There’s an oft repeated quote from Zinedine Zidane after Real Madrid sold Claude Makelele and bought David Beckham in 2003. “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”
Now, to be clear, Manchester United aren’t losing an engine, and Sanchez is probably one of those premium layers of gold paint that also offers rain protection to the car, but the analogy just about holds up if you when you consider just what United are doing.
Let’s look at the tape on BBC Sport
Manchester United have signed Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, in a swap deal with midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Chile forward Sanchez, 29, who almost joined Manchester City last summer, has signed a four-and-a-half-year deal worth £14m a year after tax.
Let’s look at it again, remove the names and add a positive spin
Manchester United have confirmed the purchase of a 29-year-old attacking player with 60 Premier League goals and 25 assists in his last four seasons. The gentleman comes as part of an apparent swap deal, which sees the departure of a another attacking gentleman, a month younger and deemed no longer suitable for the club. Player 29 is alleged to earn £300,000 a week in wages, making him the equal highest paid player at the club. However due to the swap deal, one should subtract the alleged £200,000 a week wages the player who swapped out was on.
And let’s look at it one more time, with the names removed and with a negative spin
Manchester United have confirmed the purchase of a 29-year-old attacking player with 666 professional football games on the clock and is fast approaching the “red zone” for declining his talents. The gentleman comes as part of a swap deal, which sees the departure of a another attacking gentleman, a former blue chip player in the Bundesliga who won the 2015-16 Player of the year award. Player 29 is alleged to earn £300,000 a week in wages, making him the equal highest paid player at the club, which one could assume would mean he would be considered a central figure of the team regardless of form or positioning.
The thing about big money transfer dealings, especially ones made in January, is they are especially hard to quantify in the hour of chaos. As we’ve seen increasingly in the big money transfers post Paul Pogba, it has become close to improbable for a football player to give off £50m+ worth of production in a single season.
Furthermore, in the new world where long standing transfer records are broken season after season, it becomes harder for viewers to assign value as to what is a fair demand of £50m, (case in point, we don’t know what £50m worth of fullback gets you until Kyle Walker has three more seasons at Manchester City at least).
The Alexis Sanchez deal sees Manchester United sign one of the best players in the Premier League at a relative discount. Miles on the clock or not, the footballing argument for signing Sanchez to Jose’s Manchester United makes sense. He’s a proper all running, all action, head down, “bollocks to this, I’m grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck” attacking tyro, with a playing style that would suit the improvisational attacking style Jose Mourinho teams tend to favour. Yes, it would be nice to have Romelu Lukaku flanked by Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, or have lovely blog posting Juan Mata threading passes from the right, but if you can get a fired up Sanchez going at it like a bulldog (this is the point I remind you Chile didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, so he can go proper balls to the wall for this half season), why not go for it?
There is a best case scenario (humour me here) where an Alexis Sanchez number 7 creates his own mini Cantona effect for Manchester United’s youngsters, adding that extra notch of intensity and quality to training sessions that improves the group wholesale.
That’s the one eyed Homerism dealt with; now for the elephant in the room – the idea Jose’s signing Sanchez just to poke Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola in the eye. Cut adrift from Manchester City in the league and little better than a dark horse to win the Champions League, Jose is doing what Jose always does when he can’t win on the pitch, he starts to bully those off it.
Signing one of Wenger’s players just because Guardiola wants him is just the sort of petty manoeuvre we’ve been led to believe Mourinho delights in, and that the player is the sort of macho, run through a brick wall figure that the United manger tends to pack his teams with only gives strength to the theory. (Which makes it all doubly hilarious that Chelsea looked to be in for Sanchez too – Conte wanted to get in on the act and piss off Mourinho.)
Sanchez isn’t wholly needed by this Manchester United team. While a player of his quality would improve the squad, it’s hard to argue he’d elevate the team from a Champions League dark horse to a “You want to avoid us in the Champions League quarter finals” prospect. The money spent to make sure he doesn’t go to Manchester City, could in theory be better spent elsewhere, especially considering our creaky fullback spaces and the reliance on Nemanja Matic to look after Pogba.
However, asking Jose Mourinho to focus on long term planning rather than spending money on a shiny new toy to get a slight advantage is like… asking Jose Mourinho to show some decorum after he’s lost a big game.
Manchester United are buying another layer of gold paint for the Bentley rather than dealing with the engine issues, but to be perfectly honest with you, I’m probably still going to be impressed when the car rolls through town.