by Joe Butterfield
Alexis Sanchez to Manchester City seemed like it was certain to happen. In the list of high profile transfers you’d have expected this January, it’d have been somewhere near the top. In the summer of 2017, Manchester City were so close to signing him that it was rumoured he announced the transfer to his Chilean teammates who greeted the news with a round of applause, happy that a prisoner was finally being freed of his multi-million contract. As it turned out, Arsenal weren’t really too fussed about attempting to replace him until there were only a few hours left in the transfer window, so any potential deal was put on ice.
Pep and the gang remained calm. A deal had been agreed with Alexis and his agent and they assured him they would return in January, when Sanchez’s price would go down significantly and Arsenal would be facing the final decision between six months of service from a player or a decent transfer fee. Worst case scenario, Arsenal would continue to reject City’s advances and they would simply wait until the following summer, when they could secure him on a free transfer. Win/win. City would definitely get their man, one way or another.
So, when City opened negotiations in the first week of the transfer window, it looked like everything was going to fall into place. So deep was the rot within the dressing room as players became sick of Alexis and his perceived lack of effort that Arsenal were no longer bothered about securing a replacement for him before selling. Sanchez wanted out, Arsenal wanted him gone. It was a good situation all round. City were stalling over the £35 million asking price Arsenal had placed on him but an agreement somewhere in the middle was inevitable.
As the days went by with little movement, however, something stirred in the heart of Stretford. Mourinho rushed to Ed Woodward as he sat atop his blood red throne at Carrington.
“Mr Woodward,” Jose exclaimed, excitedly, “Mr Woodward!”
Ed Woodward paused the YouTube video he was watching, ‘Antoine Griezmann – French Genius – 2017 Skills & Goals 1080p HD’, turning to Jose with a look of irritation across his face. “What have I told you about interrupting my scouting sessions, Jose?”
“My apologies, sir,” Mourinho bowed hurriedly as he approached the throne, “it’s about Alexis Sanchez…”
Ed Woodward’s eyes lit up and he shut his laptop, a wide grin stretched across his face. He pressed a button on the arm of his throne and spoke into it. “Sir Alex, get me Stan Kroenke…”
Or at least, I assume that’s how it went. I may have taken a few liberties with the finer details of the sequence of events but, ultimately, Manchester United were alerted that the Sanchez deal may not have been quite as clear cut as it appeared on the surface in the eyes of the media. Woodward picked up the phone to Arsenal and the wheels were put into motion. Manchester United were prepared to make Arsenal an offer they would deem acceptable by sending the man Robbie Savage once claimed to be better than Kevin De Bruyne, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the other way in a direct swap deal. Arsenal’s new Head of Recruitment, Sven Mislintat, helped to bring the Armenian to Borussia Dortmund back in 2013 and, with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang looking likely to join up with him in the coming weeks, is more than happy to get the band back together whilst relieving the squad of a wantaway player whose impact on the dressing room has been well documented.
So Manchester City, having already had a deal in place with Sanchez and his agent for the last four months, were now under a bit of pressure. They didn’t have a player to send the other way for Arsenal, which immediately alleviated any of Wenger’s concerns about the departure of Sanchez, so they’d have to stump up the cash instead. However, they didn’t see a player with six months left on his contract who Arsenal actively wanted to get rid of as valued at £35 million.
This all suddenly became moot once Sanchez’s representative returned to City, holding up his food bowl and proclaiming that he wanted more. Manchester United had offered Sanchez vast riches, wages varying between £300,000 to £500,000 depending on who you believe, and his agent also, with a reported agent fee of £20 million on the table. Manchester City were told that they would have to match United’s offer of personal terms in order to secure the transfer and Pep Guardiola’s mind was made up for him. City refused to match United’s offer and pulled out of the race. Jose was given a free run. City were truly GAZUMPED.
Firstly, it’s only right to acknowledge that Manchester United have pulled off a spectacular transfer. For all of the hype and marketability Pogba brought when United smashed the transfer record to bring him to the club, Sanchez almost feels like a level above. He’s a brilliantly gifted player who’s more than accustomed to the physicality of the Premier League and Sanchez could prove to be a pivotal figure for United in the next few seasons. In an Arsenal team which has been devoid of both character and technical quality in the last couple of seasons, Sanchez has shown a tremendous level of both, carrying Arsenal through tough times in the same way Sam carried Frodo up the side of Mount Doom. Purely on a recruitment level, Manchester City may well rue letting such a player join their local rivals.
Despite this, it is also correct to point out that Sanchez is a flawed player. For all of the praise he receives for his character and winning mentality, this has meant that his time at Arsenal has led to a fractured dressing room and a frosty relationship with his teammates. Dressing room bust-ups have been widely reported towards the end of Sanchez’s time at Arsenal and, whilst it’s true that Sanchez helped pull Arsenal through games they would have otherwise lost, he shouldn’t be absolved of any blame for Arsenal’s slumps during these periods. He is infamous for his mini-tantrums throughout games, unwilling to forgive the likes of Iwobi and Xhaka for being unable to make the killer passes he became accustomed to at Barcelona, throwing his arms in the air and often sulking when things do not go his way. It is this attitude which has made him simultaneously one of the best players in the Premier League and one of the players the Arsenal squad will be most happy to see the back of.
