LONDON • With memories of their World Cup semi-final disappointment still raw, Gareth Southgate's decision to parade England's brightest young thing feels shrewd.
Jadon Sancho is hoping to gain his first cap against Croatia in their Nations League tie at a deserted Stadion HNK Rijeka today, a penalty imposed on England's World Cup conquerors for displaying a swastika before their Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy.
The 18-year-old represents England's future, personifying the creative, attack-minded style which Southgate, hampered by the familiar lack of midfield authority, is eager to pursue.
He has thus turned to Sancho and uncapped 19-year-old Mason Mount, on loan at Derby from Chelsea, in his search for the maestro he believes the Three Lions have lacked since the days of Paul Gascoigne.
Such has been the ease with which Sancho has adjusted to swopping Manchester City's academy for Borussia Dortmund that it was no surprise he was thrust into the limelight at St George's Park, where England's pre-match press conference was held.
Sancho had never addressed the media in such a formal setting, a daunting prospect given the cluster of TV cameras and microphones, but he smiled his way through the process.
His pride and gratitude at a maiden call-up shone through. "I'm really thankful he's (Southgate) seen my progress in the (German) Bundesliga," said Sancho, whose seven assists in all competitions make him the top assist-maker in Europe's top five leagues this term.
"To make my debut would be a dream come true. I can't think of anything better."
Assists Jadon Sancho has racked up this season, the most by a single player in Europe's top five leagues.
He also spoke of learning German, developing a taste for schnitzel and watching clips of Ronaldinho "carrying his team" on YouTube for inspiration.
But Sancho was reluctant to reflect upon his decision to leave City, with manager Pep Guardiola revealing that the Premier League champions were reluctant to let him depart for Dortmund.
"We offered him the best contract possible to continue with us, but he decided to move on and, with that, we cannot fight," the Spaniard said last September.
While Sancho did not directly address the issue which led to his £8 million (S$14.6 million) exit, he implied that he was not prepared to wait for his first-team chance.
"It's vital because not everyone wants to play Under-23 football," he said. "Everyone feels they're ready for the next step. I felt it was (the) right (time) to go."
The winger's move has since been vindicated, with starts in the Champions League and Bundesliga this season while taking over Ousmane Dembele's No. 7 shirt and winning the respect of his Dortmund teammates, who have labelled him "the king of assists".
"The opposition knows we have a real weapon in action as soon as Jadon enters (the field)," club captain Marco Reus said. "We are glad we have such an ace up our sleeve."
His performances, despite mainly featuring off the bench for the unbeaten table-toppers, have caught the eye of former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.
"He's potentially the best talent we've (England) got, bar none," said Ferdinand. "This kid is the truth. He's got everything."
Sancho remains unfazed by the hype building around him, which has led to his transfer value skyrocketing to £100 million.
"That's mad," said Sancho, who laughed when told of the speculation, with Liverpool and Arsenal said to be keen on bringing him back to England.
"I don't feel the pressure. I'm here to do one job: play football.
"I don't really see myself as a talented player. I just like working hard, and working hard brings great achievements."
Dan Micciche, his former England youth coach, feels Sancho can be England's equivalent to Brazil star Neymar.
"He could be our Neymar-type player, in terms of being unpredictable," the former MK Dons manager said. "He's flamboyant. But, like Neymar, he's effective with (the ball). He's delivered on every stage he's been put on."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN