On the face of it, Alexis Sanchez appeared to be the perfect summer signing for Manchester United. So it came as a surprise when Arsenal snapped him up - relatively unopposed - from Barcelona for the reasonable sum of £32 million. But almost two months later it’s clear to see why Louis van Gaal took the decision to snub the Chile international.
This is no slight on Sanchez’s ability as a footballer. The winger is patently an excellent player and should go on to enjoy plenty of success with the Gunners.
The 25-year-old has already paid back a hefty chunk of his transfer fee by firing Arsenal into the Champions League group stages - it was his goal in the second leg of the play-off round against Besiktas which sent the Gunners through to the next round - while he opened his Premier League account with a goal against Leicester City last weekend.
He was the perfect signing for Arsenal, but there are a number of reasons why Van Gaal was absolutely right not to bring him to Old Trafford earlier this summer.
Van Gaal's formation
For starters, Sanchez would not have fitted into Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation. The Chilean’s best position is wide right of a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-2-1. Wenger maintains that the South American is capable of playing as a centre-forward, but the veteran French coach is clutching onto straws there.
Sanchez is about as effective as Theo Walcott upfront. Both are lightning quick and can finish, but neither can hold the ball up like a true centre-forward. This means they struggle to make an impact while playing in that advanced, central position against teams with half-decent defences. Fine, though, for when Newcastle United and co. come to town.
Deep down, Wenger knew this, hence his decision to spend £16 million on England international Danny Welbeck from Manchester United on the final day of the transfer window.
Sanchez will now revert to playing wide right for Arsenal, although it will be interesting to see how Wenger accommodates both the former Barcelona star and Walcott in the same system considering he must also find places for the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey.
Sanchez needn’t worry, though: he’ll be one of the first names on Wenger’s teamsheet for every important match.
Sanchez may have struggled for game-time at United
Van Gaal, however, couldn’t have offered Sanchez such assurances at Old Trafford.
Sanchez, had he joined United, would not have played a single match upfront because of the intense competition for places. The Red Devils may have offloaded Welbeck and Javier Hernandez this summer, but that still leaves them with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, the hugely-exciting James Wilson and arguably the best number nine on the planet: Radamel Falcao.
Even if Van Gaal opts to switch to a 4-3-3 formation after the international break - which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility given United’s awful start to the 2014/15 campaign - the Red Devils’ boss would still have been absolutely correct to steer clear of signing Sanchez.
This is because of a certain Adnan Januzaj, who the Guardian revealed this week has been described as a “young Johan Cruyff” by a senior football figure at Old Trafford.
Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.
Januzaj is truly an extraordinary talent who has the ability to establish himself as a first-team regular - despite the stiff competition for places - at Old Trafford this season.
He was one of the few shining lights in an otherwise dismal campaign for the club last term, but finds himself struggling to find a way into Van Gaal’s team because of the system.
Former United captain - and current England coach and Sky Sports pundit - Gary Neville believes Januzaj will find a place in Van Gaal’s system because he’s too talented to be left out. He also feels the 19-year-old Belgium international will become one of the world’s best players within the next five years.
Those who watched Januzaj closely last season will tell you this is no exaggeration. But had Van Gaal signed Sanchez, there’s no question Januzaj’s playing time would have been severely limited - and this would have been a travesty.
Angel di Maria
Furthermore, had Van Gaal signed Sanchez, it’s almost certain that Angel di Maria would not have arrived from Real Madrid at the end of the transfer window.
United have spent in excess of £140 million this summer on quality players, but adding another £32 million to that total means they would have run the risk of incurring penalties for falling foul of UEFA’s strict Financial Fair Play regulations.
United broke the British transfer record to sign Di Maria, who demonstrated against Germany on Wednesday night precisely why the Red Devils paid a cool £59.7 million for his services.
The former Real Madrid star scored a delightful goal and set up three more as Argentina exacted revenge - to a small extent - over the team that beat them in the World Cup final back in July.
It was a masterful display from one of the world’s top five players. Few would argue that Di Maria is not a better player than Sanchez, even though the new Arsenal man is not far off the world-class bracket.
Given the choice out of the two, though, it’s fair to say that 99 per cent of United fans would opt to stick with Di Maria rather than signing Sanchez. Arsenal supporters, meanwhile, would probably admit deep down that they’d rather Di Maria was at the Emirates Stadium instead.
So, because of Manchester United’s new system, Januzaj and the eventual acquisition of Di Maria - it’s fair to say that Van Gaal’s decision to avoid signing Sanchez is now looking entirely justified.
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