Pep Guardiola wants his players to be fully committed to the cause at his football club. He has a footballing philosophy which he is very passionate about and he expects the same levels from his players. As much as financial pull is an important at any club, what Guardiola wants are players who are focused on football first. Initially, this appeared to be the case with Alexis Sanchez. The original rationale for his frustrations at Arsenal was a lack of competitiveness for the big trophies, as the Gunners haven’t seriously competed for the title in the best part of a decade and struggle against top quality Champions League opponents. Were Sanchez to join the blue side of Manchester, he’d be getting at least one Premier League winner’s medal at a minimum this year, an attractive prospect to somebody who is supposedly chasing silverware. Once Sanchez’s agent brought United’s offer to the table and made it clear that money was a factor then Pep had no problem letting him go. After all, Gabriel Jesus had turned down better monetary offers from the likes of Barcelona, Madrid and Manchester United before settling on the project Pep is building. These are the perfect signings in the eyes of the Catalan.
Another reason why the chance to sign Sanchez was turned down, and one Pep will have been made fully aware of by Txiki, was the high wage that the Chilean would have commanded had he signed with the Blues. Manchester City have a wage structure, much to the surprise of many football fans who just assume City approach players with blank cheques and ask them to write down a figure before handing them a contract, a structure which is heavily incentivised with performance-related bonuses. This is fairly normal at most football clubs these days for Financial Fair Play purposes and, whilst the basic wages are still the second highest in Manchester, it’s a formula which City can’t afford to break so easily.
If we give Alexis Sanchez and Manchester United the benefit of the doubt and go with the lower end of the reported wages, around £300,000 per week basic pay, that still beats City’s current highest-earner, Sergio Aguero, by around £100,000. That’s a rise in wage that City can’t, or at the very least won’t, stretch to. It’s worth bearing in mind that Manchester City were in the midst of tying down Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne to new contracts whilst the Alexis negotiations were taking place, both integral players of City’s success this season. If they’d have seen Sanchez walk into the club on wages which are double or triple what they’re currently earning, what would their agents ask for? What would Raheem Sterling’s agent ask for, or Leroy Sané’s? There are already reports that Paul Pogba, unhappy that he is no longer the club’s highest earner, is looking for a new contract with wages to match the numbers rumoured to be going to Alexis and it’s unknown how much damage this could cause going forward.
The most prevalent argument in favour of the idea that City should just fork out the money and just pay up is that Sanchez’s agent was always going to ask for more money once the contract had been allowed to run down. Free agents, and players who are signed with six months remaining on their contract, are often given signing on bonuses which reflect the money saved on transfer fees A good example of this is Ross Barkley’s recent Chelsea transfer, a move which caused the Major of Liverpool to make an actual member of the police spend actual time reviewing an actual complaint he made to them regarding the transfer.
This is a fairly valid point. Whilst the wage structure may be affected in the short-term, the simple way to justify this is that it’s just a way of staggering the payment of his signing-on bonus. Surely it isn’t too difficult to have one single player on that kind of money as a one-off? If Sanchez would otherwise be getting that money in a single payment up-front, why is that a problem? I’m no expert in the world of contract negotiation and I suppose the simple answer would be that United always offered a better package deal than Manchester City did and that, with City running away with the title and with Gabriel Jesus not as far away from recovery as initially thought, they have absolutely no reason to even risk upsetting the balance.
One of the main phrases which was consistent throughout all of the reports from City when it came to a decision regarding Sanchez was “squad harmony”. Whether on a financial level of a dressing room level, Alexis Sanchez does not guarantee either of those things and you can understand Manchester City refusing to rock the boat. If Sanchez had come into the club and quickly realised he doesn’t like the idea of being a rotation option rather than being the first name on the teamsheet, the dressing room may quickly become polluted with the same poison that took over the Arsenal dressing room during his time at the club. If Sanchez’s wages had opened the floodgates for both current and future players and agents to start making ridiculous demands in contract negotiations, the long-term harm is much more of an impact than the short-term good.
Ultimately we have now reached the stage where United are no longer the prestige club which attracts players. That’s not to say there’s no appeal to playing for United, they’re still a huge global brand and they currently sit second in the league only to City’s dominance, but players aren’t joining the club because they dream of playing for Sir Alex Ferguson or because they dream of playing in Champions League finals every year. Players are joining Manchester United because they’re throwing the most money around, both at players and agents. Jose Mourinho once bemoaned that the historic clubs are the ones who are punished in the transfer market, yet the Sanchez deal is the latest in a long line of signings where wage structures have been pushed and agent fees have been inflated. Only time will tell whether United’s short-term gain will be worth any potential long-term pain but for now, Manchester City will feel confident that they’ve made the right decision and with their long-term planning currently nearing its peak, haven’t they earned that right?
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