Nursing what appeared to be an ankle injury, the 30-year-old was replaced by youngster Tahith Chong. Amid speculation over his future, it appears Sánchez’s 18 months at United may have ended in a manner befitting of his ineffectual spell at Old Trafford: limping, wincing, broken.
“Is that the last we’ll see of Alexis Sánchez in a Manchester United shirt?” questioned former United captain Gary Neville, in his role as Sky Sports‘ co-commentator for the game.
The truth is, the Alexis Sánchez United thought they were getting has been seldom spotted since his January 2018 transfer, and there is now an overwhelming case for the Chilean’s switch from Arsenal to be considered the worst signing United have ever made.
It’s a multi-levelled, tangled spiderweb of a failure.
United have made more expensive missteps in terms of transfer fee. Ángel Di María’s £59.7million arrival from Real Madrid in 2014 set a new British transfer record, on which they saw little on-field return before selling the Argentinian to Paris Saint-Germain for £44million a year later.
It could also be argued that Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku have offered little value for their respective £89million and £75million fees, while the 2001 signing of Juan Sebastián Verón from Lazio remains United’s most expensive ever purchase relative to their financial power at the time, equating to 21.7 per cent of the club’s total turnover that year. (The world-record deal for Pogba in 2016 was worth just 17.3 per cent of United’s turnover, for example.)
Although Sánchez was not signed on a free transfer, as is often erroneously claimed, the swap deal which saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan – an asset then valued at around £30million – join Arsenal in exchange for the former Barcelona attacker means United have splurged greater initial outlays on players who ultimately flopped.
But it is the wage package that United used to convince Sánchez to spurn Manchester City‘s advances in favour of Old Trafford that has proven a more misguided and destructive financial commitment than any transfer fee.
The reports of Sánchez’s total remuneration package have varied wildly, with the higher end of the claims suggesting he’s pocketing in advance of half a million pounds per week. But even a conservative aggregate of the reports would have the Chilean taking home the highest weekly wage in the Premier League, with a sizeable appearance bonus to boot – a total likely breaking £400,000.
Eighteen months into his four-and-a-half-year contract, United are now in a position where Sánchez will be a very difficult man to move on. His consistently poor performances mean no elite clubs court his signature, and those who would be willing to take the forward off United’s hands are unlikely to be in a position to offer a comparable salary. If he is to leave Old Trafford this summer, he will surely do so with a significant portion of his wages subsidised by United.
And then there is the disruptive effect Sánchez’s wage package has had on the rest of the squad. If reports are to be believed, David de Gea and Marcus Rashford are angling for salary increases relative to Sánchez’s inflated terms, while United have also re-signed the likes of Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling to over-valued deals.
Not only has Sánchez’s enormous contract left United with a depreciating asset they will now struggle to shift, but it has also made distinctly possible the exit of key players for free or, at best, way below market value, as contracts wind down amid lofty renewal demands.
All of this would be more palatable were Sánchez delivering on the pitch. But he is not, and he has not.
Even Di María, the previous standout candidate for the unwanted crown of being United’s biggest transfer flop, can look back upon a month of stellar form early in his time Manchester.
The best Sánchez has produced is a 45-minute display in last season’s come-from-behind victory over City at the Etihad, in which he provided two assists. In 44 total appearances for United, he has scored just five goals, contributing to a further nine via assists.
Only three of those strikes have come in the Premier League, none of which against teams who will finish in the top half of the table this season.
And unlike Di María and others, Sánchez does not have the excuse of being played out of position, or shifting between several roles. The vast majority of the playing time he has seen at United has been in his preferred position on the left side of a front three, or else as a central striker, a role in which he scored 30 goals in his final full season with Arsenal.
This, too, has been to the detriment of his colleagues, with his arrival last season robbing developing talents Anthony Martial and Rashford of game time on the left flank, the role they had effectively shared prior to Sánchez’s signing.
Previously one of the best and most devastating attacking players in the Premier League, there was a degree of logic behind United’s move for Sánchez. In weakening a direct top-four rival, they had also flexed their financial muscles to steal a target from City, who had raced ahead of them as Manchester’s premier football force last term.
A versatile, hard-working and unpredictable attacker capable of returning 20-plus goals a season seemed just the tonic to a frontline that had grown stale under José Mourinho.
But alarm bells should have rung. Already 29, Sánchez – who has played more than 700 career games and rarely had a full summer off in the last decade due to international commitments – had a lot of miles on his clock; perhaps his poor form in his final months at Arsenal was not merely a result of his dissatisfaction in north London, but rather indicative of an inevitable decline.
Although few would have predicted the negative impact of his signing would be so severe, Sánchez’s move to United has been an unqualified failure; one that has not only held them back in recent months, but that will also hamper their rebuilding efforts this summer and beyond.
Everything about Sánchez’s signing and subsequent struggles is indicative of the problems afflicting United at present, a club lacking the vision and cohesion of a director of football, a club where glitz, glamour and social media impressions supplant progress on the pitch.