Man Utd vs Man City: Why Alexis Sanchez represents everything that is wrong with Manchester United

While United’s initial pursuit of Sanchez was entirely rational at the time, the way it happened and what has followed highlight the problems that are besetting the club from the very top

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 25 April 2019 08:26
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts after Manchester United's defeat by Man City

It was a contribution that many might have missed, particularly the multitude of Manchester United supporters that had by then left Old Trafford. On 83 minutes, Alexis Sanchez came on, to make another negligible appearance - and that against a Manchester City side who at one point wanted to make him one of their main players.

The wider relevance of that should not be missed.

While United’s initial pursuit of Sanchez was entirely rational at the time, the way it happened and what has followed have come to represent the lack of deeper rationale at the club. The signing in fact sums up almost everything wrong at the club.

That, when you properly consider the combination of issues, is genuinely no exaggeration.

And isn’t even because of the Chilean’s dismally underwhelming performance, something even the pettiest of City or Arsenal supporters would have struggled to envisage at the time. It is about so much more than Sanchez being a total bust, which really says it all.

Alarms should have rang when City were so willing to leave United to it back in January 2018.

That signing was seen as a coup but, far from beating City to one transfer, it really just illustrated why City are beating United in virtually every other area. It illustrated the difference in approach.

Pep Guardiola had at that stage greatly wanted Sanchez, but not to the point his desire would cause City to defy all of their planning and standards. This is one of the greater values of a smart and modern football structure. As the financial figures of the Sanchez deal just went up and up, director of football Txiki Begiristain knew it just wasn’t worth it, especially for a 29-year-old who had played so much football. The deal only made sense in the context of no competition, and lesser financial demands.

United don’t have that type of technical figure or - to be blunt - that kind of deeper thinking. They just went with it, to hell with the consequences. They had their man.

But they have also had many consequences and problems. And all because United - once again - went for the short-term reactive decision; the decision that made for good initial headlines but less and less sense the more time has gone on.

The manner the deal was completed first of all displayed the difference in sophistication and strategy between the football operations of both clubs, and why United are now so badly in need of a modern technical staff of their own.

Sanchez came on as a late substitute against City 

It showed one massive reason they’re so far behind. But it may also be holding them back in other ways.

Most conspicuously, there’s the weight of the deal, and the size of it. On around £500,000 a week when you take in bonuses, Sanchez has disrupted the wage structure of the team, but also disrupted mindsets. Players like David De Gea and Paul Pogba naturally point to that when discussing new deals of their own, with that in itself creating other dressing-room concerns when levels of contribution are discussed. It’s the nature of humans - let alone footballers - to get disgruntled by someone getting paid more than you when you feel they do less. Sanchez is said to only really get on with Romelu Lukaku, and cuts an isolated and occasionally prickly figure.

Sources similarly say United’s refusal to return to such wage levels with other stars has caused problems in their discussions, particularly De Gea.

It has thereby just created a stretched wage structure, but also a strangely put-together squad. This is just something else the Sanchez signing sums up: United’s complete lack of planning as regards recruitment, and the general inconsistency there.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

While any club would obviously benefit from a forward as good as Sanchez at his best, a forward was not really what United needed when they signed him. They had other pressing positions, but still just went with it when opportunity presented itself.

So it was they started a seismic derby with their best-paid player on the bench and barely even considered, and their defence so limited, with players who shouldn’t really be starting for the club at all.

Some of those players wouldn’t even be at the club at all, except for a core problem that the Sanchez signing has now brought to a head.

United’s squad planning has been such that many of the players they want to jettison are on such deals that they’re hugely difficult to get rid of. Very few clubs want to match their Old Trafford wages, meaning there are very few ways out.

That is going to make Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s mandated summer “clear-out” a huge challenge, and makes Sanchez a case in point, since no one is going to go to £500,000 a week for him.

Sanchez's transfer typifies the misguided thinking throughout the club 

The Chilean, however, just sums up the problem that runs right across the squad.

Take someone like Matteo Darmian. One source has it that United have actually been willing to accept as many eight bids for the Italian, only for Darmian’s representatives to turn the moves down because his wages weren't matched or the circumstances didn’t suit.

That led to another bizarre situation on Wednesday where he suddenly found himself back in the United team against City, after months out. Darmian didn’t play well, but was at least visible.

That couldn’t really be said for Sanchez. In his 12 minutes, he got a mere one touch.

One touch - to symbolise how this is one transfer that sums up so many of United’s problems.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments