Alexis Sanchez is the player to restore United fans’ faith in the legacy of the club’s fabled shirt
Alexis Sanchez finally signed a four-and-half-year deal at Manchester United after one of the most protracted transfer sagas that lasted two transfer windows and almost saw him move to the Red Devils’ bitter crosstown rivals, Manchester City.
The Chilean international links up with Jose Mourinho’s side after a goal-laden three-and-a-half years at Arsenal. United immediately handed him the club’s fabled #7 shirt as they look to finally end a curse that has seen four players — Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Angel di Maria and Mephis Depay — buckle under its weight.
While some “pundits” have cringed at the amount of money being spent on the player, the value he potentially holds cannot be underestimated. Neymar’s transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last summer for £198m has broken all previous records and set a new benchmark for player sales figures.
To that effect, United signed Chile’s all-time record goalscorer for free. Sanchez’s transfer was straight swap with Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving in the opposite direction. United didn’t spend a penny on the player, apart from paying £15m in agent fees and a £7.5m signing-on bonus. Sanchez stands to gain another £7.5m, which will be spread over his deal with the club. United, as a result, paid £30m for a player in his peak, tested in the top level and with essential Premier League experience. Any “pundit” worth his salt would call that good value.
Speaking about his new signing, Mourinho said: “Alexis (Sanchez) is one of the best attacking players in the world and he will complete our very young and talented group of attacking players.”
“He will bring his ambition, drive and personality — qualities that make a Manchester United player and a player that makes the team stronger and the supporters proud of their club dimension and prestige.”
It is this drive and cutting edge that United have been lacking as a team since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. They have been blown out of the water by Manchester City’s explosive football and were crying out for a marquee signing who would take the game by the scruff of the neck and drive his teammates forward. In Sanchez, Mourinho has got that player.
United have struggled to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, either as a player or as a charismatic presence to carry the legendary #7 shirt, since his then-record £80m transfer to Real Madrid in 2009. The shirt, worn by revered figures such as George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Ronaldo himself, carries a lot of weight and only those with tremendous drive and ambition can live up to its demands.
Ferguson had extensively scouted Sanchez, who would have been a like-for-like replacement for Ronaldo, during his time at Udinese before the player signed for Barcelona in 2011.
The Chilean began life at Udinese as a right-winger, much like Ronaldo in his peak at United, before moving to the left and centre at Barcelona and Arsenal. United’s blockbuster summer signing Romelu Lukaku has failed to light up the Premier League against the big teams, despite plethora of goals against smaller teams. He has been isolated up front as a single striker with neither Marcus Rashford nor Anthony Martial capable of supporting him as a second striker that can draw away opposition defenders to free up space for him. In Sanchez, United have got that player now.
It could even be argued that come matches against the big sides, Mourinho might just favour the hard running style of his new signing to the Belgian striker.
In his Daily Mail column, former Arsenal great Martin Keown wrote: “Romelu Lukaku has looked isolated up front in recent weeks. To thrive, he needs players in and around him. While Sanchez could start wide on the left, that is not where he wants to play. He will be drawn into a central position and get close to Lukaku.”
United’s play has been very inconsistent this season — blowing away teams in one match and recoiling under pressure the next. This inconsistency has also impacted Lukaku’s scoring, which can be described as erratic at best. But Sanchez can grow frustrated from the lack of supply and tends to track back for the ball.
“When he is on it, Sanchez is the nearest thing to a modern-day Ian Rush. He homes in on defenders like an Exocet missile. Mourinho has to make him play high up the pitch. Sometimes, when he is frustrated, Sanchez will drop back deeper to get touches of the ball. He is at his most dangerous when playing on the shoulder of the last defender and that is where he must be,” Keown wrote.
Mourinho knows he has a robust and relentless attacking talent on his hands and if he allows him to flourish, instead of holding him back, Sanchez can rip apart any opposition in the Premier League. While the title seems lost at this time, United are still very much in the running in the Uefa Champions League and a free-flowing Sanchez can lift the club to new levels. And that can only mean good things for an army of supporters who have long been crying out for an heir to take the place of their their prodigal son.
The views expressed in this blog are mine unless otherwise mentioned.