For some Manchester United supporters, signing Jadon Sancho is paramount to making the summer transfer window a success at Old Trafford.
Others may be expecting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to add a striker or central defender on top of the England winger. In reality, though, the Red Devils have already made a positive start to their business by finally waving a final goodbye to Alexis Sanchez.
When the Chilean winger arrived in January 2018, the deal which saw him join for free from Arsenal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way was viewed as a masterstroke. In fact, plenty of pundits lauded it as working for all parties involved.
Then manager Jose Mourinho was able to sign a world class player who had lit up the Premier League over the previous three-and-a-half years, while the Gunners brought to an end a torturous contract saga. Sanchez had six months remaining on his deal at the Emirates Stadium, and Arsenal signed a competent, if indirect, replacement. From United’s perspective, it was made all the sweeter by the fact they managed to beat rivals Manchester City to his signature.
Over two years later, though, United couldn’t get Sanchez out of the door quick enough. Having spent last season on loan at Inter, the 31-year-old agreed to rip up his £560,000-per-week contract before moving to the San Siro permanently. It comes as a huge relief for Solskjaer, who has steered the club away from the big name, big fee transfer policy Sanchez embodied and in line with the club’s core values of promoting and nurturing youth. The player himself would have earned around £40m over the final two years of his mammoth contract, despite playing just 45 games and scoring five goals in the North West.
Not only has nobody quite represented the recent vanity and negligence of United’s dealings in the seven years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, but the immense lack of value for money between wages and return through performances and goals or assists makes this deal a real contender for the worst in Premier League history.
There are a number of others in the frame for that unwanted crown. Chelsea, for example, hit the jackpot in their striker search when they signed Didier Drogba in the summer of 2004, but other big-name striker arrivals Hernán Crespo, Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres, cost a combined £96m and scored 49 league goals between them.
More recently, as transfer fees have soared, the scope to new viewed as a major failure because of a price tag has grown, even if it isn’t a player’s fault. Newcastle United have almost certainly utilised their record signing, £40m man Joelinton, wrongly, playing him as a target man when he prefers a more withdrawn or wider role. But the cold, hard stats lay bare his struggles. The Brazilian scored just twice in the league, averaging 0.6 shots on target P90 in all competitions, last season.
Comparing a striker with a winger directly is difficult, but Sanchez’s impact was just as poor and just as magnified because of the outlay. In his only full season at United, Sanchez averaged 1.4 dribbles and 2.5 crosses in nine Premier League starts, compared to 2.0 and 4.1 respectively with Inter, where he has scored four goals and registered eight assists.
It is fair to say he didn’t exactly set Serie A alight, failing to hit the heights of his Arsenal career, but impressed enough to be worth a reduced contract offer with no transfer fee. In North London at his peak in 2015/16, he registered five assists and 13 big chances, and averaged 3.7 dribbles and 2.4 crosses per game by comparison.
In a sense, what makes a transfer ‘flop’ is up for debate. There is an argument to suggest that avoiding paying the £60m Arsenal originally wanted and getting him, in effect, for nothing counts in his favour. But the fanfare and astronomical contract, which would have been difficult to justify even if he had been a success and led United back to glory given his age, propel him to the very heart of this conversation.
In the cases of Shevchenko and Fernando Torres, too, the fees Chelsea paid were seen as consistent with their performances at AC Milan and Liverpool for the time, while Joelinton is quite clearly a product of the inflated modern market, even if Newcastle’s poor scouting and due diligence meant they got what they deserved in the end.
The players mentioned here are just examples of major transfer let downs; there are others, too. Sanchez doesn’t necessarily spring to mind immediately, but the context surrounding his move, which was initially viewed as positive, has shone the light on how poorly it worked out.
He was preceded by the likes of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao at United, during an era which spanned the reigns of both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho, when the club clearly believed they needed only to recruit the best players they could to improve, rather than find a system which suited them.
Again, though, it is the perception of Sanchez initially being a perfect fit under Mourinho which works against him. As a player who proved he was equally proficient when it came to work rate and performance at Arsenal, it was thought he wouldn’t jar with Mourinho, a man known to come down hard on work shy playmakers. The defensive style of play meant he was often too far away from goal, but more likely a reason for his issues was the fact he was unable to maintain the levels he had during his younger days.
If Solskjaer can sign Sancho, he will be getting a player very much in the image of what Mourinho thought Sanchez was. There certainly is scope to suggest he is the worst Premier League signing of all time because, ultimately, he cost a lot and hindered, rather than helped, the quest to return to the top. Manchester United have learned their lesson, and now that chapter is closed, they can build and improve for a much brighter future.