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January is normally a pretty dry month (and not just in terms of alcohol). The winter transfer window rarely offers the same levels of lunacy as its summer counterparts, with players on the whole reluctant to cut and run mid-season.
Yet this window has been awash with interest and while Liverpool’s activity has been noteworthy (selling Coutinho and signing Van Dijk) and even though Chelsea’s interest in any English man over 6 foot 4 has scooped the comedy award for transfer pursuits, the deal of the window is undoubtedly the Sanchez saga.
Of course, it all began long ago and far away (ie. August), when Sanchez’s move to Manchester City fell through at the very last moment because Arsenal had failed to secure an adequate replacement, despite having a £90m bid for Monaco’s Thomas Lemar accepted.
So, Sanchez stuck around at the Emirates, but there was no denying that his heart wasn’t in it and so with his contract up in June the only question was whether he would move to City in January and pick up a Premier League winners medal, or wait until the summer and pick up a reported £30m signing bonus that sounds as ridiculous as the latest no deposit casino bonuses.
But then out of nowhere came Manchester United, hijacking the gentlemen’s agreement and swaying Sanchez over to the suggestion that a move to Old Trafford would trump anything City could offer.
Presumably disappointed that Sanchez would not be reuniting with former manager Pep Guardiola, in other words, presumably annoyed that the 1500 words that every columnist had already written on the Sanchez/Pep fairy tale would now have to be scrapped, the media constructed the deal as a choice between Pep, and money.
City were the face of everything good in the world, responsible wages, a fair and hierarchical pay structure, and beautiful football. United on the other hand, were cast as the brute force of financial muscle, paying over the odds to get their man, in the process upsetting the delicate balance that causes the sun to set and the tides to come in.
Looking on, it is a strange twist in fate for the two clubs, who in recent history have been firmly occupying the opposite tents (City ruining football with oil money, United the self-made responsible investors). Ultimately though, it is United who have got their man, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving in the opposite direction.
The question we are all left asking therefore is, how good is this deal for Manchester United?
An Instant Upgrade
Leaving money aside for the moment, once settled, Alexis Sanchez will inarguably make United a better team. Although there remains considerable doom and gloom around Old Trafford, the side have improved considerably since last season, sitting second in the table.
Yet for all of the progress the side has made, some of last season’s frailties linger on.
A run of three consecutive draws over the winter period brought United’s clinical edge back into sharp focus with United’s attack coming under repeated scrutiny, not least Romelu Lukaku, while the first concerted criticisms of local hero Marcus Rashford have also begun to swirl.
Step forward, Alexis.
Since his arrival in the Premier League in 2014 only 3 players have been involved in more goals than Sanchez. His pedigree is undeniable and coming in off the wing Sanchez is a player who will undoubtedly add clinical edge to United’s attack.
Importantly, Sanchez will also be able to add vital support to Lukaku, shouldering some of the burden of leading the line, which will become particularly important when the Champions League returns in February.
In terms of his mentality, Alexis also looks like a perfect fit for Mourinho. Many players have felt the wrath of Jose Mourinho in the time he has been at United’s helm, players who don’t work hard enough (Shaw), players who aren’t clinical enough (Rashford), players who aren’t mentally tough enough (Mkhitaryan).
In Sanchez though, United have a player who will score goals aplenty, and do his defensive work (that is unless he gets sick and tired like he did at Arsenal). Mourinho doesn’t suffer fools gladly, especially on the wing (just ask Eden Hazard) and thankfully, Sanchez looks like the kind of player Mourinho will relish having at his disposal.
Ultimately, there are few better players out who better suit Manchester United. Sanchez will instantly improve the team adding firepower from the wing and offering support to Lukaku up front as well.
Looking at tactics alone, Sanchez might well be the first number 7 to merit the shirt since Ronaldo ten years ago.
Welcome to Manchester
But of course, football isn’t just about what happens on the field, in fact for many, that is the most unimportant part.
No, football is about winding your mate at work up until he goes to his boss and asks to be moved desks, or even better departments. Football is about walking through your hometown and knowing that no one in another team’s colours can so much as look you in the eye. It is about passion, pride and winding up your local rivals.
And if we take winding up your local rivals to be the pinnacle of football as a social enterprise, then there are few clubs that have set the bar as high as Manchester City did when they signed Carlos Tevez back in 2009.
The ‘Welcome to Manchester’ billboard that accompanied Tevez’s defection from red to blue instantly became a piece of footballing folklore and to this day, something that United fans have never gotten over. Truthfully, they probably never will.
However, there is no doubt that with open wounds still salty from that Tevez debacle, and with Manchester City streets ahead of United in the League, a little bit of pettiness is absolutely the order of the day.
Therefore, aside from making United a better team, it is also worth noting that signing Sanchez stops Manchester City becoming a better side themselves. It is also worth noting that by signing Sanchez, United have completely shafted their city rivals in a deal that was inches from completion in the Summer, and seemed a foregone conclusion this winter.
Signing Sanchez from under City’s noses will go some way to healing the wounds of that Tevez billboard and for some fans, getting one up on City will instantly justify whatever wages United decide to throw at their new man. Because that’s the last thing, the money.
The media has constructed the Sanchez deal as being intimately tied to money.
That may or may not be the case, but with Sanchez’s reported wages set to be somewhere in between £400k and £500k per week (roughly £14m per year after tax) there is no denying that the deal involves some eye-wateringly large figures.
The deal makes tactical sense and it makes political sense, but does it make financial sense? Here’s why it might not be so bad as some are making it sound.
First of all, wages aside, the deal to bring Sanchez to Manchester is a masterstroke. Ed Woodward has gotten Arsenal to agree to a straight swap between Sanchez and Mkhitaryan. Both players are 29 and while Sanchez is one of the League’s best players, Mkhitaryan hasn’t registered an assist in the League since September.
United signed Mkhitaryan for a fee thought to be around £26m in 2016 (ahead of Arsenal) and they are now trading him for a value of £35m, the same as Alexis Sanchez. Quite how, I’m not sure, but fair play to Ed Woodward.
Next up, the wages. Although reports differ considerably, and some are inevitably inflated, there is no getting around the fact that they are huge. But at the same time, there is no suggestion that United are going to bankrupt themselves making this deal.
Aside from Mkhitaryan’s reported £140k per week wage disappearing, last year United lost roughly £500 off the wage will alongside Rooney and Schweinsteiger’s departures. This summer Ibrahimovic and Carrick will be moving on, and United never ended up signing that fourth player that Mourinho wanted in the summer.
United therefore have the capacity to pay Sanchez whatever the figure turns out to be and let’s face it, footballing wages are spiralling anyway (just look at Messi’s new wage at Barcelona).
Naturally, making such a huge investment in a 29 year-old will raise some eyebrows, but with Sanchez’s physical condition he is unlikely to do a Wayne Rooney and degenerate at 30.
Ultimately, if United are doing the deal, it must make sense for them. The worry will be if it sets a precedent where United’s stars want raises, and the club’s recruits want what Sanchez has. As for that we will have to wait and see.
What we can say at the moment though is that in signing Alexis Sanchez, United have gotten themselves a great deal. Look out City, there’s a billboard on the horizon.
Written by Scott Pope
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