Opportunity and opportunism in Sánchez transfer

January 18, 2018 Tags: , Reads 10 comments
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It is a classic Ed Woodward deal. Manchester United’s imminent capture of Arsenal winger Alexis Sánchez will bring a world-class star to Old Trafford in a transfer that includes eye-watering sums of money. It is also a deal that, just weeks ago, few on the Red side of Manchester countenanced. Sánchez was off to Manchester City, to join the collection of £50 million full-backs of whom José Mourinho is apparently so jealous. Then City dithered and Woodward stepped in. Far from a long-term plan, the deal for Sánchez highlights the short-term thinking that reverberates through United’s hierarchy. It may also be a game-changer for a team still in need of extra stardust.

When the transfer is complete, United will spend something approaching £60 million on a fee, signing on bonus and agent’s commission, together with wages that will make Alexis the best-paid player in England. They are unprecedented sums, especially for a player that has appeared to be out-of-sorts for much of the season.

But that would be churlish analysis given the player’s long-held desire to leave behind Arsenal’s barren trophy cabinet for a platform more in keeping with his ambitions. At 29, Alexis will sign his last long-term contract when he joins United; there are only so many chances left to win trophies and secure his financial future. Neither of which is likely to come at the Emirates.

"Alexis will sign his last long-term contract when he joins United. There are only so many chances left to win trophies and secure his financial future."

Yet, United’s outlay this January is only possible because of the barely credible last-minute decision at City to dither on a transfer that the club’s hierarchy had once assumed was in the bag. Indeed, last summer City had an offer of £60 million accepted for Sánchez, a fee already reduced on a player entering the final year of his Arsenal contract. The deal broke down only when the London club failed to sign a replacement. This time, United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan is set to smooth the deal.

The Blues appear to have about-faced at the last-minute, Pep Guardiola and director of football Txiki Begiristain making the calculation the player’s demands, together with potential disruption to a squad already likely to win the Premier League, offered an unhealthy mix.

Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal was never in the running, with Arsene Wenger admitted that his club had offered “the maximum we could afford” in terms of a counter-offer for Sánchez. The Londoners remain unable to compete with City and United in the market despite moving to the Emirates a decade ago.

“There’s no mystery that United and City have bigger financial resources,” Wenger added. “I respect United because they generate the money they pay to the players with their own resources. After that it’s down to them how much they want to give to the player. United are very well managed financially and on the pitch so that’s why I don’t have any problems with the money they pay.”

City’s loss is United’s gain. Not least because the Reds, having struggled to score against top-class opposition over the last two years, need a touch of stardust in the final third. Sánchez will bring that and more.

He has completed three seasons with the Gunners, securing double figures in both goals and assists each time. Last year Sánchez scored 30 times and provided 14 assists, his best return during 10 seasons in Europe. In total the player has 80 in 165 games for the club, operating mostly from wide areas.

Despite the vast sums in play, Phillipe Coutinho’s £142 million move to Barcelona this month offers some context, and Alexis might just represent a good deal. After all, over the past three seasons the Chilean has better numbers for goals, assists, chances created, dribbles, and passing than the Brazilian.

He also knows what it means to perform on the biggest stage. At Barça, Sánchez formed a highly productive strike partnership with David Villa and Lionel Messi until Neymar’s controversial transfer in 2013 and then Luis Suarez’ addition a year later transformed Los Culés‘ attacking triumvirate.

The player could be deployed in any one of four attacking positions at Old Trafford: as a replacement for Romelu Lukaku up front, disrupting the Anthony Martial – Marcus Rashford job-share on the left, displacing Juan Mata on the right, or as an alternative to Jesse Lingard through the middle. The new recruit might represent an upgrade in any of those positions.

Either way, the transfer will offer Mourinho options, both in terms of where the Chilean plays and where others could move. Should the forward be deployed as the right-sided player of three behind Lukaku – his Barcelona position – Juan Mata may finally get his long-sought opportunity at number 10.

Beyond the pitch, United’s outlay will bring the Reds further into line with City’s spending since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement more than four and a half years ago. United has spent around £730 million since the Scot left Old Trafford, to City’s £789 million. Including Mkhitaryan’s presumed £30 million value, United have sold more than £220 million worth of players during that period, compared to a similar amount at City.

Spending, Summer 2013 – January 2018

Transfer fees are not always a sound proxy for value, of course, with clubs balancing fees against wages. Total fees also take into account not only a player’s quality and age, but length of contract, as United will exploit with Alexis.

Fees are also only one side of the story, with United’s latest published annual wage bill of £264 million placing the club third behind Paris Saint Germain and Barcelona in European terms. Sánchez will take that figure past £290 million in the next financial year. Where Ferguson complained that “there is no value in the market,” during the Glazer family’s more parsimonious years, United now competes at the top end of the transfer market.

The challenge is not just how much money is spent on transfers and wages, but where it is spent though. Woodward’s agent-led approach to transfers continues brings players through the door, but at a heavy price in terms of fees paid to Jorge Mendes, Mino Raiola, and others. The club will reportedly pay Fernando Felicevich in the region of £10 million to complete the deal. And despite United’s heavy outlay in the post-Ferguson era, there have been far too many failures. More, it seems, than at City.

Alexis Sanchez

Where the Reds heavily leverage the European super-agent network, City has little compunction in voicing a belief that the club’s more structured approach is superior to United’s. It is a line being pushed forward this week. After all, Begiristain is well-connected in Europe and beyond and has a well earned reputation for long-term transfer planning. Plans, however, that United has gazumped.

