Under Pep Guardiola, Manchester City have become one of the most cohesive teams in world football. This is largely due to the quite remarkable collective spirit fostered by the Catalan: the club’s cohort of gifted virtuosos play the tune exactly as it is called by their leader. If Pep is a conductor, he has his orchestra fully under control.
So why, then, would he feel the need to introduce into the group a man who, albeit talented, has only ever seemed able to function as a soloist?
Alexis Sanchez is a player who, for the most part, suits himself.
At Arsenal, he has been magnificent at times, but his finest performances are generally notable for their individuality. He takes games by the scruff of their neck when and if the mood takes him, but rarely subjugates himself to the needs of his team. He stands out because he wants to stand out.
Some would argue that this is because he’s an Arsenal player, that he’s forced to play in that manner because of the mediocrity of his team-mates. There’s some truth in that, but Sanchez’s ‘oh f*ck this, I’ll do it myself’ attitude is as much a personal choice as one dictated by those around him.
Alexis clearly does not rate many of his colleagues, but he played the exact same way while at Barcelona alongside Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta – which is why he didn’t last long at the Nou Camp.
Ultimately, Alexis is a selfish footballer. There is merit to this in that it inevitably results in some wonderful displays. But his mentality is very much that of the guy at 5-a-side who never passes and simply runs straight at goal every time he gets it. He parts with the ball under duress, and only when all other options – a shot, a dribble, a dive – are exhausted.
In a team like Arsenal, this is pretty much allowable.
He’s so much better than everyone else except Mesut Ozil that Gooners tend to forgive him his self-indulgence.
If he puts the ball in the back of the net, so be it. But at Pep’s City, that just won’t cut it.
City are all about the collective. Players like Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sané and David Silva are rightly making headlines, but their game these days is focused around high-level, high-intensity collaboration. They see the benefit of working together, and are fully committed to following Guardiola’s instructions to the letter.
Being directed and micro-managed is not a problem for them. But for Alexis, it might be. He has been managed by Pep before, of course, who obviously feels that the Chilean has much to offer. Certainly, in some ways, Sanchez very much fits the profile of the prototype Guardiola attacker: small, quick, technically adept, aggressive. Pep, evidently, believes he can mould Alexis to suit his needs.
And perhaps he can – but why take the risk?
Sure, Sanchez will be available relatively cheaply, but he’s 29 and has spent most of the past 18 months doing very little other than complaining and Instagramming photos of his dogs.
City can afford to fritter away a few million in wages and signing on fees on the off-chance he comes good, but in doing so they expose themselves to the possibility of him turning out to be nothing more than a disruption, an angry spanner in what is currently a stupendously well-oiled works.
There are plenty of other players out there who could contribute as much as Alexis Sanchez, and who don’t come with the baggage he does. Only a madman would deny his quality, but then again only a madman would deny the potential for chaos that he brings.
Perhaps City would be better served looking elsewhere.