Manchester United can probably boast one of the best transfer deals of the past few seasons in their capture of Alexis Sanchez, presuming he plays as well at Old Trafford as he did for Arsenal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had failed to consistently impress for United and fell out of favour with the manager some time ago, was used as a bargaining chip to secure the signing of one of the most talented players in the Premier League. Pipping rivals Manchester City to his signature made the deal all the sweeter.
Sanchez made his debut in the FA Cup against Yeovil on Friday night and put in a good shift. He played in the ball for Marcus Rashford to score the opening goal before setting up Ander Herrera for the second.
“Alexis Sanchez is a fantastic addition, everyone is happy that he comes,” Jose Mourinho said after the 4-0 victory. “Good players want good players. The question is always which one is going to be left out, but it is not about that for us. We have a fantastic group of attacking players and he is another one with more maturity and experience.”
Reports have suggested that Mourinho has instructed Sanchez to sit next to Rashford in the dressing room, hoping the Chilean can pass on some words of wisdom to the 20-year-old striker and act as a mentor.
Wearing the famed no.7 shirt, there is the hope that Sanchez can inspire the younger players in the same way that Eric Cantona served as a catalyst for success at United when David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were youngsters.
However, in his role as pundit for Sky Sports, Jamie Redknapp has claimed that Sanchez’s arrival spells the exit for Rashford, with him needing to look elsewhere if he is to have regular playing time.
“I just feel for people like Marcus Rashford,” he said. “They go down the pecking order and he’s probably thinking where do I fit in now? Part of the Premier League is having these players but I just feel sorry when someone like Marcus Rashford is going to be thinking ‘this is another pathway blocked for me.’
He might have to go in the end. It doesn’t help your confidence. Every time you are training you think ‘I’m not going to play on Saturday’. This is a great talent, make no mistake. I speak to players who go to the England camp with him and they are as impressed with him as anybody.
He probably needs to go and play football somewhere. It is a shame but that’s modern day football and that’s why it’s so hard for young British players to get opportunities.”
Redknapp, who once described Arsenal’s signing of Danny Welbeck from United as “the bargain of the century”, probably could do with learning more about the subject he is paid to discuss.
In 2017, Rashford made more appearances for United than any player did for their club in Europe’s top five leagues, despite competing with the more experienced Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney for playing time.
This season, Romelu Lukaku has been thrown in to the mix too, as well as the rise in form of Anthony Martial.
Yet Rashford, just like last season, has made more appearances for United this campaign than any other player. He has played in every single game.
In the league, only seven outfield players have racked up more minutes than him, and Mata and Lukaku are the only attacking players with more playing time.
To suggest that Sanchez’s arrival will bring about the end of Rashford’s place in the team is a bizarre argument, particularly when you consider that Mkhitaryan’s departure frees up the potential for more appearances.
Mourinho is a big fan of Rashford, as evidenced by how often he relies on him, and has praised his work ethic in the past, claiming he stays behind after training to work on specific areas of his game with the coaches, particularly free kicks.
“He’s in love with football,” Mourinho revealed. “It’s his mentality. He works and works, so let’s forget the age, it’s the quality.”
Rashford has scored 10 goals and provided five assists this season. Only three players have scored more for United than him and only Paul Pogba has assisted more.
You would imagine the player who is more fearful for his spot in the team is Mata on the right, despite Sanchez being able to play in any of the forward positions. Yet people have feared for the Spaniard’s future ever since Mourinho was appointed and Mata has managed to keep his place, so it’s difficult to know conclusively what the manager will do.
The Yeovil game doesn’t tell us an awful lot about Mourinho’s plans as he often plays with a different XI in cup games than he would in the league.
But Rashford and Sanchez showed they can play well together and link up nicely in front of goal, suggesting it doesn’t have to be either or where these two are concerned.
Rashford has grown up at United and is clearly an excellent talent. There’s not a chance that Mourinho would sacrifice his future at the club for the sake of a 29-year-old, regardless of how talented Sanchez may be.
Speculation was similar when Ibrahimovic signed in Mourinho’s first summer yet his arrival didn’t prevent Rashford from playing. Redknapp clearly hasn’t been paying attention.