I tamed Liverpool and battled Pep Guardiola - in the end I had to leave Man City

Leroy Sane has a major regret over his four-year spell at Manchester City - but it is nothing he did on the pitch and is unconnected to his controversial exit.

"I was young. Today I would make a different decision," he said in 2021, in quotes that have resurfaced this week. "I was someone who had to run into the wall at least once, even if it hurt, in order to learn from it, especially at a young age."

The regret in question is his full-back tattoo of his goal scored in the Champions League knockout defeat against Monaco, which took four days to complete. It is four years since Sane left City, and five since he played a game for them - yet he remains a fan favourite at the Etihad.

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There is an annual rumour that he could return - generating a wave of excitement every summer - although he has remained at Bayern Munich each time. Maybe that is because of how anti-climactic his spell at City ended.

Signed in 2016 for around £37m from Schalke Sane settled relatively quickly at City, scoring some memorable goals including that strike against Monaco. He kicked on in his second season, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award as City won the title in record fashion.

It was his strike against Liverpool in January 2019 that separated the sides at the end of the season - a typical Sane goal for the pace, precision and brutally-simplistic nature of the finish. He would score four goals in eight games against Jurgen Klopp's side, averaging a strike every 40 minutes, including a brace in a destructive 5-0 win.

His sublime free kick in the Champions League against former club Schalke, before three assists and a goal in a 7-0 home win against the Germans summed up his status as game-changer on the big stage.

Leroy Sane scores the winner against Liverpool -Credit: Victoria Haydn/Man City via Getty Images
Leroy Sane scores the winner against Liverpool -Credit: Victoria Haydn/Man City via Getty Images

With Sane on one flank and Raheem Sterling on the other, City's attack was built on pace. But Pep Guardiola was slowly moving to a more measured look through Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez. That rotation saw rumours of a Sane exit start to surface, with Bayern long-time admirers.

It felt as though Sane was to leave in the summer of 2019, but a serious knee injury in the Community Shield that summer ended his season at Wembley before it had even started. Bayern would have to wait and the speculation continued for another year - Sane played just 11 minutes of action in the Premier League, featuring once off the bench in June after the Covid pandemic interrupted the campaign.

Before that sole outing, Guardiola confirmed City had given up trying to keep Sane and were resigned to him leaving either that summer or the year after when his contract expired.

"Leroy said he doesn't want to extend the contract so it means he wants to leave and it is going to happen this summer or when he is out of contract," said Guardiola. "The club have talked to me, they've offered two or three times to extend his contract, he rejected so it means he wants to play in another club.

"If, at the end of this season, we arrive at an agreement with another club, he is going to leave. If not he will stay one more year and leave when out of contract."

That other club, unsurprisingly, was Bayern, and Sane got his wish that summer in a £55m deal. "It wasn't easy. Pep Guardiola and this fantastic team were the reason why I moved to Manchester," he said after leaving the Etihad.

"But I wanted to do something new. The concept and the plans of FC Bayern were the best match for my ideas. That's why I came to my decision. The Bayern system really fits me perfectly. Wingers characterize Bayern’s game; that of course suits me very well. That was very much a key point for me.”

He added: "I just had a feeling that I needed something new and that is why I came at the end to this decision. I told them I wanted to move and this was the right decision. I was thinking about the whole package – not just about me but my family and everything else. That’s why the decision was made that I wanted to come to Munich.”

Leroy Sane is comforted by Manchester City manager Guardiola after being substituted during the FA Community Shield
Leroy Sane is comforted by Manchester City manager Guardiola after being substituted during the FA Community Shield

Sane had to defend his relationship with Guardiola, amid reports there were strains between the pair. “Our relationship is good," he said after leaving. "There was never a point when one was tired of the other. I am grateful for everything he taught me. Pep Guardiola helped me to a very high level."

In the book 'Pep's City', Guardiola said Sane needed 'apply himself' more and his management style was described as one of tough love. One incident in on New Year's Day 2017 reportedly saw Guardiola give a 'brutal' telling off after Sane turned up late to training following a New Year's Eve party the night before. But both men have dismissed any fall-out talk publicly, and they have shared warm moments whenever they have reunited - either in the Champions League or pre-season friendlies.

Time has been something of a healer for Sane and City, with the winger insisting he is happy with how he left. “I had good moments and good memories and there is nothing I can say I regret," he concluded. "I grew as a person and a player. I am thankful and grateful everything that I learned and all the people that I met were really nice. I can only wish them all the best."

As Sane looks to help Germany to a European Championship to go with his 11 major club trophies, memories of his highlights at City will come flooding back. A winning goal in the Euro 2024 final would certainly be a better option for a tattoo than his Monaco strike.