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“Myself and the Manchester United board, we do not believe a lot in the January market. We don’t believe in signing a player just to do something. What we believe is there are some players in the football world where, if you have a chance to sign them, whether it is January, March or July, then you have to try”. It seems clear that Mourinho and the Old Trafford board had not viewed the signing of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal as a viable one until his expected transfer to Manchester City hit the rocks. It was widely reported that, despite the collapse of Guardiola’s attempt to recruit his former player last summer, the deal would be routinely completed during this window. His arrival has therefore, unsurprisingly, been greeted with absolute jubilation by United’s followers. Despite the 29-year-old entering the final 6 months of his contract with Arsenal, the deal represents a significant financial outlay.
Value for Money?
Firstly, the reporting on the cost of the deal has varied widely, and features a number of caveats. Transfer deals in this modern era are difficult to price precisely, as they often hinge on add-ons such as performance related bonuses to the player, signing on fees, agent fees, team of the year bonus, Ballon d’or nomination incentives, player image rights, and wages before and after tax. The Inland Revenue have their work cut out. The Telegraph reported that Sanchez has ‘signed a four-and-a-half-year contract worth around £600,000 a week once a £20 million signing on fee, bonuses and image rights are factored in. It makes him comfortably the highest paid player in Premier League history’.
These mind-boggling figures contradict other reports, but without splitting hairs, the consensus remains that the fees involved in the recruitment of Alexis are astronomical. Does it represent value for money? In the real world, of course not. The fact is, the landscape of football has changed unbelievably and in most cases unsustainably since the last transfer window. Following the world record breaking £89 million transfer to bring Paul Pogba to Old Trafford, players are now routinely being signed for £70 million transfer fees. Neymar Jr could make a significant dent into world poverty if he forfeited half his wage packet.
The fact that Europe’s richest clubs are spending vast quantities of cash doesn’t make it right, and doesn’t represent value, however, the market value and wage structure is rapidly increasing. The market dictates player wages and transfer fees, and in order to secure the services of the enigmatic Chilean, Manchester United have had to invest huge sums of money. However, if anyone can afford to, it’s United. Following the transfer, Arsene Wenger, traditionally renowned for his reluctance to indulge in high value transfers, was quoted “United is a club very well managed financially so that’s why I don’t have a problem with the money they pay”. Under the ownership of the Glazers, United’s annual revenues have more then quadrupled as they have ably exploited the club’s global commercial potential. Most fans won’t have an issue with their club signing a sponsorship deal with a foreign brand of tractor if it gives them the financial muscle to compete for the elite players in the game.
To off-set the value of the deal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, out-of-form and out of the team, has joined Arsenal. Obviously, his arrival at Old Trafford represented a significant financial outlay. However, Mourinho has never truly trusted him despite encouraging bursts of form and undoubted ability. At the time of his departure, he was a peripheral figure bereft of confidence, and the sense is that Mourinho was happy for him to go. In real terms, this meant that there was no transfer fee involved, and the huge package offered to Alexis are off-set by losing the Armenian captain from the wage bill.
Is He Needed?
Prior to completing the Sanchez deal, Mourinho argued “In this moment there is no competition for places. In this moment we have four attacking players for three positions. Three are starting, one is on the bench. We look to the attacking areas and we need that extra competitive internal competition”. This would suggest that United’s manager sees Sanchez occupying either position out wide, or the number 10 slot.
During his time at Arsenal, Sanchez favoured a position on the left-hand side, allowing him to cut inside on his favoured right foot. This is where he was deployed in his debut on Friday night away at Yeovil. This is also the position where Mourinho has rotated Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford throughout the season, giving both an adequate amount of playing time. The concern would be that the arrival of Sanchez could stunt the development, and minutes on the pitch, of both this highly regarded duo, as well as the vastly improved Jesse Lingard. I think that is a thought that would affect some managers and coaches, but not Mourinho. As far as he is concerned, he has gained a world class forward player. It is the job of the others to justify their selection.
