Alternative highlights of 19-20: Alexis idly dribbling then spitting on himself

Alexis Sanchez

So Alexis Sanchez is finally leaving Manchester United. And with Inter happy to give the ageing Chilean a home, this seems to be the best outcome for everyone.

Sanchez gets to play until he’s 34 (hmm), Inter get an experienced big-game player, and an out-of-pocket United can just forget the whole bloody thing.

Antonio Conte isn’t buying the forward out of pity, though.

In fact, despite a nasty tendon injury in the autumn, Sanchez enjoyed a good season on loan at his new club, nabbing a healthy 10 assists as Inter finished just a point behind Juve.

He even scored on his first start, getting the second goal in a 3-1 win over Sampdoria.

Sure, he later got a red card for diving, leaving his team to hang on for the entire second half, but nobody’s perfect.

All in all, 31-year-old Sanchez is far from his Arsenal best, but he’s definitely above his United worst.

Mouth-watering dribble

Sanchez saved one of his other season highlights for the reverse fixture against Sampdoria.

Claudio Ranieri’s team visited the San Siro in late June in the first round of matches after the restart, with Sanchez starting on the bench.

When Conte brought him on in the 83rd minute, the task was clear: protect Inter’s 2-1 lead; don’t do anything stupid.

Sanchez achieved only one of those objectives.

In the fourth and final minute of stoppage time, the forward put his three decades of experience to use.

He collected the ball on the edge of Sampdoria’s box and began one of his trademark dribbles, evading a couple of attempted challenges while picking up pace.

Strangely, however, he was heading back towards his own half.

With a third challenge incoming, the South American ignored a simple pass and decided to continue his enthusiastic retreat. How far back was he going to run?

But it was all part of the plan.

Sanchez sensed that third oncoming tackle and shielded the ball to draw a foul. He won the free-kick, and Inter would be able to see out the final 20 seconds in comfort.

Then, for reasons unclear, Sanchez spat on himself.

Drool & the gang

Even after repeat viewings of the incident, it’s hard to work out how it happens.

Because far from absent-mindedly dribbling down his own chin like a baby, the Chilean actually aims his shot, pumping his neck like he’s going for a near-post flick-on.

Yet the technique is anything but effective.

If you removed the grass and advertising hoarding from the picture, you’d think Sanchez was a child on the upper deck of an ocean liner, pitching his sputum into a fierce Atlantic headwind only to have it blown back into his face.

But since he’s sat on some grass in Milan, you can only put it down to poor technique.

Fortunately, he’s in good company.

Back in January 2014, Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham Hotspur took on David Moyes’ Man United, and Sherwood brought on a 20-year-old Harry Kane, full of youthful enthusiasm, to help Spurs protect a slender 2-1 lead of their own.

In the fourth minute of stoppage time — just like Sanchez — Kane gobbed on his own shirt.

Sanchez might also expect sympathy from one of his own team-mates.

Former England wing-back Ashley Young recently followed the path cleared by Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku, leaving Man United for Inter during the January transfer window.

And his own spit controversy is the most notorious of them all.

Put “Ashley Young” into the YouTube search bar and the auto-fill churns up not “skills and goals” but, tragically, “bird poop”, because in August 2014 Young appeared to swallow some falling debris.

Young maintains it was just his own spit, but the jury’s still out.

The saliva monologues

Of course, Sanchez will hope for a slightly more orthodox highlights reel over the next three years.

His four goals during 2019–20 consisted of tap-ins, a header and a penalty, but we know he’s capable of much more than that.

Some of the energy and pace may have gone, but the Chilean’s skill should see him register a higher tally next season. And you don’t need that much energy in Serie A anyhow.

The question is whether anyone on these shores will be rooting for him.

Arsenal fans have little love for a player who left for a bitter rival, while United’s lot won’t be rushing to watch any Inter matches — not even for Ashley Young.

And there’s the small matter of those wages: although fans can be weirdly defensive of billionaire owners and millionaire players, you can only have so much tenderness for a man who, while playing for United, earned your yearly salary every time he touched the ball.

Still, if Sanchez can knock Juventus off their perch, we’ll be the ones drooling over him.

By Benedict O’Neill

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