BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jadon Sancho made a slice of history on Friday night – with the South Londoner becoming the first player born in the 2000s to play for England.
The teenager, raised in Peckham and Kennington, is the 10th youngest player to represent the senior Three Lions team when he featured against Croatia on Friday night at the age of just 18 years and 201 days.
Sancho, who replaced Raheem Sterling for the final 12 minutes of the 0-0 draw in Rijeka, is the youngest ever to make their debut without playing in the domestic football league system.
He is the second youngest English player to win his first cap in a competitive game – only behind Manchester United great Duncan Edwards in April 1955.
Sancho, lighting up the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, is the first outfield player to make an appearance for England since David Beckham, who still got the call from his country while winding down his career at LA Galaxy.
He has seven assists for BVB – more than any player in Europe’s elite six leagues.
But England head coach Gareth Southgate has called for a measure of calm surrounding Sancho.
“I guess we’ve just got to keep a lid on it [the hype],” the former Crystal Palace defender told reporters after the Nations League match. “I’ve briefly had a bit of time with him when he was an U15 in one of our camps, but also I’ve spent a lot of time talking to other youth coaches to get a good insight into his personality and how he is, just so we were able to help him settle as quickly as possible.
“He’s actually quite a quiet lad around the place, but, of course, he’s very confident on the field and he showed that belief in his spell he had on the field. I don’t think it’s so relevant whether he starts or is a sub in terms of the impact he’ll have.
“I just think that’s part of him gaining strength in the game and understanding at Dortmund of how they’re playing and then with us just easing him into the way we play and the environment. The Champions League games he’s had, he’s had a really good impact as well.”
Sancho had over 25,000 likes on his Twitter profile for a post and picture of his debut moment. He tweeted: “A real honour putting the England shirt on tonight and representing my country. Thank you to everyone for the messages! The journey continues…”
Sancho had already spoken to the media ahead of the contest and admitted his call-up to the senior England set-up was an ambition fulfilled.
He said: “It means a lot to me, especially my family.. I always dreamed of playing for my country when I was a young kid. It’s the biggest thing for me. My dad was a big fan of John Barnes, growing up. He had a couple of videos of him, growing up. I’d watch them.
“I was at training when I first got the call, and straight away I told my parents. They were delighted for me, and I couldn’t stop smiling for the whole day.
“I was a bit surprised, to be fair. I’m so young and still have a lot to learn. I’m just grateful he [Southgate] has seen my progress in the Bundesliga. I’m really thankful.”
When asked if he felt he was limiting his chances with England by playing abroad, Sancho replied: “I didn’t think about it that way. My focus was getting minutes as a player and playing first-team, which is what I’ve done.”
Former England winger Chris Waddle, capped 62 times, was talking up Sancho’s chances of starting last night’s fixture against Spain.
“He’s confident, he’s got a trick, he can go past people. The way he plays, they say the system is not going to suit him. But I don’t believe that. You say in international football: ‘Go out and play – you’re one of a [attacking] three]’.
“Harry Kane is down the middle and if you’re down the left you drift and balance it out. As soon as the ball goes dead if you are on the left then you stay left, if you’re on the right you stay right.
“He doesn’t need to hug the touchline – no-one stays wide anymore.”