Leroy Sane: I get balance from Mum and my speed from Dad

Leroy Sane: I get balance from Mum and my speed from Dad

‘Who told you that?’ asks Leroy Sane with a big smile. Sane is always smiling.

A young man who has electrified the Premier League has just been reminded of an afternoon that was very different, an afternoon that helped shape his career. It is an embarrassing episode in hindsight but one he can now afford to reminisce about with a laugh.

It came two seasons ago when Sane lined up for Schalke’s Under 19 side, the day after sitting on their first-team bench.

Five minutes into that match against Wuppertal, his coach, the renowned Norbert Elgert, screamed for him to get moving. He did not. Five minutes later he was taken off.

‘That was a very important experience,’ Sane says. ‘There was perhaps the thought that I maybe didn’t have to do it as much, because I had already made it to the top level of the club.

‘I was angry and upset afterwards. I think every player is angry after coming off after 10 minutes.’

A meeting involving Schalke’s academy directors, Sane and his parents — ex-Senegal international Souleyman and West Germany’s 1984 Olympic bronze medal gymnast Regina — followed.

A young career was at a crossroads but, ultimately, he took the right path. If he was lazy that day he certainly has not been since.

Signed by Manchester City last summer for £37million, Sane — along with Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling — is now one third of the club’s three-pronged attacking future trumpeted by manager Pep Guardiola.

‘My coach knew exactly what he was looking for and it certainly brought me on as a player,’ he added of the humbling substitution. ‘I’ve continued to work on that. It’s paid off because of where I am now. You become more mature because of these things.’

Now 21, Sane speaks eloquently about the good fortune of having two professional athletes for parents. He says: ‘I have inherited pace from my dad and, in terms of the physical side with the balance, I have inherited that from my mum.’ 

Souleyman could run 100 metres in 10.7sec. Sane tactfully refuses to divulge whether he can do it faster.

Football clearly runs in the family, with older brother Kim, who is 22, at Wattenscheid in Germany’s fourth tier while 13-year-old Sidi is at Schalke.

Raheem has told me to always believe in myself’

At City, Sane has established a close friendship with Sterling and 20 minutes before this interview, the England international mocked Sane online.

Sterling posted a picture of his mate in City’s new Dsquared2 suit with his arms hidden underneath an overcoat. ‘The German Harry Potter,’ is the caption.

Is Sane having that as a new nickname? ‘No!’ The pair are inseparable around the club — more often than not sitting together at dinner — and Sterling has clearly been good for Sane.

‘From the start he talked to me and helped me a lot. We are a similar age and we have similar interests. He tried to get to know me and then he has always helped me out in training. After games he has said to me, “Always believe in yourself. It will come right with time”.’

Time is what Sane needed.

Guardiola recently admitted Sane was a little ‘scared’ after becoming City’s fourth most expensive player of all time. He started just two Premier League games before December, but has shone since starring against Arsenal just before Christmas — scoring a goal then and four since, even after missing a month through injury.

‘It is obviously difficult in Manchester living in a hotel,’ admits Sane, who is looking for a city-centre apartment to bring his Radisson Blu stay to a close.

‘I have had family support. They have come over on visits but for a young player it can be difficult to make such a move. For me it has been made easier by my mum visiting and the help of the club. My dad came to a lot of games as well.’

Regina devoted plenty of trips to helping her son settle. Souleyman, meanwhile, will pinpoint areas of his game to work on and Guardiola often takes Sane to one side to drum home positional nuances.

In fact, the Catalan did just that during their first phone call before last season’s Bundesliga campaign had even finished.

The personal touch swung his decision away from interest from Liverpool and others in Germany.

It also helped that he grew up a Barcelona supporter, with Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi his role models.

‘It didn’t really take that much time (to decide)!’ he says. ‘I don’t stand there and think, “S***, Pep’s after me, I’ve got to do something”. It’s more about doing my thing well in training and that intensity, he is trying to get the best out of us, and sometimes that doesn’t happen, but the main thing is to keep on trying.

‘He said he wanted to improve me tactically, and work on my weaknesses. I can safely say that up to now he’s done everything he said he would.

‘I’m so happy about being part of the future of this great club. I feel good about it. There’s no pressure on me really. I just want to play football.’

He talks with passion for the game, made plain by a three-fingered salute towards referee Paul Tierney after scoring during Wednesday night’s FA Cup win over Huddersfield. Tierney had turned down three penalty appeals and with adrenaline pumping, Sane admits to disrespecting the official.

‘I don’t think the referee had his best day,’ he grins. ‘I think they were definitely three handballs. So I was a bit frustrated.

‘Perhaps I didn’t show complete respect to the referee.’

Sane’s hope is that not too many point him out while meandering Manchester’s city-centre streets, despite that noticeable afro.

‘It’s great fun living in the city. I stand out a little bit with my hair so I make sure I wear a hood!’

Back to the laughter, which fittingly bookends this half an hour. Leroy Sane’s smiling. He’s always smiling.

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