As reports emerge today linking Alexis Sanchez with a move to Italy again, it’s time to ask the question – is it a good decision for Manchester United to allow Sanchez to move, after they already allowed Romelu Lukaku to sign for Inter Milan without signing a replacement?
The answer has to be a resounding yes.
Some supporters are unsure of the wisdom considering United’s relative paucity of options up front, and while there is some sound logic behind that concern, one has to consider the most likely positive outcomes of Sanchez staying at Old Trafford.
The Chilean had been linked with United way back in his Udinese days, though the interest was never more than paper talk. When he finally did arrive in England in 2014, signing for Arsenal from Barcelona, he quickly established himself as the London team’s star player. The forward appeared to view Arsenal as a stepping stone to a bigger club and did not show interest in signing a new deal at the Emirates.
In 2017 Manchester City were willing to pay £60m for a player with one year remaining on his contract; Arsenal refused to play ball, and in the January 2018 transfer window were effectively forced into selling a player who had dramatically underperformed that season. At City he would have been a squad option; at United, he would be the main man in a frontline that included Romelu Lukaku.
He chose the latter option; for whatever reason, the step up in pressure of playing for a bigger club hasn’t worked out. Sanchez has struggled. His only league goal last season was a late winner against Newcastle United, ironically earning Jose Mourinho a stay of execution as he was set to be sacked. The dismissal of the manager came a few weeks later but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, free of the pressure of having to play players who weren’t his signings and who weren’t performing, duly axed Sanchez and Lukaku.
Lukaku was sold but the task of moving Sanchez on has proven more problematic, primarily due to the gargantuan wages the player was able to command in lieu of a transfer fee. Few clubs can afford him, and those that can don’t want him or need him. United’s best chance would have been if Paris lost Neymar and Kylian Mbappe but even if they lose the former, they will win the French league easily with the latter without having to tie themselves to Sanchez’s wages.
The idea behind keeping him at United, for the next few months at least, is based on the hope that he might show the sort of quality he showed in his last full season at Arsenal. It is more realistic to expect a similar showing from what we have already seen. If he was to match his best tally of two league goals between now and January, is that worth the continued investment? Even if he betters it, is it, really?
The strongest argument is probably what United might do if Rashford or Martial get an injury, but surely the best case scenario in that circumstance is that Sanchez does well enough to impress a suitor. But there are interested parties already. The same obstacles which make a move seem prohibitive will be there in a few months.
If Rashford or Martial do get injured, then what is the best option? Play Sanchez in the hope he gets better? Promote Mason Greenwood and give him prolonged game time? Do the same with Dan James? Maybe even Tatith Chong? If it goes wrong and the players struggle under the pressure, or they aren’t good enough, then at least we will have learned something. Isn’t that supposed to be the point of having these young players in the squad? In any of those above scenarios, surely playing Sanchez is the least appealing at this point.
To this writer, it seems rather illogical that United are entertaining talk of a loan deal, because there remains a strong chance that the problem will resurface in the future with one less club willing to take a gamble. I have said all along it would be better if the club just takes the hit and pays the contract off because in the long term, even if the finances in the game only mean bigger contracts, it temporarily relieves that sort of burden.
Take away criticism of the owners; the Sanchez episode has illustrated that even the biggest club in the world cannot operate whimsically turning over large percentages of their squad in the way Manchester City can. This is the reality of footballing finances and United are paying the consequence for a signing that seemed fairly ludicrous and unnecessary, in many respects, at the time.
Perhaps it is a consequence of City’s ability to just spend whatever they want, but whatever, the Sanchez deal has had a direct impact on all the subsequent negotiations since. It has impacted David De Gea, Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, it has impacted the talks with Paulo Dybala and Christian Eriksen.
De Gea is arguably the world’s best goalkeeper but you wouldn’t say any of those other players are in that category in their position; overspending on average squad players has cost the club dearly, and Sanchez is the most obvious example. While Sanchez’s presence at the club continues to be so problematic, it is difficult to see how they can move on to be a club that won’t be held to ransom every time they try and sign a player or give an existing player a new contract.
If the only deal on the table is a loan deal, then United should still take it so that there is an effective message with regards the Italians taking a large part of the wage burden. The positive impact of that in the short term outweighs the probable impact of the player’s performance in the eventuality he remains at United.
If it has to be re-addressed in the summer, then at least if the club do the sensible thing — if there is no offer — and release him, it will be at a lower cost than it would have been this year.
Either way — and this is not personal, as Sanchez seems likeable and has not been as unprofessional as Lukaku — the only real option remains for United to move on Sanchez as soon as possible.