Man Utd fans were giddy with excitement when the club signed Alexis Sanchez in a blaze of piano solos, pomp and ceremony earlier this year. They had landed one of the world’s most devastating attacking talents and supporters could finally dream of closing the gap on the noisy upstarts of Man City. Yet that dream has turned into a nightmare as the sulking Chilean has managed just three goals in 23 games and his form has nosedived. He is pocketing £350,000 a week to warm the bench and Man Utd should consider any means possible to offload him in January.
However, that would be easier said than done. Only four players in world football earn more than Sanchez: Neymar, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Oscar. Very few clubs can afford the sort of wages he commands and many would be put off by his poor form since moving to Old Trafford. Barcelona do not need him, there is no room for him in PSG’s attacking frontlineand the likes of Man City and Chelsea are unlikely to take a punt on him. Real Madrid might turn to him in desperation, but they are looking at much younger targets.
Perhaps China is the only realistic destination for Sanchez if he wants to keep earning the sort of cash he is raking in at Man Utd. Journeymen like Oscar, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Graziano Pelle, Asamoah Gyan and Jackson Martinez all rank among the world’s top 20 best paid players after heading to the Chinese Super League. But Sanchez would essentially be admitting that his career as a serious footballer is over by moving there, so it would be difficult to persuade him to go. The club might be able to engineer a loan move somewhere, but they would be forced to pay a large chunk of his wages and recoup nothing in transfer fees.
Right now it looks as though Man Utd and Sanchez are stuck with one another. Yet there is another option and it looks pretty compelling in the wake of recent results: sack the manager and bring in a more attack-minded coach that can help stars like Sanchez truly realise their potential. After all, the Chilean banged in 60 goals in 122 games for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and he was similarly prolific for Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. He is Chile’s all-time leading goalscorer and he is just 29 years old, so he is certainly not over the hill.
Sanchez is by no means the first attacking player to struggle under Jose Mourinho’s stewardship. Eden Hazard was a revelation after Antonio Conte replaced the Portuguese as Chelsea boss, while Mohamed Salah needed Jurgen Klopp to bring out the best in him. Romelu Lukaku was signed for £75 million, but now heis suffering a horrendous goal drought, while Anthony Martial wants to leave the club and Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford have also just been publicly lambasted. Attackers want to play under managers like Guardiola and Klopp, not Mourinho.
Former Man Utd star Paul Ince believes Sanchez has been ineffective because Mourinho is playing him out of position. The Chilean has been forced into a deeper role, and Mourinho had him launching long balls up to Marouane Fellaini and co after coming on against Crystal Palace at the weekend. “We don’t want him like that, we want him in the 18-yard area,” said Ince. “Fans have been patient, but I don’t see cohesion or how we are trying to play.”
That 0-0 draw with the Eagles left Man Utd seventh in the table, 14 points off the leaders. It followed a 3-1 defeat in the derby, and the fans voiced their frustration with a chorus of boos at the full-time whistle. A look at the Premier League points market at Sporting Index suggests that the Red Devils will finish sixth this season, well behind Arsenal, and that simply is not good enough. Man Utd pay the highest wage bill in the league, and the stars are not performing. Mourinhoaccused them of lacking heart after the Crystal Palace game, but maybe they just do not want to play for him anymore. He lost the dressing room at Chelsea and left the West London outfit 16th place in the table and only a point off the relegation zone.
It might be time to for Man Utd to cut their losses on Mourinho and bring in a coach with an attacking philosophy. Sanchez has all the raw ingredients to be a star at Old Trafford: pace, acceleration, strength, a low centre of gravity, brilliant finishing ability, an eye for a pass, dynamism in the box, intelligence, desire and drive. A different manager could take those raw attributes and turn them into something wonderful.
Man Utd should be one of the world’s best attacking sides, with Sanchez, Martial, Rashford and Paul Pogbawreaking havoc at a blistering pace, but instead they frequently look pedestrian. The players must shoulder some of the blame, but so must the manager and if there is no way of offloading Sanchez, maybe the alternative is to axe the manager and start again.