Manchester City have pulled out of a deal to sign the Arsenal forward, but Manchester United and Chelsea are very much in the fray
Rapidly changing Alexis Sanchez transfer saga has repercussions across the elite
Even in the often surreal world of the Premier League soap opera, there has rarely been a plot line quite like it. One of the division’s finest players, owned by one of its top clubs but, within 24 hours, potentially bound for any one of three more.
Alexis Sanchez has brought Arsenal explosiveness. Now he threatens to bring his brand of dynamite to the transfer market, blowing up plans and reshaping the landscape in a single-minded determination to exit the Emirates Stadium. This season’s title race is unlikely to be altered, but the complexion of next year’s could change considerably.
The Sanchez saga, seemingly predictable and now changing rapidly, has repercussions across the elite. Arsenal first: selling their most potent player is an admission they were wrong to keep an unsettled figure in the summer and a damage-limitation exercise to recoup some funds. If a rebuild includes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, it will be more exciting than anticipated. Perhaps the pessimistic narrative of inexorable decline will be ripped up.
Chelsea next: their eventual entry into the race for the Chilean felt odd. Not because of his calibre – when they have lacked alternatives to Alvaro Morata as a striker and been over-reliant on Eden Hazard to create in the final third, he would be ideal – but because, by leaving it so late, they seemed to be setting themselves up to fail.
Sanchez could join a lengthy list of targets – Romelu Lukaku, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Leonardo Bonucci, Alex Sandro, Radja Nainggolan, Virgil van Dijk – to elude the champions in recent years.
At least in Manchester City’s case, there is an element of choice. They ended their pursuit of a player who almost joined last summer and was expected to sign this. Sergio Aguero, who looked the most vulnerable of the forward line, now appears likelier to remain at the Etihad Stadium next season. In the short term, and with a 12-point lead, Sanchez would have been a luxury. With Gabriel Jesus fit again soon, the only real logic of a January deal was to bolster their chances of winning the Uefa Champions League.
If nothing else, the way City withdrew when the price was upped should illustrate that the notion they will always pay whatever it takes is simplistically wrong; were that true, Sanchez and Van Dijk may be teammates now.
Rather, there seems to be a role reversal within Manchester. There has been a crosstown rivalry for the services of plenty of players in the past decade. There was a time when City had to blow Manchester United out of the water financially; now that relationship has been inverted. United, with their vast commercial income and the probability that Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be off the wage bill in the summer, can afford to outbid everyone else.
Signing Sanchez would be proof of an incurable addiction to recruiting big names: after Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Lukaku, the Chilean would be a fourth of Jose Mourinho’s reign; a fifth, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, looks bound for the exit. It would demonstrate the Portuguese’s pragmatic opportunism, seizing the chance to weaken one rival, in Arsenal, while preventing another, in City, from getting stronger. That Sanchez will come for a discounted price is a bonus.
His prolific finishing, versatility and individualism would make him a huge asset. That does not necessarily mean he is the player United required. There would be repercussions for Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial if Sanchez slots in on the left; United have a greater need for someone to operate on the right, so one would have to play out of position. There would also be consequences for future recruitment: longer-term targets such as Antoine Griezmann, Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale would be less likely to join.
Which brings us to Sanchez’s motives. United, obviously, still have huge sway, aided by history and Mourinho, but the image presented was that he wanted to play for Pep Guardiola. If it came down to idealism against finances, money seems most eloquent.