THE SIGNS were all there yet nobody appeared to wonder if Jadon Sancho might still be suffering inside.
Three managers on, Erik ten Hag is finally trying to get to the bottom of why Manchester United’s £73million signing in July 2021 started badly and fell away.
Manchester United ace Jadon Sancho has been struggling at Old TraffordGetty
Sancho is seeing a sports psychologist to help improve his gameGetty
Why he has struggled so badly — to the extent he was well out of contention for England’s World Cup squad — given he was touted as the perfect package.
Whether, for example, Sancho ever did get over his penalty shootout miss that left him in floods of tears after England’s Euro 2020 final heartbreak against Italy.
Or later, that he lost his way during the incendiary return to United of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ten Hag is trying to get to the bottom of how Sancho, only 17 months after arriving as a superstar signing from Borussia Dortmund, has become the lost soul of Old Trafford.
With the help of sports psychologists and fitness trainers, Sancho is working alone to try to find a way back. Ten Hag cannot say when that will be, either.
He reveals only that he has had a series of discussions with the 22-year-old to try to help him through.
Instead of being with his team-mates at their training camp in southern Spain last week, Sancho was working alone in the Netherlands with trusted coaches and advisers.
Ten Hag said: “We didn’t see him for the last games — he wasn’t in the right status, in the right fitness state.
“So now he’s on an individual programme and hopefully we’ll see him back soon. Sometimes there are circumstances with fitness and mood. He was good on our pre-season tour but also when the league started he played some good games, like Liverpool, Leicester and Arsenal.
“After, we got a drop of level and what happens sometimes, you don’t know why or what is causing it.”
Sancho last played for United on October 14 in a 1–1 draw with Chelsea but has dropped off the radar since.
Last month, before heading to Ten Hag’s homeland, he took down all his social media accounts.
We didn’t see him for the last games — he wasn’t in the right status, in the right fitness state.
Ten Hag on Sancho
United sources briefed it was a move aimed at concentrating on his family and the second half of the season.
The club are now anxious to make clear that there is nothing sinister about his disappearance and that the only plot is to make him the man he was again.
One who, in the campaign before signing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, scored 16 goals for Dortmund.
He left there having hit the net 50 times in 137 games for the German side but has only eight in 52 appearances for United.
Sancho’s was a name rarely mentioned in the months building up to Gareth Southgate picking his 26-man World Cup squad.
Having been put on as a sub to take one of those penalties against Italy at Wembley, he has not worn an England jersey since.
Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag is baffled by Sancho’s collapse in confidenceGetty
Ten Hag is not giving up on SanchoReuters
Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka also missed from the spot and all three were subjected to appalling racial abuse from faceless internet trolls.
Yet Saka and Rashford are now recognised England heroes.
Too often since signing for United 12, days before that awful experience at Wembley, Sancho has been unrecognisable from the one who lit up the Bundesliga.
Rashford has re-emerged from under his own shell thanks to the careful guidance of Ten Hag.
The Old Trafford manager will be hoping that, whatever has damaged Sancho so much, more TLC will have the same result.
He has only shone intermittently since Solskjaer replaced him with Anthony Martial in a 1-0 win over Wolves on August 29 last year on his first start for United.
He was so upset that he had to be comforted on the bench by then coach Mike Phelan.
Just over a week later he was replaced again — this time by Jesse Lingard — and once again he looked miserable.
No questions were asked, in public at least, as to why it looked like he was carrying the world on his shoulders.
And his difficult start appears to have been overlooked amid the euphoria of Ronaldo’s return.
Tellingly, not long before he was hooked for that second time, Ronaldo ridiculed Sancho for not delivering a goalscoring chance for him.
That was against Newcastle in a 4-1 win when the veteran scored two on his return. It was all about Ronaldo and from all sides.
Sancho has been unable to replicate his Bundesliga success at Old TraffordGetty
As the Second Coming unravelled, Ronaldo would point the finger at far younger team-mates, with Sancho thought to be one of those he condemned for not showing the right attitude.
Ten Hag intends to get to the bottom of the Sancho mystery to save a Red Devil who has been to hell and is not back yet.
At least he saw some tell-tale signs that something was going wrong.
He said: “Most of the time it comes slowly. On the summer tour he played really well, the start of the league he played really well. After the break his performance was lower.
“First you observe but then also the stats back it up. In the start of the season he had goals and assists, key moments and key actions, then it became less and less.
“We want him back as soon as possible — but I can’t give a prognosis of when that will be.”