The piano-playing video announcing his arrival generated record social-media interactions, and sales of his No. 7 jersey went through the roof in the club shop.
By that measure, Alexis Sanchez couldn’t have been more of a let-down in his first 12 months at Manchester United.
This week marked a year since the Chile forward chose to leave Arsenal and join, in his words, “the biggest club in the world.” It was a move that was supposed to revive the career of one of the Premier League’s most exciting players, and at the same time be the catalyst for United in its bid to return to the summit of the English game.
Hasn’t turned out that way.
Thirty-two appearances, four goals and a raft of injuries is hardly the return United was expecting from a player reportedly being paid 500,000 pounds ($650,000) per week. This season, he has scored more goals for Chile in three games (2) than he has in 14 for United (1).
Maybe his fortunes are about to change, though.
The first match of his second year at United will be against Arsenal in the FA Cup on Friday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the interim manager at United following the departure last month of Jose Mourinho, said Thursday that Sanchez would be involved now that he has recovered from a hamstring injury.
Sanchez should face a hostile reception from fans of his former club, for whom he scored 80 goals in 166 appearances, even more so as it is a night game. Yet Solskjaer reckons the forward will thrive in it.
“I think he’ll love it if the crowd turn against him,” Solskjaer said. “As a player, pride kicks in and you think, ‘I’ll show all of you.’”
Just as importantly, Sanchez will want to show United’s fans his worth, too.
With Solskjaer following through on his pledge to play attacking and entertaining soccer in his time in charge of United, Sanchez couldn’t really ask for a better coach to help get his career back on track.
Solskjaer has sounded positive about Sanchez since he arrived — “He’s been fantastic in training, his attitude has been spot on,” the manager said Thursday — and his desire to get his wingers higher up the field and to not worry so much about the defensive aspects of the game should suit the Chilean. It was the complete opposite under Mourinho, whose pragmatic approach restricted Sanchez’s natural inclination to attack and drift around the field.
The problem for Sanchez is that he is clearly now playing second fiddle in his favored left-wing role to Anthony Martial under Solskjaer. The youthful trio of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard seems to be Solskjaer’s preferred attack, with Sanchez’s only start under the caretaker coach coming against Reading in the third round of the FA Cup.
Sanchez did set up one goal in that game, adding to his assist off the bench in a previous game at Newcastle in the Premier League, but he has work to do to dislodge Martial.
Throw in the possibility that United could have yet another manager by the offseason and there is still some uncertainty over Sanchez’s future at the club. At the age of 30, Sanchez might want one last chance at a big European club if he feels opportunities will continue to be few and far between at United.
It remains to be seen if that piano-playing video proves to be the most memorable moment of his United career.
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