfit and sluggish in his early outings, with some in Dortmund speculating his performances might have had something to do with the drama around his potential move to Manchester United last summer.
“Jadon was subconsciously set on a move,” Dortmund’s chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke later said, adding that he thought Sancho had become so preoccupied with the possibility that for a time it had cost him his usual easy style.
But Sancho has rekindled his form, with the only other standout being striker Erling Braut Haaland, and the pair have interacted impressively, particularly in fast-paced attacks.
Sancho and Haaland, along with a few other youngsters, are the players who give Dortmund its identity as a factory for soon-to-be-world-class talents.
When young players decide to join Dortmund, they do so knowing they will gain exposure on the big stage. But with Dortmund currently six points behind the Champions League spots, that exposure is not guaranteed. And missing out on the Champions League would not only hurt Dortmund’s allure, but also force them to rework their financial plans.
Dortmund plan for Sancho’s departure
While Dortmund are financially one of the healthiest clubs among the European elite, the future looks bleak without Champions League revenue.
And, after announcing a financial loss of £23m in the second half of 2020 because of the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Dortmund’s hierarchy has compiled an “emergency list” with names of current players that could be sold this summer to fill some of the financial holes if the team do indeed fail to qualify for next year’s Champions League.
Unsurprisingly, Sancho is at the top of that list.
Dortmund considered a transfer fee of roughly £105m the benchmark for selling last summer. The asking price could be around £87m this year.
Negotiations between Dortmund and a potential bidder have yet to take place, but people within the club have accepted Sancho will go.
Manchester United remain in pole position but might want to play hardball with Dortmund, meaning other Premier League teams could intervene if they are willing to meet Dortmund’s demands and make an appealing offer to Sancho, who is set on returning to England.
Why Haaland and others could be sold
While Dortmund have time to prepare for the departure of Sancho, the loss of more than one key player would hit the overall quality of the team considerably.
Names like Giovanni Reyna, Jude Bellingham, Raphael Guerreiro and even Haaland are on the emergency sale list.
All four will not be sold at once, but one or two could say goodbye this summer. There is certainly a market for all of them.
Portugal international Guerreiro has been approached by Paris St-Germain in the past and could be a target for the Paris club or for Spanish teams, while US international Reyna may take a closer look at the Premier League where Americans are quite marketable.
The most interesting name is arguably Haaland.
Initially, Dortmund planned to keep the Norwegian at least until the summer of 2022, when a £65m buy-out clause in his contract can be activated. Losing Haaland earlier would be a big blow to Dortmund’s future aspirations, since there are barely any strikers close to his calibre available.
Manager Terzic a lame duck
But before Dortmund even touch that emergency list they have crucial matches ahead of them.
After Sevilla they meet local rivals Schalke in the Ruhr derby on Saturday, before playing Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga and Borussia Monchengladbach in the quarter-finals of the German Cup.
Manager Edin Terzic, who replaced Lucien Favre in December, has yet to show he is capable of turning this struggling Dortmund side around.
While some players give him credit for improving the performance of the team, the lack of a corresponding improvement in results has led to more anxiety in the dressing room.
With Marco Rose set to be in charge next season after announcing his departure from Monchengladbach, Terzic is essentially a lame duck in the managerial seat and a summer of transition could be seen as the perfect opportunity for some players to move on.