Manchester United are ready to battle Paris St-Germain for Jadon Sancho in a tug-of-war that could see the Borussia Dortmund winger become the first £100 million English footballer.
Sancho has emerged as the top summer forward target for both United and PSG, who face each other in the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night.
Any move for the teenage England winger would raise fresh doubts over the future of Alexis Sanchez, who has been a spectacular flop since his move to Old Trafford from Arsenal 14 months ago.
Sanchez’s calamitous United career hit a new low on Monday when he was ruled out for up to two months with medial ligament damage to his right knee as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury crisis deepened ahead of the PSG game, in which United must try to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit.
But, despite Sanchez’s injury leading some to wonder if the Chile forward might have played his last game for United, his exorbitant £500,000-a-week wages will make him difficult for the club to offload unless a move away is subsidised or there are huge compromises on both sides.
Sancho, 18, has established himself as one of the most exciting young players in Europe following his £8m move to Dortmund from United’s bitter local rivals Manchester City in August 2017.
He has nine goals and 14 assists to his name this season and Dortmund, having extended Sancho’s contract until 2022 in October last year in recognition of his meteoric rise, are determined to keep the player.
But United and PSG are preparing to test Dortmund’s resolve and the Bundesliga leaders know interest from both clubs will drive the price higher and guarantee an extraordinary profit on their original investment should they decide to cash in.
United’s record purchase is the £89m signing of France midfielder Paul Pogba from Juventus in 2016 but there is a recognition that it could take £100m or more to prise Sancho away from Dortmund given the enormous inflation in the transfer market. Kyle Walker – who joined Manchester City from Tottenham Hotspur for £54m in 2017 – is currently the most expensive English player.7
The prospect of United signing Sancho would be a potential embarrassment to City, who were unable to persuade the teenager to stay, after he grew frustrated at the lack of first-team opportunities, only to see him flourish in Germany and establish himself as a full England international.
United have put the accent firmly back on attacking football since Solskjaer’s appointment as caretaker manager and believe Sancho would help form part of an exciting Anglo-French attack with Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Pogba.
United have lacked a natural right-sided forward for years and, while Solskjaer has managed to successfully compensate for that so far, Sancho could prove a valuable addition in the short, medium and long-term and bring more pace, urgency, creativity, goal threat and X-factor to the forward line.
Any potential move to Old Trafford would certainly excite England manager Gareth Southgate, for whom the idea of three of his most talented attackers – Rashford, Lingard and Sancho – playing together at club level would doubtless benefit the country on the international stage.
As well as a versatile forward, United want to sign a pedigree centre-half, with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly among the targets, and, ideally, another midfielder this summer.
Sanchez’s failure has reminded United of the perils of seeking short-term fixes. PSG were once interested in Sanchez but they are now pursuing a model that targets the best young players who can develop and, with uncertainty persisting over the future of Neymar, who has been courted by Real Madrid, the French champions have identified Sancho as a leading target.
PSG certainly have form for making huge outlays on youngsters. They paid £166m to sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco, aged just 18, and only narrowly lost out in January to Barcelona for the highly rated 21-year-old Holland midfielder Frenkie De Jong, who will formally move to the Spanish club from Ajax at the end of the season.
Sanchez was substituted after 52 minutes of United’s 3-2 win over Southampton at Old Trafford on Saturday, when his exit coincided with a marked uplift in performance.
He underwent scans on Sunday, which established he had suffered damage to the medial ligament in his right knee and, according to the Chile physiotherapist, Pedro Onate, he will be out for “six to eight weeks”.
An eight-week lay-off would rule Sanchez out until the end of April. United will play a minimum of 11 more matches this season and Sanchez currently stands to miss as many as nine of them.
Sanchez’s injury comes at a time when Solskjaer is already without Martial, Lingard, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata through injury, and Pogba, who is suspended against PSG following his red card in the first leg.
Sanchez’s form has been so poor that some will not consider his absence to be much of a loss and Reinaldo Rueda, the Chile coach, admitted he was becoming concerned.
“For sure it’s very worrying,” he told the La Tercera newspaper. “I hope we can enjoy the Alexis we all knew again.”
Ashley Young believes United can pull off a huge upset, despite all their injuries. “We know what we’re capable of. People can write us off,” he said. “I’ve got every faith if we defend well and if we create the chances that I know we can do, we can win the game.”