ABOUT a decade ago, I got a message from a young kid on Instagram.
It read something like: “Hi there, Troy, my name’s Jadon, I’m 12 years old, I’m in the Watford academy, look out for me!”
I didn’t notice this at the time but many years later, it popped up again on my feed.
That’s because the kid in question — Jadon Sancho — had become very famous. In fact, he’s now got nine million followers.
He was right, I should have looked out for him.
And since I’ve been doing my coaching badges, some of the coaches in the Watford academy have told me how special they knew Jadon was.
They have described him as a generational talent, the sort of kid you will only discover once every 10 years if you’re lucky.
There was something about the way he could manipulate a football, his pace, directness and confidence.
For them, it wasn’t a case of whether he would be successful but just how soon he would burst onto the scene.
I never met Jadon when he was at Watford. By the time he was 14, he had moved to Manchester City’s academy.
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By 17, he’d turned down a contract at City and moved to Borussia Dortmund, where he lit up the Bundesliga.
Moving abroad at such a young age was a bold move but it was a triumph for him.
Apart from his goals and assists for Dortmund, I recall him displaying a “Justice for George Floyd” T-shirt soon after the Bundesliga’s post-Covid restart. That was bold too. He knows who he is and he knows he has a strong voice.
At 18, he was a senior England international and at 21, he was a £73million signing for Manchester United.
His career trajectory was extraordinary up until that point so there should have been little surprise that he would suffer some sort of blip.
Anyone who tells you their career has been one straight upward line, is a liar. You learn more from the hard times than the good times.
Jadon arrived at Old Trafford soon after he had missed a penalty in the Euros final against Italy.
Along with Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford, Sancho suffered horrific racial abuse online after that shootout defeat.
After that ordeal, Saka showed instant improvement — he has come on in leaps and bounds at Arsenal.
Rashford took a while, partly due to injury, but in the past few months, he has been absolutely magnificent. Both Saka and Rashford impressed at the World Cup but Sancho wasn’t even close to making the plane to Qatar.
During the World Cup break, boss Erik ten Hag stated publicly that Jadon was not in the right physical or mental state to play for United.
It was surprising to many people that Ten Hag spoke so openly about that but I do think people are more enlightened and accepting than they used to be about discussing mental health.
Jadon has had a tough year, going to United as a big-money signing and adapting to the Premier League was difficult.
And I’m convinced that Cristiano Ronaldo’s sudden arrival didn’t help him, either.
I can remember a few occasions when Ronaldo showed his displeasure at Sancho on the pitch and that won’t have helped.
We all know Ronaldo has an ego and Sancho’s game doesn’t really dovetail with Ronaldo’s.
Sancho is a right-footer who usually plays on the left, loves to cut inside and look to shoot himself and that didn’t always go down well with Ronaldo.
So after all the issues Sancho has had it was great to see him make such an impact against Leeds on Wednesday night.
He came off the bench with his team 2-0 down at Old Trafford and playing a major part in their comeback to earn a draw, including scoring the equalising goal.
With Antony injured and Alejandro Garnacho struggling the other night, it’s quite likely Sancho will start in the return match at Elland Road tomorrow.
That would be a great test for him and one he should relish. I always loved playing at Elland Road, a proper old-school ground with a great atmosphere and the crowd right on top of you.
And with the fierce rivalry between Leeds and Manchester United, that will be even more pronounced.
My Dad was a Leeds fan. I grew up watching the likes of Brian Deane and Tony Yeboah.
I often scored there — including an amazing top-bins own-goal while trying to defend a corner against Leeds while playing for Walsall in League One!
But usually I scored at the right end. It always felt like my old man was looking down at me.
If Jadon can impress there tomorrow, like he did on Wednesday, it would do his confidence the world of good.
Like most footballers — and certainly wingers — Sancho is a confidence player.
He certainly wasn’t lacking confidence when he called me out on social media at the age of 12.
I’m convinced he will be back playing regularly at elite level soon. He is a special player.