It would seem that Alexis Sánchez’s time with the Red Devils is finally coming to a close. After a two and a half year “association” with the club, Internazionale look to make his season-long loan move into a permanent one. Quite honestly, it is a move that suits all parties: Inter would not pay a transfer fee for the Chilean international, Manchester United would save tens of millions in wages, and Sanchez gets to continue his fine form with the Serie A giants.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder what in the world went wrong.
On January 22, 2018, Manchester United announced the signing of Alexis Sánchez from Arsenal in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan move the opposite way. At the time, I believed it was a brilliant move for all parties involved. Sánchez was running down the final 6 months of his contract, looking for a move away from the Emirates, and Arsenal did not want to lose the winger on a free. Manchester United wanted to offload Mkhitaryan, who, while he did not want to leave Old Trafford, was in need of regular playing time. That was my assessment then. Oh boy, how wrong I was.
In the history of swap deals that have transpired in the footballing world, the Sánchez-Mkhitaryan swap is by far one of the worst ones. Both players failed to live up to expectations and coincidentally find themselves on loan to Serie A clubs this past season. Mkhitaryan was loaned to AS Roma.
What I don’t understand is why Sánchez failed at Manchester United. He was a proven Premier League goal scorer and had an excellent track record before his tenure with Arsenal. He was outstanding for FC Barcelona and played well for Udinese. At Arsenal, he was lethal up front. The Chilean made 166 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners and scored an impressive 80 goals. He was supposed to continue his scintillating form at United, and was slated to form a formidable attacking partnership with Lukaku and Rashford.
However, from the get go, Sánchez was off. It wasn’t a case of him being a lazy player or wasn’t hardworking enough. He often ran for the ball when the team lost possession and he would make runs and attempt to link up with the attacking play. However, something never ever clicked during Sanchez’s time at United.
Was it due to Mourinho’s management? One could make a case for this given how the Special One often utilized a defensive (or how some would term “negative”) approach to the game. That could have contributed to why he racked up so few assists and goals. A lot of his teammates, like Rashford and Martial, appeared shackled under Mourinho as well. However, while the rest of the squad prospered after Ole took over, Sánchez still never took off.
Injuries hampered his second season season at United as well, and perhaps it affected the player’s ability to settle in. People often overlook this as a problem when it can actually make or break a players career at a club. The psychological well being of a player is really important, and maybe Sánchez never had the time to properly settle in the club. After all, he was brought mid-way through the season, and adapting to new teammates and tactics in a short span of time is by no means an easy task. That being said, he did have a full preseason with the club to adapt for the following campaign but still fired blanks most of the time.
One also has to look at why he performed so well at Arsenal, and there was one key reason for that: Mesut Özil. At United, Sánchez lacked someone like Özil – someone who was a playmaking maestro. Pogba could have offered what Özil did at Arsenal, but under Mourinho, he rarely featured in that attacking midfield position that the German occupied.
One thing is for certain, Sánchez was expected to come in and produce fireworks immediately. The United hierarchy were so certain that their new number 7 would be off the mark that they provided him with a staggering 500,000 pounds-per-week contract. That really did him more harm than good, and United fans circled the player like vultures whenever he failed to score or make an impact in the game. For 500,000 pounds a week, Sánchez needed to do better. He showed glimpses of his old form in some matches, but they were rare exceptions. He was pocketing a colossal figure weekly for regular sub-par performances and thus became a scapegoat for the club’s struggles. Maybe United fans were too harsh on the player, but time is a luxury in the Premier League, where instant results are demanded.
Sánchez is most certainly departing Manchester, and it makes the most sense for him to join Inter. Since the Serie A’s restart, he has been in fine form, and continuing that momentum with a team and system he is comfortable with makes the most logical sense. Offloading Sánchez also means that more resources become available for a move for Jadon Sancho. If the rumours are true, Sánchez will end his contract voluntarily, and it saves the Red Devils a ton of cash.
To conclude, I want to go over one last point. Some people might attribute Sánchez’s failure to the curse of the number 7. After Cristiano Ronaldo, every Manchester United player to don the (in)famous number has struggled. Memphis Depay, Ángel Di María, and Michael Owen are all amazing players, but they failed to reach the heights they were supposed to at United. Perhaps there is some truth to this “curse.” Not that there is some actual black magic spell put on the number, but rather the weight it carries. Many famous players have donned the number 7 and the expectations are immense. United fans have longed for another star player like George Best, Eric Cantona, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
You might think it’s stupid to blame the failure of a player due to the jersey they wear. It’s just a number on their back, it’s meaningless. Maybe. Yet, at the same time, perhaps we treat players like machines and fail to remember that they are humans which may be the problem. After all, Sánchez had at least a billion United fans expecting him to perform magnificently every game. It is a daunting task for any player to assume the mantle of the number 7 shirt. Maybe, just maybe, Sánchez cracked under the enormous pressure.