The advantage is that all those players, and throw Juan Mata into the equation, are versatile and adaptable. Sanchez could feasibly play in any of the advanced positions including central striker, which increases competition for places in every area. It also increases the possibility of a more fluid playing style. It is evident that Mourinho favours a structured approach against sides he considers to be his main competitors. However, in many fixtures where teams set out to defend in numbers, he has shown that he will play more attackers and allow them greater freedom. In the days of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez dove-tailing up front, United enjoyed great success in employing a fluid system where the players constantly switched their positions. There is certainly the potential for Sanchez to pop up anywhere in the attacking third, as opposed to a rigidly defined role. Against Yeovil, Juan Mata was playing on the right-hand side in a nominal capacity only, and each of the players have the capacity to link play intelligently.
Sanchez also offers pace and power, which are fundamental attributes sought by Mourinho. He now has at his disposal several genuinely electric players, and a potentially huge amount of firepower. Having another player of the quality of Sanchez should lead to him having greater confidence in his team’s attacking quality, and hopefully can lead to a more positive general style of play.
Figures published in the Telegraph newspaper show that this season, United have by far the lowest number of total shots of the top 6 clubs so far this season (347, highest Man City 428), and the lowest shots on target (119, highest Man City 178). In order to catch their City rivals, United need to offer more incisiveness and ruthlessness in attack. There is no doubt that Sanchez will improve them.
Sanchez at Arsenal
Alexis Sanchez arrives with proven Premier League pedigree. Despite a perceived drop in performance levels this season, when there was little doubt that he was agitating for a move, he has been Arsenal’s most reliable attacking performer, in a side that is consistently inconsistent. Since joining Arsenal in the summer of 2014, Sanchez has amassed 60 goals and been involved in 85 more, comfortably more than any other Arsenal player. Only Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku have scored more, and each of them are central strikers.
Sanchez at United
United have a history of signing South Americans with big reputations who fail to deliver the desired impact: Diego Forlan, Juan Veron, Anderson, and Kleberson to name a few; but in Alexis Sanchez they have signed a proven commodity who has performed at every club he has played at.
There is no doubt that he is an aggressive, driven player who has an insatiable desire and will to win. This didn’t always seem to ingratiate him to his former team mates – there were rumours that Aaron Ramsey avoided passing him the ball – but, in truth, this makes him even more a Mourinho player. There is a media implication that Arsenal have a more harmonious group of players now that he has gone. This may be the case, but their fans will tell you that has more to do with the lack of desire of the majority of the Arsenal squad than Sanchez himself. He is a demonstrative player who communicates his frustration to his team mates, and at times he had every right to be frustrated. The mentality at United and with Mourinho is different, and there is every reason to believe that he will be a good fit within this set up. Providing his performances on the pitch reach their usual elite level, fans and players will be more than willing to indulge his ego.
Old Trafford is a perfect setting for special players to display their skills and express themselves creatively. Alexis Sanchez is a free spirit who is likely to be afforded a special status within the squad. He is often selfish, but that is a useful attitude for a goal scorer.
He has been criticised strongly by some respected ex-professionals, and also Martin Keown, as a mercenary for rejecting Manchester City to sign for United. Who knows what developed behind the scenes to inform his decision, but it is naïve to think that the global appeal of the club was not a factor, as well as the fabulous wealth that has been thrown his way. Speaking to the BBC, he stated “I am thrilled to be joining the biggest club in the world. The chance to play in this historic stadium and to work with Jose Mourinho was something I could not turn down”. Despite the ascension of Manchester City to their unassailable lead at the top of the Premier League, they are not globally renowned in the way that United are. Sanchez will know that if he can achieve success at United, it provides him with a platform that maybe only Real Madrid can match. On the footballing front, it guarantees him a starting place and a playing style that should suit his directness and individualism. It makes United undoubtedly stronger, and prevents City from strengthening further. Once it became apparent that the transfer was possible, it really makes sense for both sides.
Naturally, his widely speculated earnings in wages could cause some disharmony within the squad as other players will seek parity. It has been reported that Paul Pogba already wants to re-negotiate his contract. With team spirit currently high, and a sense of camaraderie there for all to see, it is important that this situation is managed. In reality, in the changing climate of football, especially in England, this is something that the club must face up to if they want to sign proven quality players. The market dictates the cost, and no other club has the self-generated resources to pay them. If the money is there, players now have the power to demand they are paid at their market value. This is something that will happen irrespective of the destination of Alexis Sanchez. The world’s elite want to be paid their worth.
Eventually the hysteria will end, and the performances on the pitch will be what matters. There is every reason, in the short term at least, to believe that Alexis Sanchez will play a prominent role in any success enjoyed by Mourinho.