Leroy Sane: The Comeback Kid

There are three words that every athlete fears. Just whispering it is taboo. It is seen as the killer of speed and the ender of dreams and for a winger, it is the death sentence. I am talking about an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). Even a decade ago, this injury was seen as catastrophic. However, due to the wonders of modern medicine, many athletes have come back from an ACL injury just as good as they were beforehand. The likes of Radamel Falcao, Virgil Van Dijk and Zlatan Ibrahimovic come to mind. Now, someone else is joining this illustrious list of world-class footballers who have returned from the dead. Germany and Bayern’s rejuvenated winger, Leroy Sane.


The ex-Schalke wunderkind was a huge hit at Manchester City. Playing on the left wing and being left-footed, you would think that would make him ‘predictable’ and easier to defend in theory. That’s the thing about theory, it doesn’t always translate to real life (similar to my driving tests). His close control, immense pace and off-the-ball movement made him the scourge of right-backs in England.



With him on the left, Raheem Sterling on the right and Sergio Aguero up front, they formed the Premier League’s best attack alongside Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Mohammad Salah and Roberto Firmino. At City, he won back-to-back Premier League titles in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. He won PFA Young Player of the in the 2017-2018 season and recorded back-to-back seasons of double-digit goals and assists in the league. Yet, even with all this success, he was still pining to go back home to Germany and their premier team, Bayern Munich.


A deal was almost agreed in 2019, but an ACL tear in the community shield game against Liverpool scuppered that. He was out for practically the whole season, just making two appearances and eventually made his way to Bayern Munich in 2020. However, it hasn’t been the fabled homecoming it was meant to be. 


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With Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben leaving the club signalling the end of the ‘robbery’ dynasty, Bayern thought they had the perfect replacement in Sane. Young, dynamic and an experienced winner at the top level. To top it all off he was a German international as well. But that’s the thing about football, replacing a legend is never that simple.


Romelu Lukaku was supposed to replace Didier Drogba at Chelsea and that failed to work twice. Eden Hazard was bought in to fill the Cristiano Ronaldo-sized hole on the left wing at Real Madrid, but an ankle injury against PSG in his first season ruined that. Phillipe Coutinho was bought for over £140m to replace Neymar at Barcelona and his biggest memory for them was scoring twice against them in Bayern Munich’s 8-2 mauling of them in 2020. The list is endless and it seemed like Sane was gonna join this not so illustrious list.


At Munich, he has looked all over the place. With the ACL he has lost some of that searing pace he had at City. Whereas in Manchester he could face any winger one on one and simply breeze past them, in Munich, he didn’t have that same acceleration. This led to him being put on the left, the right and the middle.



It seemed like the Bavarians were just waiting for that clicking moment with him, where it just seemed the puzzle would be solved and we would see this world-beater at his best. Yet, it took until Thomas Tuchel to see the ex-Schalke youth player at his best and this season, he has been amongst the world’s best right-wingers.


The first thing the ex-Chelsea manager did was place Sane firmly on the right wing and has made that his starting position. Consistency and knowing your role is key for any player and Sane, this seemed to give him some comfort in knowing where he stands, figuratively and literally.


Instead of being the killer of fullbacks like he was in England, he has been the manipulator of spaces in Germany. He has been given the license to drift inwards off that right-hand side and combine in tight spaces alongside fellow deft-footed geniuses like Jamal Musiala. This freedom has allowed him to become much more of a creative threat as he can thread inciseful passes in behind to ongoing runners alongside his deep crossing ability.



The table above shows how good he has been from a creative standpoint. Not only has he created the most chances and chances per 90, but he’s also done so with a pass accuracy of 84%. For someone who is the creator in chief of his team, you would expect him to have a lower amount. 


As Kevin De Bruyne, the world’s best creation machine said, if you have a high pass accuracy for a creative midfielder, effectively you are not doing your job. The riskier passes are the ones that normally lead to chances whereas side and backwards passes do not exactly create clear goalscoring chances.


For example, Bruno Fernandes has created the most chances in the Premier League with 74 but his pass accuracy is only 78.5%, which puts into account how impressive the German has been in possession this season. Not only that, he is above Germany’s newest golden child Florian Wirtz and the flying Spanish wingback Alex Grimaldo in almost every creative viewpoint. Both of whom are part of the Bundesliga leaders and Europe’s most exciting team Bayer Leverkusen.


One could argue that these sudden boosted numbers are because of the arrival of Europe’s best striker, Harry Kane. The ex-Tottenham man has scored 31 goals this season for Bayern Munich and has covered up many of the team’s flaws with his goalscoring exploits. However, one of the reasons for this goalscoring explosion is due to Sane’s Charles Xavier telepathic connection with Kane.



When Lewandowski was firing goal after goal like it was to borrow the German phrase “Kinderspiel”, child’s play for the legendary pole. Yet, the ex-City winger never quite clicked with the now-Barca frontman, whereas with Kane, the connection has been instant. Lewandowski was a penalty box killer whereas Kane is more of a rounded striker, looking to come deep and play his wingers in behind. He has done so on multiple occasions for the Germany international.


His goals against Werder Bremen and Bochum are perfect examples, where Sane has marauded in behind the space Kane has created for him with his movement. This has led to Sane already equalising his highest Bundesliga tally with eight and looks set to record his first season of recoding double-digit goals and assists in the league since 2018/2019. The worry is that he has gone two months without a goal, but the chances of him not being able to score twice in the last few months of this Bundesliga season are as low as Phil Mitchel being killed off in EastEnders. 


Sane coming in was supposed to represent the second coming of Robben. Both are left-footed, direct, quick and love to cut in, but football is not linear. Instead of being like the Dutchman, the German has become a much more rounded player than in his City days when he was a pure winger. In fact, he wouldn’t look out of place playing as an eight in this current Pep Guardiola set-up with how he has improved in all aspects of his game.


With this dire Bayern Munich team set to finish second after 11 years of dominance, Sane is one of the few players who can walk out of this season with his head held high. If he carries on these performances till the end of this season, you can expect him to make a big splash at the Euros in the summer. But performing at this level after such a devastating injury is a victory in itself. Leroy Sane, you are the comeback kid.


By: Abu Yasin / @abuy2j

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Lars Baron – FIFA