x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Alexis Sanchez answers Arsenal’s calling with move to London from Barcelona

Alexis Sanchez departs with the lingering feeling that he underwhelmed in his three seasons at Camp Nou.

Alexis Sanchez, had too few of these moments during his Barcelona stay, and he himself rates his performance as a '5' on a scale of 10. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo
Alexis Sanchez, had too few of these moments during his Barcelona stay, and he himself rates his performance as a '5' on a scale of 10. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo

Barcelona’s €42.5 million (Dh212.5m) sale of Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal is their second highest after the controversial €60m departure of Luis Figo to Real Madrid 14 years ago.

Unlike then, this transfer comes with the club’s blessing. It also restores a sense of parity in dealings between Arsenal and Barcelona.

The Catalans have spent more money on Arsenal players than from any club in world football: €148m so far this century.

Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit cost a combined €52m, Giovanni van Bronckhorst €2m, Alexander Hleb €15m, Thierry Henry €24m, Cesc Fabregas €36m and Alex Song €19m. As to whether any were an outstanding success at Camp Nou is debatable.

The cheapest, the Dutchman known as “Gio” succeeded and won the European Cup, as did Henry, but Overmars and Petit were seen as overpriced and symbols of Louis van Gaal’s “Hollandisation” of the club, which stopped winning trophies.

Barcelona will use the Sanchez money to reinforce their team, starting with the purchase of Luis Suarez from Liverpool, but Sanchez departs with the lingering feeling that he underwhelmed in his three seasons at Camp Nou.

He arrived alongside Fabregas in the summer of 2011, with Pep Guardiola’s side the champions of Europe. Then 22 and a winger with Udinese, Sanchez chose Barca ahead of both Manchester clubs for a chance to live in a country where his mother tongue was spoken.

He also had promised his deceased father that one day he’d play for Barca. A man of few words, he signed a five-year deal and said: “I’m here to learn from the best.”

Stocky, yet lean, he looked like he would be better suited to the boxing ring – a barrio boy done good with two diamond earrings the size of a baby’s fist.

Though a goal creator rather than a scorer at Barca, Sanchez was honoured with the No 9 shirt and his name printed as “Alexis” while Tito Vilanova, then assistant to Guardiola, said: “Here we search for a different type of footballer. Other clubs sign players who are 1.9 metres, strong and fast. Not us.”

Sanchez’s dream came true, but his Barca career did not take off. They tweaked their famous 4-3-3 to an even more attacking 3-4-3 to accommodate Fabregas and Sanchez. Both scored on their league debuts as Guardiola’s side displayed a virtuosity and a peerless technical level that led the vanquished Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido to call them “history in the making every week”.

Yet the Chilean’s first season was blighted by four injuries. A rare highlight was his form in his first clasico, a 3-1 win in Madrid, before Barca jetted off to be crowned world champions in Japan.

Sanchez needed time to settle and, unusually in Spain, he got it.

“Alexis needs to think less and shoot more quickly,” said former Barca player and coach Charly Rexach in 2013. “The longer he thinks, the more doubts he has, the more time the goalkeeper has to make the goal smaller. When he hesitates, he loses the chance to score.”

Sanchez conceded that he had ranked “five” out of 10 and did not feel he deserved a place in the starting XI in 2013, but he appeared to be maturing into a more confident performer under Gerardo Martino last season, playing wide of Lionel Messi with Neymar in the other supporting role.

His goal in October’s Camp Nou clasico, a perfect chip from 15 metres over Diego Lopez was his best in Spain. He hit another memorable goal against Atletico Madrid in the title decider which would be his last game for the club.

Like his side’s fortunes that day, his Barcelona career ended in disappointment. By that time, Barca had decided to sell him and Fabregas. They hoped to recoup the money they paid for him three years ago. A good World Cup for Chile meant they ended up making €8m in profit, a price too high for his other suitor, Juventus.

And so, when Sanchez was not playing beach football in his trunks, he took the time to meet with Arsene Wenger in Brazil, who convinced him to move to London. Arsenal will rightly be happy with their acquisition and, if they play him in a central role, they could get a scorer, too.

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