It took long enough but Manchester United fans can finally say that Alexis Sanchez plays for their team.
Even up until a few weeks ago, it appeared as though the Chilean was heading to the other Manchester club, but United swooped in late on and have been favourites to secure his signature since then. Once it was reported that he was favouring United, City announced that they had pulled out of the chase.
This news had me reaching for my phone to text Beyonce. It’s only fair that I let her know I’m not interested in her like that.
Much has been made of how much United were prepared to pay the player and a bizarre narrative surrounding his City snub unfolded.
The club that spends more than everyone else every season, who spent more on agent fees last season than any other club, was painted as the bastions of good morals where every footballer would put down as their first choice destination.
The lopsided storytelling went so far that even Arsène Wenger was left defending United.
“I respect Man United because they generate the money they pay to the players with their own resources, you have to respect that,” he said, with the knowledge that United spend the smallest percentage of their turnover on wages than any club in the league. “Man United are a club very well managed financially, and of course as well on the pitch, so that’s why I don’t have any problems with the money they pay.”
The idea that Sanchez would rather play for Manchester United, the most successful club in the country, with one of the best managers going, who wins trophies most seasons, with history and prestige that any club in the world would struggle to match, had to be all about the money is a difficult narrative to push, but people tried their hardest regardless.
It’s been a strange few weeks. You would have thought Sanchez was signing for a club in China that nobody had ever heard of before.
You would have thought getting to pull on United’s no.7 shirt, previously worn by the likes of George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo meant nothing.
Pictures circulated on social media of Sanchez meeting Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest manager of all-time, as well as images of the player taking a selfie on the Old Trafford turf, where he will play in front of 75,000 fans, ahead of his unveiling. It’s a struggle to understand how people could suggest the only thing United have going for them is the money.
This is a player whose Chilean teammates claimed at the 2010 World Cup that the only club he talked about and wanted to play for was United. And here he is now, doing exactly that.
Pep Guardiola’s City finished 15 points behind Chelsea last season and won nothing. The season before that they finished 15 points behind Leicester and won the League Cup. The season before that they finished eight points behind Chelsea and won nothing. Every single one of these seasons they outspent all the other clubs in the league.
Did players have to pick Chelsea over all others for them not to be deemed a mercenary in the summer? Or Leicester the season before that?
The story being told was that Sanchez had been desperate to be reunited with Guardiola.
Yet in the one season he played for Pep at Barcelona he struggled to fit in to the Spaniard’s system and Mourinho secured the La Liga record for the most points won and goals scored.
If a player wants to sign for the biggest club in the country, or the world according to Sanchez, who has won three trophies over the past two seasons and will likely compete for the league title next season, he’s a money grabber. Martin Keown went as far as labelling him “the biggest mercenary in football”.
Sanchez was quick to bite back, reflecting on a chat he had with Thierry Henry, whose statue proudly stands outside the Emirates stadium, who chose to leave Arsenal to play for a bigger and more successful club in Barcelona.
“There are people (former club players) who have spoken with no knowledge of what happens inside the club and cause damage,” he said. “I remember today, a conversation I had with Henry, a historic Arsenal player, who changed club for the same reason and today is my turn.”
Was Kante a mercenary when he left the champions for Chelsea, who finished 10th in the league and 31 points behind Leicester? I don’t remember that being the story told at the time.
If you say something often enough, it becomes true, and journalists have been desperately banging the mercenary drum when it comes to their reporting on Sanchez.
While this has irked United fans, it won’t take the shine off the fact they’ve signed a world-class player from their old rivals Arsenal, in one of the best transfer deals for years. When you look at the transfer fees that are being spent these days, the fact United secured Sanchez simply for offloading a player who has failed to settle in 18 months he’s spent at the club and fallen out of favour with the manager, is fairly remarkable.
“Since I was a young lad I’ve always said that my dream was to play for Manchester United, and I’m not just saying that because I’m here now and today it’s come true,” Sanchez said in his first interview. “I always said as a kid that I’d like to play for United and I once spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson about it. We chatted for around 20 minutes. And I told him that my dream was to come here to Manchester United. It really is a massive club, very powerful, and so now, when I got the opportunity to come here, I looked at the badge and my hairs just stood up on end because it’s a powerful club and the biggest in England.”
Bitter rival fans, pundits and journalists will argue with no authority that they know the real reason for Sanchez’s move.
And when the Chilean is realising the dream he’s had since he was a kid and banging in the goals for United, they can bash their keyboard keys until their fingertips are sore.
Alexis Sanchez is a red. What a day for Manchester United.