At times during the summer transfer window, Alexis Sanchez’s transfer from Arsenal to Manchester City appeared inevitable. The move made sense – Arsenal had dropped to their lowest league finish since 1995, and Sanchez, fed up with Arsenal’s stasis, and sighting greener pastures with Pep Guardiola’s shiny superstar project, wanted out.
However, Arsenal’s inability to find a suitable replacement scuppered the Chilean’s chances of starting the 2017/18 season as a City player. With ineptitude characteristic of university students, but strangely not uncommon amongst the world’s largest football clubs, Arsenal simply left it too late, running out of time to sign Monaco forward Thomas Lemar. Sanchez would have to wait for his debut in sky blue.
Fast forward to January and at the time of writing Sanchez appears set to join Manchester United.
This may seem surprising, given that ostensibly City seem the most appropriate destination for Sanchez. For a man obsessed with winning, the scampering Chilean hasn’t actually won that much at all – a single league title with Barcelona and a smattering of domestic cups. Guardiola’s high-flying City offer him a much better chance of rectifying his record. Moreover, Sanchez and Guardiola already have a relationship from his time with the Catalan giants, and Guardiola has previously made clear his desire to add the forward to his squad. For these reasons, Sanchez has always seemed destined to become a City player.
Reflecting on Sanchez’s career though, the move to United increasingly appears to make sense.
For a start, and most crucially, Guardiola cannot guarantee game time to Sanchez if he were to move to City. During the summer, this would unlikely have been a serious concern for the Chilean, but City’s attacking brilliance this campaign means the addition of Sanchez to the squad would give Guardiola a genuine selection headache. Sanchez would likely have to accept a diminished role at City, playing in rotation with Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Agüero and Leroy Sané. Such a role is an unattractive proposition for the forward. Indeed, at Arsenal he made abundantly clear his desire to play every single minute of every single match – recall the strop he threw at Swansea last season after Arsene Wenger substituted him with Arsenal cruising at 4-0.
That kind of attitude is arguably admirable, but it’s exactly what City don’t need. They clearly have a formula that works for them, and given Guardiola’s attention to the collective, Sanchez’s potentially disruptive presence must partially explain his willingness to give up the chase for his signature.
United on the other hand can guarantee Sanchez a place in the starting eleven as the undisputed main man. Indeed, one occasionally gets the sense that Sanchez is obsessed with his own elite status, desperate to be the star, willing to scold any teammate whose misplaced pass gets in the way of his quest to be the best. His fierce individualism rubbed his Arsenal teammates up the wrong way, but in part explains why a move to United is attractive to him. He will likely wear the famous United number 7, previously worn by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona, and instead of being a part time player in an excellent ensemble, he will lead the line for the foreseeable future at one of Europe’s grand old clubs.
For United, it is an excellent bit of business. José Mourinho will be personally pleased to have pinched a superstar from Wenger at the expense of Guardiola, and he will add to his team a genuine Premier League superstar, capable of winning matches on his own. It probably wont be enough to win the title, but Manchester United’s attack will look significantly stronger if they manage bring the Chilean to Old Trafford.
Image courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald