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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Swansea City should congratulate themselves for pulling off deal for Renato Sanches

Portuguese midfielder's loan move from Bayern Munich a fine deal for the Welsh club and proof of Paul Clement's connections.

Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches will spend this season at Premier League club Swansea City. /Matthias Schrader / AP Photo
Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches will spend this season at Premier League club Swansea City. /Matthias Schrader / AP Photo

Bayern Munich were congratulating themselves. A couple of months later, it felt as though everyone else was congratulating them, too.

They had signed Renato Sanches before Euro 2016. The midfielder was duly named the best young player in the tournament as Portugal won a first international trophy.

They had paid an initial €35 million (Dh152.4m), which could rise to €80m, a then record for a teenager, but it promised to be a bargain.

“We are delighted to have signed him for our club despite notable international competitors,” said Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The competition was thought to have come from England, in the form of Manchester United, but not Wales.

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Even this summer, after an underwhelming first year in Bavaria, when Sanches expressed an interest in leaving Bayern, he suggested his preferred destination would be AC Milan, another global superpower, “if the opportunity arose”.

United were tipped to secure his signature; so, too, were Chelsea. A few days ago, Liverpool were linked. It is safe to assume that none of the add-ons in Bayern’s original agreement with Benfica will be triggered by Sanches signing for Swansea City.

But here he is on loan at the Liberty Stadium, at the club that spent much of last season propping up the Premier League. Swansea have had a Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus great as their manager, in Michael Laudrup, but it is no exaggeration to say that Sanches represents the most exotic, most exciting addition in their history.

No hyperbole was required when Paul Clement described him as “one of Europe’s elite young talents". The sense of surprise would have been greater had Clement not been responsible for his arrival.

When clubs afford managerial opportunities to coaches from major clubs, it often appears to be with the hope that they will use their contacts to secure coups in the transfer market.

Clement, Carlo Ancelotti’s long-time assistant, has done that. Because while Sanches did not replicate his Portugal performances in Munich, it is telling that Bayern refused to sell him: Rummenigge has been adamant he has a future.

He has not failed as much as been starved of opportunities to succeed. He only started six Bundesliga games last season, completing 90 minutes just once.

Yet there is no disgrace in failing to displace Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara and Joshua Kimmich from the Bayern midfield, even if there was a thought that the retirements of the veteran Spaniard and captain Philipp Lahm could have brought an opening.

Instead, Sanches is charged with replacing Jack Cork. Competition for places comes in the form of Tom Carroll and Sam Clucas, technicians but with a lesser pedigree. Sanches offers more dynamism; indeed his energy should equip him for Premier League football.

Sanches’s aim should be to get his career back on track and whereas he could have been a squad player at a bigger club, he seems certain to start for Swansea.

There are legitimate questions if Bayern signed the 20-year-old too soon and if Ancelotti, often at his most comfortable with experienced players, has underused Sanches but Clement should prioritise the Portuguese’s interests.

And while Swansea are struggling to find a direct replacement for the sold Gylfi Sigurdsson, Sanches is a successor of sorts: he can be a figurehead and a talisman. His arrival should be a psychological boost after the blow of the departure of the creator in chief.

And for Swansea, whose record in the transfer market in the last couple of years has been decidedly mixed, it is a sign that a blend of left-field thinking and boldness can pay dividends. If Bayern were being congratulated last year, Swansea are now.