Jadon Sancho & Reiss Nelson: 'Bundesliga has belief in young players'

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The Whatsapp group messages between Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson have been pinging away all season.

The England youngsters – both 18 – are plying their trade in the German Bundesliga – Sancho with Borussia Dortmund and Nelson at Hoffenheim.

They message each other all the time, especially when one of them has had a good game.

And with 11 goals and eight assists between them in all competitions, there’s been plenty of group chat “banter” so far.

“I’ve got love for him, he’s got love for me,” Sancho told BBC Sport. “We just keep on pushing each other. If I do well on a weekend, I think it pushes him. It motivates both of us. I like seeing Reiss do well and I’m sure he likes seeing me do well, so it’s good.”

Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho in all competitions this season (source: Opta)
Nelson at Hoffenheim Sancho at Dortmund
Games played 11 17
Games started 4 8
Minutes played 413 859
Goals 6 5
Assists 0 8
Chances created (including assists) 14 26
Passes 149 467
Passing accuracy 89.93% 84.37%

What’s in the Whatsapp chat?

Nelson and Sancho were both part of the same Southwark side which won the Under-11s competition at the London Youth Games in 2011.

Now, former Manchester City player Sancho is part of a Dortmund team that sits on top of the Bundesliga and he was instrumental again during Saturday’s thrilling 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich.

On loan Arsenal winger Nelson had a “rocky start” but has since scored six goals in seven league games for fifth-placed Hoffenheim.

“We have a group chat – it’s me, Sanch and a couple of other boys,” explained Nelson, in a separate BBC Sport interview.

“It’s not a competition between me and Jadon… but more like ‘Sanch assists another one’ with the eyes emoji. Then it’s like, ‘Reiss, what you gonna do today?’ I’m just like, ‘Leave it, let’s crack on’.

“We message each other every day and, if he’s got a game a day before mine I’m like, ‘Sanch, you know what you’ve got to do today, come on, do what you can do’.

“He says the same to me. It’s a healthy relationship. We’re encouraging each other but I don’t think it’s a rivalry thing. It will never be that for me.”

Sancho agrees.

“Me and Reiss, growing up together, playing together when we were younger – we’ve got a strong bond,” he said.

“We banter a bit! When we played Hoffenheim, we drew that game but the banter you know will always be [there].”

So should other young players move abroad?


Players aged 21 or under accounted for just 5.3% of all Premier League minutes played this season up until last weekend. That’s lower than the French, German, Italian and Spanish leagues, according to research by a CIES study.

And in terms of English-qualified players of any age, there has been an average of 29.8% starting Premier League games this season. Taking a snapshot of last weekend’s fixtures, that figure was 21.2% among the traditional top six clubs of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United.

“If English clubs are not giving you a chance then abroad is always an option,” said winger Sancho. “They’re always open to just seeing your ability and, hopefully, if you’re good enough then you get your chance. That’s how I felt.

“That’s what the Bundesliga is about. They believe in you, they trust you and, even if you’re so young, they wouldn’t get you out here if they didn’t really believe in your ability.

“I’m not saying English clubs don’t believe in your ability, I’m just saying I think they [Bundesliga clubs] look at it earlier than the English clubs will do.”

Nelson, who claimed the Bundesliga’s rookie of the month award for October, added: “Sanch started the trend, I’d say. I call him every day and he’s obviously saying we are kind of setting the trend for the young boys to come over.

“I know a lot of the top [young] players in England as well and they’re always saying, ‘How is life in Germany, how is the Bundesliga?’ and I’m just saying, ‘It’s great’.

“They believe in young players and that’s the main thing. Getting the belief behind you to play football.

“It might no be so good for England if they [young players] all leave, but on a personal level, I think it will be great for young players to get playing time and show everyone what they can do.”

Why did you move abroad and how good has it been?

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Sancho left Manchester City and joined Dortmund for £10m in August 2017. He turned down a new deal that City manager Pep Guardiola said he had agreed to sign as he went in search of regular first-team football.

“I just felt I was ready for the next step and I felt Borussia Dortmund was a great club to move to and develop my career,” said Sancho.

“It’s taking my game to a different level, only because I’m playing and getting the chance to show the world what I can do on the pitch.”

England Under-21 striker Nelson left Arsenal on a season-long loan.

“For me, I always want to be the best player I can be,” he said. “I’m 18 and I thought going to the Bundesliga will give me a challenge and doing that would make me become a better footballer and a better person as well throughout life.

“I wanted to challenge myself and see what I could do. It’s going well so far.

“It’s incredible. But I’ve just got to keep it up. It’s not just for the six games, I’ve got to do it throughout the season.

“I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I’ve just got to keep my feet on the ground and keep positive.”

What’s life like in Germany?

Sancho is in the more metropolitan city of Dortmund compared with the quieter town of Heidelberg, where Nelson has chosen to live.

“I like it. I’ve settled down now – got my apartment and I’m loving it here,” said Sancho.

“The city is nice. I go for little strolls, I’m getting to learn the language as well, so everything’s going well so far.

“My dad’s over here at the moment, so he’s just looking after me. I’ve actually got a chef – Dortmund recommended him and he’s helped me a lot, keeping me healthy and in shape.

“There’s a lot of foreigners in the dressing room so I think it’s just normal to them, but it’s nice to be around everyone. There are different cultures and you get to learn different things.”

Nelson has swapped the bustle of London for a town which, according to Wikipedia, has “roughly a quarter of its population being students”.

“London is a very big place but I’m in a small town called Heidelberg and I’m here with my family,” said Nelson. “I’m happy at the moment and I’m playing, so it’s all going well.

“It [Hoffenheim] is a small little village. I’ve got my mum and my brother here – they’re exploring Heidelberg and they say to me they love it, so that’s just all good for me.”

He added: “I can speak a bit of German. I’m having German lessons and it’s going well. The boys banter me sometimes, the way I speak, but that’s just what comes with it.”

What about the future?

Reiss Nelson (left) and Jadon Sancho

Sancho’s form has led to him breaking into the England squad and he made his debut in a goalless draw in Croatia on 12 October. He came on for Raheem Sterling after 78 minutes and produced an impressive cameo appearance.

“I feel like I’m just doing my job really, I don’t really look at myself as the next big thing,” he said.

“I’m just here to do my job and I just want to play – that’s the love of the game really.

“I think if I keep this up I can go a long way, but I’ve just got to keep grounded and keep focused.”

Sancho added: “Right now I’m just focused on season-by-season, game-by-game. I couldn’t really tell you the future.

“But, country-wise, I hope I get more senior caps, that would be fantastic for me and my family. I’ve just got to keep on working hard and you never know what’s next.”

Nelson moved to Hoffenheim on the back of signing a new long-term contract with Arsenal and Gunners fans can rest easy when he talks about his next destination.

“Arsenal are my boyhood club,” he said. “I’ve been with them since I was eight, so that’s 10 years.

“I just want to go back there stronger because at the time I was at Arsenal I was 16, 17 and I didn’t feel confident.

“I didn’t think I was a man, but now I’m feeling stronger and I think a couple more months or even a year in Hoffenheim will make me strong and give me the belief and confidence to go back to Arsenal and do very good there.

“I want to be an Arsenal legend. And, for England, it’s the best. You can’t beat playing for your country I don’t think.”

Jadon Sancho & Reiss Nelson were speaking in separate interviews to BBC Sport’s David Ornstein

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