Manchester City's Leroy Sane a potential Ballon d'Or winner under Pep Guardiola
For a manager like Pep Guardiola who believes that players remaining calm is crucial to success, Leroy Sane looks like his perfect attacker. Sane is so relaxed he is able to fall asleep on the team bus in the five minutes it takes it to travel from Manchester City's academy to the Etihad on matchday.
That ability to stay calm and clear-headed in the final third of the pitch as seen him contribute 12 assists in the Premier League this season -- only behind teammate Kevin De Bruyne in England and the top five leagues in Europe -- as well as scoring nine goals. And his remarkable individual performance was rewarded with the Young Player of the Year accolade at Sunday's PFA Awards night.
To put his form into context, one more goal in City's remaining four fixtures would seem him register double figures for both goals and assists -- something that no other player in the Premier League has done this season or the last. In England, Spain, Germany and Italy so far this season, only Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Lazio's Luis Alberto have achieved the feat.
Sane could crack through that double figure barrier in City's next match against West Ham United after being given the weekend off for the 5-0 victory over Swansea City. That would see him come up against former teammate Pablo Zabaleta, who has seen the quality of the German winger close up in training last season. The Argentinian was heard to mutter a small expletive after being informed he would be directly up against Sane when the two sides met in a preseason friendly in Iceland last August.
Sane's teammates David Silva and De Bruyne as well as Liverpool's Mohamed Salah could all potentially reach double figures in both goals and assists and it's no surprise that all four players were nominated for the main PFA Player of the Year award. Salah was a worthy winner on Sunday but Sane at least picked up the Young version.
At 22, he is three years younger than the Egyptian but his composure and confidence are outstanding for a player so inexperienced, having only only made a combined 150 appearances for Schalke, City and Germany. But if his rate of improvement continues, Sane has the potential to even become a future Ballon d'Or winner.
"I was asked if I'm thinking about the Ballon d'Or. It's way too early, especially a trophy like this. It would be nice for me if I could reach it in future, but not now," he told The National newspaper in March.
In Guardiola he has the perfect mentor and the Catalan won't allow the winger to stagnate in his development. Sane was left out of six of City's first seven matches with Guardiola saying he didn't warrant a place in his team.
"He didn't arrive good. He didn't make a good preseason, he wasn't good in the first games of preseason. He didn't deserve to play," Guardiola said in September.
Since then, Guardiola has relied heavily on him and Sane has responded with 13 goals and 16 in all competitions. The City coach's options were hindered when left wing-back Benjamin Mendy suffered a cruciate ligament injury which ruled him out for eight months of the season -- only returning as a substitute in Sunday's victory over Swansea.
While Fabian Delph has proved to be a worthy understudy, the England international is unable to offer the same speed and overlapping power as Mendy, meaning the only pace on the left side of the pitch has come from Sane. Guardiola came close to adding extra quality to that side but aborted a move for Alexis Sanchez and Sane has taken up the slack for much of the season, seldom failing to deliver.
There have been some magical individual moments of skill -- his incredible dribbling for assists against Arsenal and Newcastle United stand out in particular. But possibly his most disappointing moments came in the Champions League quarterfinal against Liverpool when City often tried too isolate him with young full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold but he struggled to get the better of the teenager.
Guardiola has no doubt about his quality and will push him to get even better. "I can say that because I was the manager of the best player in history [Messi]. That's why I know he can improve," he said. "With this talent it would be a pity not to try to realise all this potential that he has."
And Sane, the son of ex-Bundesliga striker Souleymane Sane and former Olympic gymnast Regina Weber, is hungry to learn from the Catalan.
"He is, for me, the best coach in the world," Sane said after receiving his award. "Everyone can see that we've improved a lot and have taken the next step."
Sane will have to continue having to make do with his catnaps in the immediate future with the winger set to be a major part of Germany's plans for the World Cup in Russia this summer. An extraordinary season could yet get even better.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.