For a player that had just been dropped from the Manchester City squad for the Premier League clash with Newcastle United, Leroy Sane looked remarkably unperturbed.
He chatted with injured teammates Kevin De Bruyne, Danilo and Philippe Sandler on the touchline as the rest of the squad warmed up. During the game he retired to a luxury box, relaxing with his feet rested on a rail as City struggled to a 2-1 victory.
Pep Guardiola insisted after the game that he had no worries about Sane’s attitude and that his omission was merely a tactical decision but sources have told ESPN FC there are concerns about his early season attitude, with the Germany winger not working hard enough in training.
Those claims would seem to borne out by comments from his international teammate Toni Kroos ahead of Germany’s Nations League clash with France and friendly against Peru.
“Sometimes you have the feeling with Leroy’s body language that it is all the same whether we win or lose,” Kroos said on Wednesday.
“He has to improve his body language. He’s a player who has everything you need to be world-class player but sometimes you have to tell him he has to perform better.”
The Real Madrid midfielder is able to speak from a place of authority having going through a similar situation when he was dropped by Guardiola when the pair were at Bayern Munich. There was also suggestions that Guardiola had to curb Kroos’ ego and gave him a dressing down after he threw his gloves to the ground when he was substituted during a game in January. 2014.
Certainly Kroos bares no malice towards Guardiola and says he made a huge “step forward” during his time under the Catalan and he has gone on to become one of the best midfielders in the world, winning the World Cup as well as the Champions League three times.
Sane, as Kroos added, has “all the makings to become world class” but his response to being dropped as been far more restrained. He can have a short fuse on the pitch but is remarkably relaxed away from it, with a source telling ESPN FC that he once fell asleep on the five-minute coach journey it took from the club’s Etihad Campus to the stadium on matchday.
He was surprisingly axed from Joachim Low’s World Cup squad for Russia 2018, within weeks of being named the Premier League’s Young Player of the Year, to the shock of those who watch him on a regular basis. But while many players would have reacted by showing on the pitch what a huge mistake the coach had made — particularly after Germany’s dismal group stage exit — Sane laboured through preseason and has hardly featured back in England since, playing just 75 minutes in City’s opening five matches.
With City sending 16 players to the World Cup — seven of whom were still in Russia just three weeks before the Community Shield curtain-raiser against Chelsea — the 22-year-old should have been a key performer in the early weeks of the season.
Sane was even given extra time off over the summer, joining up the first team when they arrived in the United States for the International Champions Cup. He was a half-time substitute in the second game of the tour, scoring in a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool but Guardiola remained unconvinced.
“It depends on him,” he told the postmatch news conference in New York. “He needs more minutes, he needs to come back to his principles in terms of being aggressive without the ball. He has to come back. Of course he has all the talent to do that so we are happy for him to score but he is still far away from his best condition.”
Sane didn’t feature at all in a friendly three days later against Bayern Munich in Miami and has been left on the periphery for the opening of the season.
It’s a recurring theme for the former Schalke player and last season he started just one of City’s first six first matches.
“He didn’t make a good preseason, he wasn’t good in the first games of preseason. He didn’t deserve to play,” Guardiola said in September when he finally forced his way back into the side.
The reaction was emphatic with Sane finishing the season with 14 goals and 19 assists in all competitions and, along with teammate Raheem Sterling and Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, he was the only player to reach double figures for goals and assists in the Premier League.
Guardiola and Low will hope they get a similar response this time but the real breakthrough will be when Sane follows in Kroos’ footsteps by realising that he needs to maintain his best standards continuously if he is to the reach the heights he is seemingly destined for.