Germany star Leroy Sane is line to make his debut for European champions Bayern Munich when they begin their Bundesliga title defence against Schalke – his first professional club – on Friday.
It’s not quite a case of back to where it all began for Sane, since the opening game of the 2020/21 Bundesliga season is taking place in Munich rather than Gelsenkirchen – the home of Schalke.
The sentiment will be similar, though, as the 24-year-old looks to make his mark for the eight-in-row German champions against the club where he first made his name.
Sane made his Bundesliga debut for the Royal Blues in April 2014, and – after starring for both Manchester City and at international level – things have come full circle with a return to Germany.
Like Bayern and Germany captain Manuel Neuer before him, after all, the gifted winger first caught the eye in Gelsenkirchen.”
Our hearts are bleeding a little,” then-Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said after Sane completed a move to Manchester City in August 2016.
“In Leroy we’ve lost a great footballer with a good character, for whom Schalke has reasons to be grateful.”
As well as helping the club become German U19 champions in 2015, Sane was part of the first-team set-up at Schalke for three years – netting 11 goals in 47 Bundesliga matches. Getting on the scoresheet in the Revierderby against Borussia Dortmund was a highlight, but a spectacular strike in a 4-3 UEFA Champions League win away to Real Madrid in March 2015 brought him to wider attention.
With eight goals and six assists to Sane’s name in the 2015/16 Bundesliga season, he helped Schalke to a fifth-place finish before going on to lift seven trophies with Manchester City.
As a teenager Leroy Sane starred for Schalke against Real Madrid and his future Germany teammate Toni Kroos (r.) in the UEFA Champions League. – imago sportfotodienst/imago/Jan Huebner
This summer he returned to Germany as one of the most feared attacking talents in Europe. Having left his homeland at the age of 20 and now back in it a year after a cruciate knee ligament injury checked his momentum, the new Bayern No. 10 says he is a changed man.
“The Leroy from four years ago was quite a young guy who just wanted to play football and went through life easily – and so it should be,” Sane told 51, an official Bayern magazine. “I think that’s normal at this age.”
Within him, he says, there is still plenty of the child who enjoyed kicking a ball around the streets of Wattenscheid. However, the player capped 23 times by Germany suggested the move to Manchester helped him become more independent and to deal with responsibility.
“Life is about learning,” Sane said. “That never stops. That’s also a reason I came to Bayern now.”
It will be a special night for Sane on Friday if, as expected, he makes his first appearance for Bayern against his former club. It is, after all, a family affair when it comes to the Royal Blues.
His older brother Kim also came through the youth ranks at the 1997 UEFA Cup winners, and he played for their reserve side before dropping out of the professional game a couple of years ago. Sane’s younger sibling Sidi – aged 17 and also an attacker – is currently part of the Schalke academy set-up.
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The middle Sane brother didn’t have too much luck against Bayern as a Schalke player. He came on in a 1-1 draw in Munich in March 2015 before starting both matches the following season – losing, 3-0 and 3-1, home and away.
His return to Gelsenkirchen with Germany was somewhat more successful, as he netted in a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League in November 2018.
Sane then scored against Schalke for Manchester City in both legs of their Champions League last-16 tie in February 2019. The first of those strikes was breathtaking – an unstoppable free-kick with five minutes left that helped the visitors come from behind to win 3-2.
“It was very emotional for me to come back,” Sane admitted afterwards. “To my old home, where it all began.
“It was great to be able to play in this great atmosphere in front of these fans. In the first half I had goosebumps – the way the Schalke fans urged their team on.”
Leroy Sane crashed home a wonderful free-kick on his return to Schalke as a Manchester City player in 2019. – “Schalke 04 v Manchester City”/imago/VI Images
Sane, who also added three assists in the second leg, acknowledged that he had mixed feelings about his equaliser.
“I was a bit [sorry],” he said. “I couldn’t really celebrate. Of course I was pleased for the team, but to score a goal like that against my former love…”
The two-time English Premier League winner will have those same awkward feelings on the opening weekend of the new Bundesliga season. Having signed up with Bayern until the summer of 2025, however, he is eager to see the 2019/20 treble winners continue adding to their well-stocked trophy cabinet.
“Every title would be special for me because I haven’t won one in Germany yet [at senior level],” he told SportBild. “I’ll give everything to make it happen.”
And while he believes he has improved since leaving Schalke, he insists there is plenty more to work on at Bayern.
New Bayern Munich star Sane has become a key player for Germany and started their most recent game against Switzerland. – Pius Koller via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Pius Koller
“I play a lot with my left foot,” he told reporters. “I can improve on my right. My positional game has already come on a lot at Manchester City, and I want to take it to the next level here.”
Bayern legend Uli Hoeneß admits the expectation is high around Sane, but believes the major summer arrival in Munich has everything required to become an even bigger name.
“If he works hard on himself and keeps his feet on the ground, then we will have a lot of joy with him,” the former Bayern president told Sport1.
Hoeneß wore the No. 10 jersey while at the six-time European champions, as did other superstars like Lothar Matthäus and Arjen Robben. Sane will be the next to do so, and he is well aware of the significance of that decision.
“I chose the number consciously to make a statement that I’ve come here to accept responsibility,” he told the Bayern website. “I have big goals with FC Bayern – and I want to show that people can completely rely on me.”
Schalke, who once relied heavily on Sane, will now have to work out a way to stop him.