One of the best punditry moments ever seen on British television came from the mouth of Mick McCarthy during the 2010 World Cup.
As McCarthy sat in the BBC gantry for Argentina against Nigeria, the sight of Juan Sebastian Veron caused the then-Wolves manager to double-take.
‘Is that… the Veron?’ he asked a bewildered Steve Wilson as the watching TV audience emitted the kind of incredulous yelp of a history professor whose been asked whether the Nazis were left-wing.
Yet McCarthy had tapped into one of football’s more life-affirming qualities; seeing an excellent footballer from the recent past enjoy a career renaissance to remind everyone of their brilliant best.
Which brings us nicely to Alexis Sanchez. After leaving Manchester United under a proper pea-souper – it’s no exaggeration to call him one of the worst signings in the club’s history – many would have written him off as washed up.
His spell at Internazionale, which was a mixture of inspiration and insipidness, didn’t exactly change anybody’s preconceived opinion of a formerly world-class player on the terminal decline.
Sanchez pocketed millions from Inter just to do one last summer. Marseille, who are fast carving out a niche as a Premier League retirement home, swooped to sign him up.
Happily, the forward is thriving on the Mediterranean. Sanchez has scored 14 times in 33 appearances as Marseille remain coiled to exploit any slip-ups from PSG in Ligue 1.
And the 34-year-old was at his brilliant best during Sunday’s win over Reims, scoring twice during Marseille’s 2-1 triumph.
All the hallmarks of Sanchez’s game were present, from the explosive bursts of pace like a Duracell bunny that’s necked a pint of Sunny Delight to wonderful pieces of technique.
And his opener at the Stade Auguste Delaune was more delicious than a bowl of Bouillabaisse.
As Sanchez lined up a free-kick, the Reims wall could be seen twitching nervously. Their kitman could be seen holding spare pairs of shorts in case of any bowel accidents.
They were right to feel apprehensive; Sanchez only need a short run-up to bend the ball over their despairing heads and past a goalkeeper that could only stand in awe at his brilliance.
Turning back the clock, Alexis Sánchez! 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/u5MUlcP11k
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 19, 2023
“Some teammates at Inter told me that I could still be useful and that they didn’t understand why I left but that’s football, I wanted to play,” Sanchez said recently.
“However, I thank the people of Inter, I experienced good things in that locker room, now I am happy here in Marseille and every now and then.
“However, I hear from some former teammates, I get messages saying ‘Bravo Nino’.”
His form in Ligue 1 has become one of the more heart-warming tales of the season and a lesson in writing players off prematurely; while Sanchez will never be at his Arsenal peak again, he clearly still has plenty to offer.
Somewhere near Blackpool, Mick McCarthy has learnt of Sanchez’s renaissance in the south of France and spat out his cornflakes.
By Michael Lee