It’s the summer of 2017, and Alexis Sánchez becomes the hottest available player on the transfer market when he announces that he wants to leave Arsenal.
Six months later, he has his pick of elite clubs chasing his signature, with both Manchester sides in hot pursuit of the Chilean. Having flirted with the idea of reuniting with former manager Pep Guardiola, he ultimately opts for the Red Devils (and a basic wage of close to £400k a week) with the deal seeing Henrikh Mkhitaryan heading in the opposite direction to London.
Cue the club’s big-budget announcement video that triumphantly announces his signing – featuring him on the piano (apparently) playing ‘Glory Glory Man Utd’, heavy breathing and a wide grin as the forward takes in his new home of Old Trafford.
Fast forward a year and a half later, and the news of the forward’s departure on a loan deal to Inter sees little opposition, and almost universal relief, on Man Utd Twitter. The signing even as a ‘free’ is probably the worst value in the modern history of the club. The consensus among fans appears to be that Sanchez is overpaid, past his prime and finished at the top level.
And for a while, that appeared to be correct. The assessment of Sanchez as a played-out entity continued in the early months in Serie A too.
Granted, a muscle tendon injury sidelined him for three months, and restricted him to just two league starts up to March, but it’s fair to assume Antonio Conte was hoping for more than just one goal and two assists from the 31-year-old, whose arrival was hoped would help push Inter back into title contention – a position the club hasn’t been in for a decade.
Then, bizarrely, Sanchez caught a break with suspension of football in spring brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. As it turns out, it was a blessing in disguise for Sánchez, who finally had time to recover fully and get back into playing shape in time for the league’s restart.
Since then, the Chilean has become a different player, or his old self.
After the league returned to action, he’s started seven of the Nerazzurri’s nine Serie A games, earning the trust of Conte and playing more minutes than the likes of Romelu Lukaku.
It’s clear that by selecting him as a striker, the former Chelsea manager is able to implement a high press upfield, winning back the ball as quickly as possible from opponents, which allows the likes of Roberto Gagliardini and Marcelo Brozović to set-up opportunities from midfield.
Yet the 31-year-old has also personally benefited from his new role. He’s now got the license to roam around in the final third, meaning he can pick up the ball in dangerous positions around the box, and take on more of a creative role in the team’s attack.
Able to play more centrally, the former Barcelona winger is no longer a defensive liability on the wing, and now plays a lot more closer to goal – which means he remains much more involved in the game’s action – a far cry from when he was left an isolated figure in the Premier League during his time at Arsenal and United.
It’s no surprise that all of his playing stats have gone up tremendously as a result of his new role – including touches on the ball, shots on goal and key passes. While it hasn’t translated into goals just yet, only former teammate Lionel Messi has notched more than the seven assists Sánchez has post-restart.
And with Inter needing to string together a winning run to keep up their (very) faint hopes of a Scudetto alive, there are few players out there playing as well as the Chilean has. His displays have been pivotal for the club’s excellent form, and he’ll have to maintain these kind of performances for the rest of the season to help his team challenge Juventus.
Come the end of the season, it will be interesting to see what lies in store for the 31-year-old. While the Nerazzurri club officials wouldn’t have been sure about extending his stay before the season’s suspension, his terrific output recently will certainly have made them more open to a potential permanent transfer – with CEO Beppe Marotta even admitting as much.
But Sanchez’s rekindled form will surely also attract interest from other clubs around Europe, and many will be looking on with keen interest to see if a ‘bargain’ move for the talented forward could be worth making, if he is happy to sacrifice his wage demands.
Sure, Man Utd fans may be happy to cut ties with the player. Considering his wages, and his age – it makes sense that in the Ole Gunnar Solskjær era, the Red Devils look to move him on while they continue their youth revolution in attack.
But let’s be clear – Alexis Sánchez is not yet finished at the top of football. There’s still plenty for him to give – and there will certainly be a contending club out there who may see him as a key piece for the present.