Leroy Sane Concern over Role Leaves Long-Term Manchester City Future in Doubt

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportApril 18, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17:  Leroy Sane of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at at Etihad Stadium on April 17, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Leroy Sane is used to disappointment. Any time a big moment crops up and a squad list or teamsheet is released, he must fear the worst.

Left out of the Germany squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup by Joachim Low, he is also used to life on the fringes at Manchester City.

A brief look back at this season tells its own story: Carabao Cup final, substitute; FA Cup semi-final, on the bench; Champions League quarter-finals, sub for both legs. Whenever Pep Guardiola selects a side for a significant encounter, Sane seems to take the bullet.

Even in the Premier League, he struggles for game time in the biggest fixtures. This term, across the eight matches City have faced against fellow top-six sides, Sane has only started twice.

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Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva have become two of the first names on the City teamsheet, but Riyad Mahrez's arrival last summer has also made life more difficult for the former Schalke man.

Club officials are keen for last season's PFA Young Player of the Year to sign a new contract, but the paperwork remains unsigned.

According to Bleacher Report sources, Sane's situation has reached the stage where he is unsure whether a new long-term deal is beneficial to his career if he is not going to get the playing time he craves.

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It's unclear why Pep doesn't trust Sané in the big games. This could be one of the key factors in determining how many trophies City win this season. https://t.co/HVVUKuA2Jd

The sources say the 23-year-old is not looking to cause any trouble and does not intend to cause a fuss publicly, but he needs to know just how he fits into the bigger picture at Etihad Stadium.

"Many people were surprised when Mahrez started ahead of him in the Champions League match at Tottenham, and that was certainly a moment that has really made Sane and his advisory team think about where they go from here," one City insider told B/R.

"His recent starts were against Cardiff City, Swansea City, Schalke, West Ham United, Newport County and Crystal Palace—those are not the games that will define City's season. He would love to have a bigger say in the moments that really count."

The word from inside Guardiola's camp is that Sane did not start the Champions League quarter-final first leg at Spurs because of a plan to play more conservatively and ensure the tie was alive for the return game.

Under such circumstances, it was felt that Mahrez was a better fit for the system. Sane is understood to have been told this, but it does not mean he accepted the decision easily.

Bernardo Silva was back in the team for Wednesday night's game, so it was no surprise that Sane once again was not included. But this spell in the shadows is becoming a concern.

There has been uncertainty about his role in this team for too long, and the 2-1 defeat at Newcastle United in January did not help his mindset. Sane was substituted after a disappointing performance, and Guardiola regards the match as one of the lowest points in City's campaign and told his players so.

The regular substitute appearances and contract standoff have been issues discussed around the club for much of the season.

Guardiola denies the unsigned deal is limiting Sane's game time, though, per Simon Mullock of the Sunday Mirror:

"When he didn't play lately, he knows the reason why. We have spoken quite often with him—myself and my people—on and off the pitch and we all want the best.

"Of course we have competition from the others and in some instances I prefer another type of player to have more control. My admiration and trust in him is intact, but always I want more. I am sorry."

This is the other issue: Sane cannot be trusted in matches that require complete control. While stats show he is City's fourth-highest goalscorer and leading man when it comes to assists, there remains a less definable element of his game that coaches do not seem to trust.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: Leroy Sane of Manchester City scores his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Cardiff City at Etihad Stadium on April 03, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunski
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Members of the backroom team at City are believed to have reservations about his attitude and ability to reliably carry out instructions. And it is a similar story with Germany, as Toni Kroos has mentioned it as a specific concern with the national side, per Nick Ames of the Guardian.

"Sometimes you have the feeling with Leroy's body language that it is all the same whether we win or lose," the Real Madrid midfielder said in September, ahead of Germany's UEFA Nations League fixture with France. He continued:

"He has to improve his body language. He's a player who has everything you need to be a world-class player, but sometimes you have to tell him he has to perform better. He was fantastic for City last season but Pep has the same problem at the moment—he's trying to get the best out of him so he can perform better."

From this summer, Sane has two years remaining on his contract. He leans on his parents for advice when it comes to decisions such as signing a new deal. 

They were both professionals in sport—his mother, Regina Weber, was an Olympic gymnast, while his father, Souleyman Sane, was a footballer who represented Senegal.

They also helped Sane through a personal situation earlier in the season, when he became a father for the first time, but that was a period that also led Guardiola to leave him out of the lineup over concerns about his mentality towards the team.

Yet Sane is one of the game's most impressive young forward players, and City hope he will stay at the Etihad Stadium.

Sources suggested to B/R that even if their long-term contract plans fall down, they would be keen to come to some kind of resolution.

One way to do so could be a get-out clause that can be triggered after one year if the player has not made a set number of starts. Sane would have the ability to look for a new club while City would have secured his value—and that's key to all this.

Sane is one of their most valued gems. Informed personnel around City believe the club would command a fee close to £100 million if he did look for a move, and that would deter some of his suitors. 

Right now, Atletico Madrid are watching his situation—as they monitor forward options who could fill Antoine Griezmann's spot if he decides to move—while Bayern Munich and Juventus would also be expected to come into the picture as they seek players with his skill set.

"Bayern of course wanted him in 2016 but were priced out by City," TV analyst Abel Meszaros told B/R. "That attitude now has changed, and they are reportedly spending 300 million to retool this summer—though about 125 million has already been spent on Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. They are looking for a winger.

"Sane would make a lot of sense—they could definitely sell him to fans as part of their future, because he's German, and having the Germany front three of Serge Gnabry, Timo Werner (whom they are also being linked with) and Sane is presumably the kind of thing that Bayern would enjoy. "

Any decision from Sane to leave City would surprise some, though. 

Mark Schmidt is a football journalist at German outlet Bild and told B/R: "There actually have been no stories at all in German newspapers about his future in terms of joining other clubs. Nobody is even thinking that he, in the next couple of years, would play for any other club than Man City."

That will change if Sane cannot convince Guardiola to put more trust in him.