Alexis Sanchez is leaving Arsenal. That much is perfectly clear. For a while, his destination seemed equally as set in stone, as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been the presumed front runners for his signature for nearly a year. However, the last couple of days have seen the story become one of the most explosive transfer sagas of the month as Manchester United have worked their way into the conversation as well. All 3 clubs are united only in their mutual loathing, and heels are being dug deeply into the sand as each club uses every trick at their disposal, from posturing, to media reports to ultimatums, and the British football press just can’t get enough.
The word “hijack” gets thrown around a lot during transfer season, as media outlets turn even the most mundane player transaction into an epic tale of winners and losers, but that is exactly what Manchester United have tried to do in the last 72 hours. Almost as soon as reports began to emerge that Arsenal was still holding out for £35 million from City, who were reluctant to push their offer beyond £20 million, United began to make more overt passes at the player, and his agent has even allegedly been in contact with the Red Devil’s brass about wages. United’s Ed Woodward seems far less concerned than City about paying inflated fees and wages, so long as they get their man, and United once again seemed determined to win the race by throwing more money at it than their rival.
For Arsenal, the interest being registered by United could not have come at a better time. Already in a very weak bargaining position from the lack of term remaining in Alexis’ contract and his desire to leave being public knowledge, Arsenal needed another club to jump in and create (either in reality, or in the heads of Pep Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain) a bidding war to jack up the Chilean’s price. Surprisingly, PSG haven’t been mentioned as a possible destination given the players in their squad that could represent great value in exchange and their financial power, so the Gunners are ironically given little option but to rely on a Jose Mourinho led club to help increase their return.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, Manchester City appears to have called their bluff, with word escaping on Friday that City would REFUSE to pay more than £20 million, have no problem waiting until the summer, and oh, by the way, Gabriel Jesus isn’t as hurt as we thought. Reports even started to emerge from local Manchester sources that City were now considering the Brazilian midfielder Fred, a 24 year old currently playing for Shaktar Donetsk, as well as continuing their search for another defender. It is clear that City have no plans to be held to Arsenal’s mercy on a player they figure to have the best shot of signing this summer anyways. The problem for Guardiola, as his team continue to win at an astonishing rate and progress through every competition in which they are entered, is that he runs the risk of burning out his players during the most pivotal part of the season in the spring, just as they should be looking to cap off their cup and league runs. With Gabriel Jesus still set to miss a few weeks, City is short on quality reinforcements in almost every area of the pitch, and even the ones he has aren’t rotated through the squad nearly enough for a team with such a busy schedule. Right now, his team look almost invincible, but a couple key injuries in the lead up to the end of the season and their potential for multiple trophies is drastically diminished.
The Money or the Manager?
It has long been assumed that Alexis Sanchez was desperate to play for Pep Guardiola again at Manchester City, but the recent news of Manchester United’s interest is significant for several reasons. To begin with, who is putting all of this information out there about the better financial package being offered by United? Is it Arsenal, trying to create a bidding war, as previously discussed? Is it United, just trying to unsettle the player and the teams in a move that looked like a sure thing? Or is it Alexis Sanchez’ agent, Fernando Felicevich? After all, it is no great secret that one of United’s most reliable strategies on the transfer market is to appeal to the agent as much as the player. By offering these agents massive payments for the transfers, United certainly increase their odds of signing players, but it does raise questions about whether or not these agents truly are acting in their clients’ interests, or whether they try and nudge the player toward the club that provides them with the biggest pay day. Signings like Angel DiMaria and Henrikh Mikhitaryan are perfect examples of this sort of dealmaking, and both players took serious hits to their careers by heading to Old Trafford.
In the case of Alexis Sanchez, who is reportedly asking for the kind of financial package (£300K+ per week, £5 million signing fee) that gives City pause, one must wonder whether it is he or his agent that are pushing such high wage demands. His demeanor on the pitch, and even his petulance when frustrated, show a player who is fiercely competitive and has an incredible desire to win, and he objectively would have the best opportunity to do so at City. He would play in a style that suits him far more than the unimaginative and defensive tactics at United, and for a manager for whom he has an incredible amount of respect. Given that, it would be hard to convincingly explain a move to the red half of Manchester for anything other than money.
The “ITK” Consensus
If where Alexis is bound to end up remains a mystery, the Gunners’ number one target to replace him appears to be becoming clearer by the hour, as more and more sources close to the club confirm the club’s interest in the young Brazilian currently plying his trade with Bordeaux in Ligue 1, Malcom. A short and powerfully built winger/attacker, with a howitzer in the place where most human beings have a left foot, Malcom fits the bill nicely as a replacement for Sanchez. Interestingly, he also fits a similar profile to that of Monaco’s Thomas Lemar, who the Gunners were confirmed to have bid £92 million for last summer, which was accepted before Lemar ultimately declined the move after having very little time to consider the offer on the last day of the transfer window. While Malcom may not have the well rounded game of Lemar, who is very capable in the centre of the park as well as on the wing, and probably puts in more defensive work overall, Malcom probably has a higher ceiling in attack. He is trickier with the ball than Lemar, and is even a bit over a year younger than the Frenchman.
Perhaps even more importantly, Malcom will reportedly only cost the Gunners half of what it would have taken last summer to pry Lemar away from Monaco, and he is a player that new Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat had wanted to sign for Dortmund in the past, but was discouraged due to his price. Along with Konstantinos Mavropanos, should Malcom come as well, it would reflect very well on Ivan Gazidis decision to hire Mislintat, especially if both players end up as key figures in the club’s future. It should be stressed at this point that no deal has been struck, but this week, even with the loss of one of the greatest players of the Emirates era, the club has succeeded in giving some fans a feeling that for once, there may actually be a plan at Arsenal Football Club.
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