Manchester United can learn from this Alexis Sanchez episode

Updated: 14/07/2024

Less than a year after joining Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez reportedly wants to leave. So, eleven months after his introductory video had him gazing upon Old Trafford in pantomime awe, he's decided it's really not for him.

It's hard to feel much sympathy for Sanchez. The Times, who broke this story, reveal that the Chilean has also suffered a relationship break-up and that, whatever the circumstances, is always tough, but the Manchester United experience has surely only been what he expected it to be. He knew that he would be coached by Jose Mourinho, he understood what that would involve and, perhaps most crucially, he would surely have recognised that the United he was joining were not what they had once been and that, on the way back to the Premier League's summit, they would have to struggle through indifferent and testing periods.

This episode lays bare the inadequacies of the club's transfer policy. Sanchez wasn't signed for what he could bring to the side, but because he was another globally-known superstar who could be added to the portfolio. He became English football's highest paid player, but he was still just a billboard; a vanity signing, a short-cut, a look-at-us acquisition to soothe the ego.
This is what has to stop. In this particular case, Sanchez's final months at Arsenal should have been instructive. He was a sulker. He was already being fabulously well-rewarded in North London and yet, because the team didn't satiate his ambition and play exactly as he wanted them to, his attitude deteriorated to a point at which it became necessary for Arsene Wenger to sanction his sale.

At Manchester United, he has done very little. He seems to be at a point in his career at which he craves the kind of success that Paris Saint-Germain or Juventus can guarantee (through their domestic supremacy), but is unwilling to be part of any construction project. United are very much one of six in the Premier League and winning a title would have to be the result of a multi-season project – and that kind of process always leans on a particular type of player. Younger, hungrier, with enough self-belief to survive the set-backs and difficulties which will inevitably occur along the way, but a tough enough ego to withstand those humbling moments.

Sanchez was never that player. One could argue that he had no natural role in Mourinho's side – that's certainly valid – but the bigger issue has always been in who he is, and what his motivations were for actually joining United in the first place. He wanted a well-paid victory lap, to be the hood ornament and, at a different point in the club's history they might have been able to facilitate that. Not now, though. They are not in a position to carry footballers who aren't entirely invested and, hopefully, this will prove a reference point for those who make these transfer decisions.

They wanted him because Manchester City did. They wanted the poster, the bragging rights, and the commercial pay-off. Inevitably, it has proven to be a spectacular waste of time and resources. Or at least it will if doesn't necessitate a change in approach.

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