It’s early days for Alexis Sanchez at Inter, but his first game for Antonio Conte’s side suggested that his spell at Manchester United does not mean the great player we once saw has completely gone…
It will go down as among the most disastrous transfers in Manchester United history, knocking Angel di Maria, Kleberson and Ralph Milne into a cocked hat.
Alexis Sanchez’s time at Old Trafford was mercifully brought to a close a few weeks ago, joining Inter on loan for a season at least, an arrangement that all parties probably hope will ultimately last much longer.
Sanchez was a shell of the player that dazzled so much in his early days at Arsenal, moody and devoid of spark, reportedly withdrawn in the dressing room and unhappy in England’s glorious north-west. Not even Atom and Humber could inspire him out of his slump.
But the – admittedly very – early signs in Italy are that he has rediscovered something like his pizazz, as shown in his full debut for Antonio Conte’s side at the weekend, as they beat Sampdoria 3-1. Sanchez scored once and nearly got another (the Stefano Sensi effort that deflected in off his back was cruelly taken away from him by the Italian equivalent of the dubious goals panel), before putting a significant wrinkle in things by getting himself sent off for two yellow cards, the second for a particularly unsubtle dive that fooled nobody.
If you’re prepared to overlook that – a significant ‘if’, granted, and Conte is not a man to annoy if you can avoid it – then there was enough in Sanchez’s performance to suggest that the dynamo who was so terrific at Udinese, in spells at Barcelona and for some of his time at Arsenal, has awoken.
“It wasn’t just the goal he scored,” said James Horncastle on this week’s European edition of the Totally Football Show. “He was involved in a lot of very good stuff for Inter. Whether that was setting up chances for his teammates, winning the ball back high up the pitch, Lautaro Martinez should have scored when he won the ball in the Sampdoria penalty area, he also set up Antonio Candreva’s goal that was disallowed.
“As long as Conte can forgive him for almost compromising this perfect run [by getting sent off], he will play [against Barcelona in the Champions League].”
Ah yes, Barcelona. Sanchez’s story in Cataluyna was a complicated one, signed a year before Pep Guardiola departed, a very nearly broken man, having been ground down by the job, and of course Jose Mourinho constantly chipping off at him from Madrid.
“I think he was a little bit unlucky that he got there when the Guardiola project was fading away, and he was there in some years when things went from bad to worse,” said our Spanish football expert Alvaro Romeo on the Totally Football Show this week.
“Tito Vilanova was using Sanchez perfectly, and then when Tata Martino came, Alexis was never well-coached, and never understood how he had to play with Messi: whether he had to play for Messi or with Messi, or for himself. I think he had doubts about what he had to do, and then when he went to Arsenal he started flourishing because he felt he was playing for himself and for his teammates, not for one specific player.”
A lack of clarity probably won’t be a problem at Inter, under Conte’s steely gaze and iron fist in an iron glove. “Conte says what we need to do in every training session and every player knows what he has to do,” said Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic after the Sampdoria game. “That shows. We have to continue like this.”
It’s easy to write all of this off as simply making excuses for a highly-paid player who simply didn’t perform to the expected standards while he was in Manchester. But everyone, for the most part, needs the right sort of environment in which to flourish at work, and that clearly wasn’t there for Sanchez at United, joining as Jose Mourinho was busy scorching the earth, and then he was unable to capture his form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer either.
The red card at the weekend will probably increase his chances of starting for Inter in the Nou Camp, given that he will be suspended for the colossal crunch clash against Juventus next weekend. If he can perform there too, and show another former employer what he’s made of, then perhaps even those who most emphatically wrote him off in his United days will have to admit he is back. Perhaps he wasn’t the problem at Old Trafford after all.
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