Alexis Sanchez & the tragedy of seeing great players reduced to punchlines

Despite what all the evidence at Manchester United suggests, Alexis Sanchez is an objectively brilliant footballer.

Since leaving South American club football, Sanchez has shone in Italy, Spain and England. A talisman in two Copa America triumphs, he has won over 100 international caps for Chile. “He has stolen my heart,” were the words of Pep Guardiola, a man whose endorsement goes as far as trying to sign the forward twice – succeeding, crucially, just once.

At his best for Arsenal, Sanchez was a one-man swarm of wasps with the talent to rival any of the Premier League’s most explosive goalscorers. “Sometimes he finishes and you think, ‘He’s dead now,’ but then he recovers and gives 100% again,” was Arsene Wenger’s verdict.

Undoubtedly, Sanchez has lost his way since joining Manchester United and his career is at a crossroads. But while Manchester City are breathing a collective sigh of relief they managed to avoid being burdened with the 30-year-old’s ludicrous salary, who knows what might have happened if he didn’t take a wrong turn on the journey north from London and ended up at the Etihad, reunited with Guardiola, rather than an Old Trafford engulfed by a nervous breakdown?

The slightly curious aspect to such a disastrous move, however, is the glee with which it has been met from supporters up and down the country who have relished the sight of such a wonderful footballer reduced to a punchline.

Of course, the nature of football tribalism, and more specifically the fact it’s Manchester United, means it is funny to many, but at what point does the joke become a little weary? After 18 months of #bantz and #numbers, it would be quite nice to see the Sanchez which exhilarated so many supporters in north London once again.

We’ve been here before on numerous occasions. Fernando Torres and Michael Owen immediately spring to mind as two of the Premier League’s great goalscorers who became figures of fun after their own questionable career choices.

Old Trafford, meanwhile, has been the home to a number of great players who haven’t produced their best in recent years: Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, whisper it quietly, Paul Pogba even. It’s certainly not just Sanchez.

The hilarity enjoyed at his expense also seems to come in place of any genuine insight into why his move to Manchester United, which at the time seemed quite the coup for the Red Devils, has gone so badly.

Indeed, former United striker Andy Cole recently spoke of his confusion at the plight of the player.

“Sanchez is a bit like the Torres thing,” Cole told the Press Association. “You know, when Torres left Liverpool and went to Chelsea, all of a sudden he wasn’t the same individual and left everyone scratching their head.

“I think the situation with Sanchez now has got everyone scratching their head. For what he was at Arsenal and then coming to Manchester United, you turn and say, ‘Well, where has it kind of gone wrong?’ Because you can’t become a bad player overnight. You cannot do it.”

Not much has gone right at Manchester United as a whole since Sanchez was signed. Jose Mourinho’s tenure as manager became toxic, Sanchez was recovering from injury when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer first became caretaker manager, and the entire squad reverted to their pre-Ole’s-at-the-wheel form upon his permanent appointment.

There have been reports that Sanchez has struggled to settle in Manchester and that his difficult personality has seen him fail to integrate among United’s squad, but this is a player who since leaving Chile has lived in Buenos Aires, Udine, Barcelona and London to great success, and a club whose glory in the 1990s and early 2000s was inspired by the hardly tactile nature of Roy Keane.

Next season is unlikely to bring a reprieve for Sanchez amid reports United are willing to offload the forward to pretty much anyone that will take him off their hands – most likely to a club abroad.

If a move does materialise, Sanchez is unlikely to be remembered for the genuine joy he brought to the Premier League for Arsenal but rather derided by Manchester United fans and laughed at by everybody else.

Yet to quote another former hero associated with Manchester whose reputation has suffered due to questionable life choices: that joke isn’t funny anymore.

By Rob Conlon

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