Despite the Mourinho’s protestations to the contrary United’s manager has been well backed by the Board. Sánchez will join an increasingly stellar cohort of the Portuguese’s signings, including Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Nemanja Matic, Victor Lindelöf, Lukaku and Mkhitaryan.  That’s more than £330 million in backing, including potential add-ons and agent fees.

Data: Transfermarkt


Dierckx Ludo - January 18, 2018 Reply

My opinion is that too many so-called stars are overpaid at United and the moment MUFC gets named somewhere prices, wages, fees, agents’ fee are going up. How many Academy youngsters should come through if parts of that money would have been spend on them. Only patience is missing..but…how longer must we wait to welcome football (title) coming home…with youngsters it would have costed less, and the result would at least have been the same

Emeka - January 19, 2018 Reply

Buying Sanchez is not our problem our problem is coach who can’t make the players better like pep is doing instead believes in just buying players to win trophies for his on selfish gain n the board that can’t seem to see what is happening over at city believe you me city is now the dominant force in the country United can buy all the players they want but they will not dominate anymore

MUFanCirca1999 - January 23, 2018 Reply

Mou has improved so many players in the short time at ManU. Lingard and Rashford are academy lads who have shown tremendous improvement, with 2018 being a breakout season for Lingard. Rashford is only 20, so there is a lot to get from him. Tim-Fosu and Preira are developing well on loan, and will be brought back into the fold as soon as next summer. There has to be a healthy balance of winning trophies and blooding youngsters, for a serial winning club like ManU, for example we won 2 trophies last year, and City won nothing. Which other players would you want to bring up from the ManU youth squad? Also, can you name any city player now, who has come through the youth ranks?

Eris - January 19, 2018 Reply

Oh, come on. If it was about trophies, Alexis will be joining City, not United. You do realize he’s won more major trophies at Arsenal than United have mustered since he’s been in England, right?

Ed - January 19, 2018 Reply

Sanchez since 2014: FA Cup 2014–15, 2016–17
United since 2014: FA Cup 2015–16, League Cup, 2016-17, Europa League 2016-17
City since 2014: League Cup 2015–16

Eris - January 19, 2018 Reply

Yeah, but I said major trophy. Does the league cup count now?

Ed - January 20, 2018 Reply

Is this a Gooner trying to troll about trophies? Let me take a moment to pick myself off the floor.

Denton Davey - January 19, 2018 Reply

Forget about the cost; feel the quality.

Alexis is a “warrior” – a term often deployed and often misused but, in his case, quite accurate. The only downside to his game is that he tends to go “hunting” for the ball, back into midfield. He’s small in height but if you’ve ever seen him shirtless, then you know he’s built like the proverbial brick shithouse.

I don’t think one can question his attitude or ability although one might wonder what his presence does for UTD’s two youngsters – Tony Martial and Rashers – as well as the next generation’s “future stars” (Gribbin and Gomes). But, really, be that as it may be, those guys will have to fight for the chance to get first-team minutes just like Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, and even Jesse Lingard, who has been a relative late bloomer. The point here is that there’s just a lot less “romance” in footie – because it’s a much more results-driven business.

I see that if – and the transfer is still a work-in-progress – Sanchez comes to UTD then it’s “hasta la vista” to Juan Mata and, surely, Henrik Mhkitaryan.

The other issue about this transfer is Alexis’ age – he’s just turned 29 and he has played a lot of football, both for club and country. It’s a blessing that Chile won’t be in the World Cup. If the reports are true then Sanchez will be on UTD’s payroll until he’s 34 – what kind of player will he be then ? And does it matter ? This is a huge expenditure for the present and the short-medium term.

Alexis is surely much better than what’s currently getting games for TheLads. His presence will upgrade the attack.

Getting another box-to-box midfielder will be the next priority – someone to complement Paul Pogba and play ahead of Nemanja Matic in a 4-3-3 which could morph to a 4-2-3-1 when UTD play the bus-parkers.

With Zlatan and MC16 quite literally on their last legs, this addition – plus those mentioned in the article (Bailly, Lindelof, Lukaku, and Pogba) – is very much a part of creating a team in line with Jo$e’s vision. Adding to these five guys a rejuvenated Luke Shaw, the late-blooming JesseMessi, and the huge promise of Tony Martial and Rashers, and we can surely a see a NewUTD emerging from the awfulness of the long day’s journey into night that has characterized the post-SAF years. AND that delayed emergence is very much at the great man’s door – he completely fucked-up the “transition” and then the chaos was compounded when the Dutch Dinosaur was given a free hand. Now, finally, it looks like the caterpillar is about to emerge from its five-year chrysalis as a floating butterfly which, we can only hope, will sting like a bee !

Blacke - January 21, 2018 Reply

add your comment hereI second the Mourinho selfish view,
The guy is literally plundering the club for his reputation.
A few months ago he wanted to sell Martial but look how good he is. I feel Miki is so good but because that selfish leech won’t let him express his talent he is shipping him off.

He is not there to build players nor the players.He is there for his own glory only and nothing else.

Look at the players he sold at Chelsea and he wants the same with United. By the time he leaves united could have lost its future stars.

Factor this in and the way he is defensive in terms of football mindset you only come to one conclusion.

Mou must go. The sooner the better before he does more damage.

Blacke - January 21, 2018 Reply

*not to build the players nor the club

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