At the start of summer 2019, multitudes of United fans, as well as rumors from various news networks, expected 30-year-old Chilean winger, Alexis Sanchez, to be offloaded by Manchester United – with viable reason, of course. Sanchez is a player that epitomizes a great dip in form. From his 2016/17 season with Arsenal to his past season and a half with United, Sanchez has seemingly lost his touch and is not a player to be revered by the opposition defenders any longer. In his last full season at Arsenal, Sanchez was involved in 48 goals in 51 games (95.6 Minutes/goal ratio) in all competitions. Whereas in his first full season at United, he has only effected 6 goals in 27 games (405 Minutes/goal ratio) in all competitions.
In addition to his dip in form, his age is starting to become an evident factor in his ability to perform. Sanchez has missed 20 games in the 2018/19 season due to 4 different injuries all inflicted in practice. The team’s apparent highest earner is not able to stay fit and when he is, he is unable to perform. According to research done by TransferMarkt.com, Sanchez has lost 40 million euros (now valued at 35,000,000) of his market price as a result of the immense dip in his form and increase in injury rates. It is nearly impossible to argue against the fans and pundits that want him out of United considering his departure will free up the wages to provide De Gea or Pogba with a new improved contract, or provide the wage expenditure for a new, younger, more exciting signing.
However, Manchester United’s manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, refuses to sell Alexis Sanchez with hopes of sudden improvement and specific benefits the player brings to the field. In a pre-season interview with MUTV, Solskjaer expressed he has “great belief” that Alexis Sanchez will make good of his time at Manchester United. As usual, Solskjaer passionately expressed, ” We have to find that way – me with Alexis, with the team – because there’s a top, top player there. And if we get him firing, he can get us 20 goals easily if he gets on a good run, and that’s the thing.” Clearly, Solskjaer’s optimism has gotten the better of him here – or has it? Agreed, the facts show that Sanchez’s career is far behind him but that’s only half the story. Both his club and nation managers, their respective Backroom staff, and his teammates clearly still believe in his ability to perform. Why is that?
Firstly, his natural gift. Sanchez has always been a player that has been admired by multiple managers because of his impeccable technical ability and offensive prowess. He has been eyed and desired by coaches like Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola. However, talent can only take a player so far as we’ve seen with players like Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard – who spent their premier league career-ending seasons showing merely glimpses of their old selves. Players need to be hungry and motivated to keep putting the work in, regardless of their physical limits – this here is Sanchez’s natural gift, his work rate. Alexis Sanchez is comparable to Cristiano Ronaldo when it comes to devoting every ounce of his strength and time to training to produce the best on the field. His managers clearly want to keep him on because he is not only a talented experienced player in need of confidence but he is an ideal example to the younger talents on the team on how hard an athlete should work. Sanchez exemplifies the work rate that Solskjaer and Mourinho have demanded from their teams in the past 2 seasons. In some way, I believe his managers are hoping for his work rate to rub off on his teammates.
Establishing his exceptional work ethic, it is necessary to realize that Sanchez is still as talented as he was in Udinese and has the experience and hunger that can help the team click when it’s needed. A perfect example of this is the Manchester Derby comeback at the end of 2017/2018 season where Sanchez and Pogba inspired their squad to a wonderful shocker after a depressing 2-0 first-half loss. Noticeably, Sanchez lost the ball a lot in that game but he was involved in all three goals, that enabled the comeback earning 2 assists and one pass to set up the assist. A feat that United’s brightest were unable to effect in a game that seemed all and done. Solskjaer and his backroom staff look at games like that and find hope that a motivated, confident Sanchez can still be a player to reckon with. Hence, the statement: “We have to find that way – me with Alexis, with the team – because there’s a top, top player there.”
Evidently, Chilean Manager, Reinaldo Rueda Rivera, has proven Ole Solskjaer right with Alexis’ current Copa America performance. Alexis Sanchez inspired his team to rank fourth in the competition with 2 goals, 1 assist, and a calmly slotted penalty kick against Colombia in the shootout. Hence, showcasing that with the right feedback, motivation, and encouragement, he can still perform and be a force to be reckoned with.
A good question is why hasn’t anything inspired improvement in his form? Another can be: what can United do to milk the best out of him before his age fully catches up with him? Based on personal speculation, the pressure of moving to United has stunted his growth as an athlete. Alexis Sanchez has become examined by British media for his huge paycheck, his number 7 jersey, and the fact that he was so anticipated by everyone to be the definitive change United needed – all reasonable reasons to examine his performance but they are definitely factors that get into players’ heads and cause them to lose confidence as they struggle with form. I believe Sanchez has felt the excessive pressure and unfortunately buckled in the face of it.
Therefore, Solskjaer’s approach to Sanchez has been impressive and spot on. Solskjaer has emulated Sir Alex’s tactic in the face of pressure put on players that we’ve seen in the past. This tactic is shielding the player from media and remaining excessively positive and optimistic during interviews about said players. Fergie did this with Eric Cantona after the Crystal Palace incidence, David Beckham after the 98′ world cup hiccup, and De Gea during his first season’s struggles. Now, Ole is following in his footsteps by trying to boost his player’s confidence by trying to inspire a positive media influence around him.
Personally, I believe Sanchez still has a few years of top-flight football left in him if he can be pushed in the right way. Hence, United shouldn’t sell him and give him the benefit of the doubt for one more season.
Let me know what you think in the comments: Should United sell Sanchez or keep him? How can Solskjaer get the best out of him and take the pressure off him? Does he still deserve the benefit of the doubt after near 2 seasons at United?
featured image credit sky sports