Had it not been for some questionable nasal spray, Leroy Sané may have become a Bayern Munich player 12 months ago.
As the summer transfer window neared its close, Manchester City and their Bavarian counterparts were supposedly confident an agreement would be reached imminently, with negotiations set to resume after the small matter of the Community Shield.
Sané only started the showpiece in place of Riyad Mahrez because the Algerian was treated with an unknown substance on international duty and Manchester City’s medical staff couldn’t verify its contents. Sané hobbled off with a knee injury 13 minutes into the match which would scupper the move and sideline him for ten long months.
Despite the length of Sané’s layoff, the changes to Bayern’s hierarchy and having a new man in the dugout, the reigning Bundesliga champions have followed through on last summer’s flirtation, tying the winger down to a five-year deal for an initial fee of £44.7m.
This sustained interest is testament to the staggering standards Sané has set throughout his career and, in particular, the heights he has reached in Manchester City’s two most recent title triumphs.
The influence Sané’s had on Pep Guardiola’s side has only been heightened by the struggles City have encountered in the German’s absence – with the current campaign not even completed, the Sky Blues have already lost more games than they did in the last two seasons combined.
The jet-heeled winger has almost exclusively been stationed very wide on the left-hand side of City’s front three, making the pitch as big as possible, stretching opponents to create gaping wholes which the likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne inevitably took advantage off.
When he wasn’t used as a decoy, Sané was devastatingly clinical in the final third. In his last 48 Premier League starts, the 24-year-old has either scored or assisted a combined 45 goals. City have the unenviable task of replacing this output – either through the market or from within – ahead of their attempts to wrestle back the Premier League title from Liverpool next season.
Even without Sané, Bayern stormed to their eighth-consecutive Bundesliga crown. The incoming coach Hansi Flick has reinvigorated the Bavarian giants since his arrival in November, installing an effective pressing system as they ultimately dominated the second half of the campaign.
After three years under Guardiola, Sané is well-versed in rapidly closing down the opposition and more than sufficiently equipped with the technical skills required for a side that dominates possession. He will also be familiar with the competition, having amassed almost 50 Bundesliga appearances during his spell at Schalke.
This season was the first time for the best part of a decade that Bayern’s flanks have not been patrolled by one of Arjen Robben or Franck Ribéry. In place of the legendary duo, Bayern have most commonly turned to traditional wingers Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman, while Thomas Müller has also enjoyed a wonderful campaign often starting from a wide berth on the right.
Under Flick, Bayern have largely played a 4-2-3-1 formation, with both full-backs often pushed incredibly high given the usual dominance they exert in the Bundesliga. After becoming only the second team in Bundesliga history to hit the three-digit mark in the ‘goals for’ column, scoring hasn’t exactly been an issue this season.
While Gnabry has thrived throughout the campaign and is the team’s second top scorer this year, Sané in his pomp is surely an upgrade on the promising, but erratic Coman – who has been linked with a move to City.
There may be fears that Sané and the teenage left-back sensation Alphonso Davies will occupy the same space high and wide on the left when Bayern attack. At City, Guardiola was so concerned by this that he only started the similarly attacking Benjamin Mendy and Sané together five times in three years.
However this conundrum may never materialise as Davies could swiftly be restored to the attacking roster when Bayern recover from the injury crisis in defence which initially forced the positional change.
However, one fear which won’t be quickly dispelled is Sané’s fitness. Recent findings from Sweden suggest that the chances of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are heightened for those who have previously suffered. And according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, ‘only 65% of players still play at the top level three years after an ACL rupture’.
Whether Sané will be the same player he was when he collected the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2018 and City wrapped up a domestic treble the following season remains to be seen. But if Bayern can coax that level of performance out of him, the Champions League favourites have added a sensational talent to their already-frightening attack.