The man, who has been in the spotlight of world football in the 2018 January transfer window, has finally put pen to paper. Alexis Sanchez is now a Manchester United player. The incessant barrage of media reports and the relentless social media updates on the former Arsenal man had reached such a saturation point that fans were losing interest in the hype. The reports certainly were reliable but the move now begs a difficult question. Will Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United transfer work out in the club’s favour?
Mkhitaryan-Sanchez swap deal could potentially favour Manchester United for several reasons. Mkhitaryan is a great player but he lacked the “Mourinho mentality” to be a workhorse and a ruthless presence on the pitch. In Alexis Sanchez, United have a player that shares the same mentality as the manager. Both Sanchez and Mourinho are born winners and don’t like being on the losing end. Sanchez has the ability to produce an intensely high work rate, a typical characteristic that Mourinho prefers and one that has been seen in his preferred ex-players. This could very well turn to be an ingenious signing by Ed Woodward.
Since 2011/12 season, Paul Pogba has scored 44 goals and assisted 44 for club & country including this season. Anthony Martial has scored 40 goals and assisted 22 since 2012/13 for club & country. Since 2010/11 season, Mkhitaryan has scored 41 goals and assisted 40 at club level. All these statistics seem miniature in comparison to Alexis Sanchez’s record. The former Arsenal man has scored 132 goals and assisted 72 goals since his Udinese days for club & country. Alexis Sanchez is a massive upgrade on any Manchester United forward that the team currently has. The ability to play as a replacement striker, as a left wing or just behind the striker make him even more valuable to Jose Mourinho, who could exploit his flexibility and fit him into roles that harness his attacking prowess.
There is no doubt that Jose Mourinho is one of the greatest managers that the game has ever seen. Jose Mourinho, however, has a tendency to squeeze out the creativity of his forward players in order to reinforce defence. It has always been a win 3 points over style and beauty for the Portuguese, which has seen players like Eden Hazard, Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and even Cristiano Ronaldo track back to contribute defensively. The curbing of creativity and limitation of players’ flamboyance has not gone down too well with many players, who have either fallen out with him or voiced their displeasure publicly.
Sanchez would definitely be expected to track back and contribute defensively at Manchester United and this could turn out to be a factor that works against them. The curbing of Sanchez’s natural offensive abilities could result in lesser output up front. Alexis Sanchez has a big history with clubs that like to dominate the ball and play beautiful one touch football. He has a history with Barcelona which has also helped him at Arsenal. Working under an environment that is exactly the opposite could produce undesired results.
Alexis Sanchez is 29 years old. Mourinho has swapped a 29 year old player with another 29 year old player. The signing, although a good one seems to prompt the fact that this is a short term fix. Sanchez will be 30 in December this year and despite his remarkable fitness level, United will have to look to a long term replacement in the next few years.
Imagine how many rocks are sometimes discarded as “just rocks” while mining for diamonds, which later turn out to be worth millions? Or specifically £66.6 million and €42 million. A certain Portuguese in the red side of Manchester could tell you. Jose Mourinho has a history of turning his back on potential talents who have gone on to become world class. Kevin De Bruyne was a Chelsea player under Jose Mourinho and failed to live up to his demanding standards being sold to Wolfsburg. De Bruyne matured at Wolfsburg and returned to the Premier League, this time with Manchester City, at a completely different level. Dictating City’s midfield this season, De Bruyne would have left Mourinho secretly regretting having not given the Belgian ample time to blossom.
The story with Salah followed a similar trajectory with the Egyptian being sent on loan to Fiorentina with Juan Cuadrado arriving at Chelsea on loan from Fiorentina. Salah’s goal against Arsenal in Chelsea colours or his magical game in the few minutes he was awarded under Mourinho was not enough to convince the Portuguese. He is arguably the best player in the Premier League at the moment after becoming the backbone of Liverpool attack and is certainly a contender for one of the best in Europe.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived from Borussia Dortmund with 11 goals and 15 assists in Bundesliga in 2015/16 season. There was a huge expectation from Manchester United fans to see similar scintillating performances from the Armenian but he has failed to live up to the expectations. He has just 1 goal and 5 assists in 931 minutes of play so far this season. With Mkhitaryan going in the opposite direction to North London, history says that it is not impertinent to think what could happen. The worst thing that could happen to Manchester United and especially for Mourinho is to see Mkhitaryan finding his rhythm again under Wenger only to come back and torment them. Mkhitaryan may not have the mentality of Mourinho but technically seems to be a good fit at Arsenal. With De Bruyne and Salah already on the list of talents that he failed to coax into sharpening in the English league, he would regret to see another name added to the list.
The world of agents is also an ugly affair, albeit hidden from the glamour of the footballing world. The Sanchez deal was held back and took longer to materialise due to Mkhitaryan’s agent, Mino Raiola, trying to squeeze out a more lucrative deal for the player and himself. With Neymar to PSG deal breaking records and shocking the world in the summer, the transfer deals now naturally tend to incline towards more money for both parties, especially the agents, rather than a better deal from a footballing perspective. While one could argue that it is the agent’s job to find lucrative deals, it can also be argued that holding a deal back for personal bonuses is detrimental for football as a game.
The Sanchez to ManUtd deal is done but one cannot predict the direction in which this transfer may swing. It would depend on how well a player with Barcelona’s DNA adapts to a life under a manager who has visions completely opposite to what Sanchez is used to. The unfolding of the season will tell us whether Sanchez and Mkhitaryan swap deal was good, bad or ugly.