Benjamin Mendy’s arrival at the Etihad from Monaco a little over year ago would have given Leroy Sane plenty of food for thought.
The France left-back, whose constant raiding up the flank in Leonardo Jardim’s scintillating Champions League semifinalists of 2016-17 made him much more of an attacking threat than a simple left-sided defender, looked to be a dangerous overlap to Sane’s position and skillset at first glance.
Mendy, of course, disappeared from view after just a handful of games and remained injured until the very last month of the season. Sane stepped up and performed to such a high level of consistency and effectiveness that he was voted Young Player of the Year by the end of the season.
Sane’s swerving, left-footed wizardry earned him the fearful respect of right-sided defenders the length and breadth of England. His laser-guided shooting became a highpoint of the season and his unerringly accurate left wing crosses, arching dangerously into the six yard box, gave defences the jitters from Newcastle to Bournemouth.
There remained a question mark, though.
Petulance is commonplace in young players and in one so talented, City could perhaps have expected some extra baggage. Occasionally Sane could be seen flailing his arms in visible disgust at a poorly weighted pass or a teammate’s run that had not gone where he had wanted. (Though when those teammates in question are Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, you have to wonder if he was perhaps overreacting a tad.)
It may well have been a glimpse of this side of the young winger’s character that persuaded Germany coach Joachim Low to leave him out of his final group of players for the World Cup in Russia. Instead, the equally inexperienced Julian Brandt of Bayer Leverkusen travelled with the squad instead.
“It was a very close thing”, Low said at the time, but Brandt getting the nod will have told Sane something was not quite right, as would Pep Guardiola’s infrequent public utterances about the German’s input at City.
It had been said that Sane himself had not realised the significance of Mendy’s arrival. If this is true, he can’t have failed to realise that Riyad Mahrez joining from Leicester for £60m this summer serves to toll the very same bells that had been clanking noisily when Mendy shipped up.
To put it bluntly — and it is becoming clear that Sane is the type of player that might need things put to him in a less subtle manner — Sane’s place is far from guaranteed.
With Mendy back and straight into top form, plus Mahrez chomping at the bit to get into the side himself, the left flank is suddenly overpopulated with burgeoning talent. Add the Silvas David and Bernardo, and you have an array of left-footed talent that can serve City perfectly well without the need to call on the young German to participate.
Sane does bring something different to the party, however. His swerving, fast-paced flank running and his no-fear dashes towards the nearest defenders mark him out as a major weapon for City to deploy when going through the gears. Though whether Guardiola sees him as an unfulfilled talent, a threat from the substitutes’ bench or a potential Young Player of the Year again remains to be seen.
What can be in little doubt is the fact that 2018-19 is already shaping up to be a pivotal season in Sane’s hoped-for development into one of the world game’s most effervescent talents.
After his disappointment at missing out on the World Cup, Sane will need to cut out the temper tantrums and knuckle down for some hard work if he is to find a role in Guardiola’s side.