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Manchester United will benefit from Erik ten Hag’s approach with £72m England star as ‘RED DEVILS’ prepares for life After Ronaldo

The development of elite footballers is rarely linear and while England were impressing but falling agonisingly short again in a World Cup he should have lit up, Jadon Sancho was training in a remote Dutch town trying to rediscover the mojo that made him a £73million winger.

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Sancho has lost the sparkle that made him one of the game’s brightest prospects a couple of years ago and with the absence of those technical gifts has come the mental battles that can often weed out the best from the rest.

When the winger made his move to Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund 18 months ago he was an exciting new arrival, someone who looked like they were the future not just of Manchester United, but of English football.

In hindsight, Sancho joined United at the worst possible time. Having thrived in a structured system at Dortmund with clear tactical and technical instructions, he was then placed into a United attack that was more freestyle and became dysfunctional as it tried to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo.

Last season was a write-off for United and it was a struggle for Sancho, who flickered only briefly. The dangerous dribbler that lit up games in the Bundesliga had become constrained at his new club.

The arrival of Erik ten Hag and an improved coaching team this summer was supposed to liberate some United players. It has had that effect on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, but Sancho is yet to feel the same benefits. He was bright in pre-season and started the league campaign well, but lost his way soon after.

The last of his third goals came in Moldova in mid-September and he hasn’t played for the club since a disappointing 52 minutes at Chelsea on October 22. His absence from the 26-man England squad was no shock at all, but as a generation of players such as Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden thrive, the frustration for Sancho is that, at 22, he should be part of that group.

There is, of course, still time to put himself back in that company, and United are taking the patient approach, with Ten Hag happy to give the attacker the time he needs.

During the World Cup break Sancho trained in the Netherlands with coaches recommended by Ten Hag and while the rest of the squad took part in a training camp in Spain last week, he continued to follow an individual training plan.

“He’s not fit enough to be here,” Ten Hag told British journalists in Jerez last week. “First we didn’t see him the last games for United. So he wasn’t in the right status, in the right fitness state, so now he’s on an individual programme and we want him to finish that programme and hopefully, we see him back soon.

“He’s not here, we want to bring him back as quickly as possible but I can’t give a prognosis of when that will be. I have had several talks with Jadon. I don’t think he will be back next week, no.

“Sometimes there are circumstances with fitness and mood. Now he’s on a physical programme and our aim is to get him back as quickly as possible.”

It is clear Ten Hag wants Sancho to be fitter to follow his aggressive, pressing-focused game plan, but the player also needs to clear his mind before his return to the club. He looks unlikely to be involved against Burnley in the Carabao Cup fourth round next week, but there is no pressure from his manager to return.

United would clearly want a £73million winger available, but they also need Sancho at his best. He was signed to be a key player at Old Trafford for years to come, so if this absence helps him to recapture his highest level it will be seen as being worth it.

At the moment, Ten Hag can cope without Sancho. He might not have Rashford or Antony available next week, but they should both be back for the resumption of the Premier League season on December 27, when Nottingham Forest visit Old Trafford.

United also have Anthony Elanga in reserve, as well as the thrilling Alejandro Garnacho, who deserves more first-team exposure after his performances before the break for the World Cup.

Sancho will still have a big role to play at United and there is no doubt the talent is there. Ten Hag is taking a patient approach to unlocking it once again and that could be to everyone’s benefit in the long term.

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