I know it feels like a lifetime ago, but close your eyes and try to remember just how good Alexis Sanchez used to be. The Chilean star was a ball of energy, industry and determination, with a spark and talent that could simply win matches on its own.
The winger grew into his Arsenal career, posting the best numbers in his final full season with the club. That was 24 league goals and five assists, if you were wondering. Those statistics deserve extra credit when you consider just how average Arsenal were in his last years at the club, and how much of their success was down to his individual brilliance.
But that’s where the Alexis Sanchez story takes a turn. From action hero to Greek tragedy, the 31-year-old has suffered a monumental fall from grace ever since the January of 2018. The decline began with a move to Manchester United, and with all the talk surrounding whether he’d justify the astronomical wages he was receiving, the forward seemed set up for failure from the off.
A poor first half-season with the Red Devils left many questioning his motives for the switch, and just how up for the fight he was. And suspicions that he had become too comfortable collecting his pay packet every week intensified during the 2018/19 campaign, when he managed only one goal in 20 appearances, and generally looked miles off the pace.
And that was that. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Man Utd revolution had no space for the flagging Chilean, and in desperate need of shifting a chunk of his salary off the books, the Premier League side sent Sanchez packing to Italy.
Inter were the gamblers on this occasion, eyeing an opportunity to help one of this generation’s greatest talents to recapture his stellar form of yesteryear. I Nerazzurri went all in on the winger, but they hadn’t accounted for a joker in the pack.
Rotten luck. Inter coach Antonio Conte took his time bedding Sanchez into the fold, and it was in his third appearance that we began to see flashes of the electric star of old. Scoring an instinctive maiden goal and running Sampdoria ragged, the winger was playing some of his best football in 18 months, before receiving his marching orders for two bookable offences.
It was a hammer blow having delivered such a dominant display, but it was a possible sign of things to come.
Sanchez picked up a nasty injury on international duty, and was subsequently kept out of action until mid-January. Since then, he has been trying to get back up to speed, but he’s taking his time. A costly risk from Inter, then?
Well, a mistake they’re considering making twice, by the sounds of things. Despite another 12 months of frustration for Sanchez, I Nerazzurri are being linked with another season-long loan for the Man Utd man, given that his future appears to be far from Old Trafford.
And although many will be left scratching their heads at the possibility of Sanchez securing a second stint in Serie A, there is some method to the madness.
Managers love rescuing the careers of underachieving performers, and Conte is no exception. During his time at Chelsea, he managed to turn Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses into world beaters, while generally building a side greater than the sum of its parts.
And the Italian will be confident that given an entire summer of working with Sanchez, and following the first year of learning his trade in Italy, he’ll be better placed to hit the ground running this time round.
Not to mention, on the rare occasion that he has taken to the field fully fit, he’s threatened to remember how to play football – including a match-winning display against Brescia on Wednesday evening. And for anyone who is still daring to question Sanchez’s hunger, he’s playing for the one manager who can light a fire under just about anyone. Desire won’t be an issue.
With Inter spending big on wing-backs (shock) in Achraf Hakimi this summer, and looking to secure the jewel of Italian football in Sandro Tonali, there may not be a lot of money left in the pot to improve their attacking options.
So extending Sanchez’s loan would give Conte one less headache in the market, while simultaneously allowing them to pour cash into other more valuable areas in the team. And having a player of the Chilean’s positional flexibility is a manager’s dream.
The ex-Barcelona star can play out wide, through the middle or as a second striker, providing his coach with a plethora of opportunities to introduce him into proceedings from the substitute’s bench. And as far as impact subs go, he would be one of the best.
But Sanchez still has the ability and quality to nail down a starting spot in this Inter side, and help turn them into the title contenders they should have been this season. More importantly though, should Conte decide to take a chance on him again, it’ll show that he has the drive and the heart to get back to the top of European football.
And that’s something we can all get behind.