Ole Gunnar Solskjaer once described Alexis Sanchez as a bottle of ketchup. Or rather, the Manchester United manager suggested that once the Chilean started scoring, it would be like squeezing a bottle of the red stuff. That once he got one, the backlog would be unclogged. Ketchup would, as Solskjaer saw it, splatter all over United’s chips.
Of course, that hasn’t happened. Not to date, anyway. Man Utd have spent the past 18 months squeezing and squeezing and still nothing has come out of the Sanchez-shaped bottle. Now, it seems likely that the Old Trafford outfit will dispose of the Chilean with Sanchez being touted around anyone willing to listen.
Indeed, China, France, Italy and Spain have all been mooted as potential destinations for Sanchez and yet even if the forward leaves Manchester United this summer there is no guarantee that the Chilean will rediscover himself. Sanchez’s problem is more fundamental than just the club badge on his chest.
At just 30 years old, Sanchez should still be at the peak of his powers. Instead, he is a shadow of his former self. A player who was once defined by relentless energy and irrepressible drive now drifts through games, often without so much as an effort on goal. In April’s Manchester derby, he touched the ball just once in a 12-minute substitute appearance.
With all this in mind, this summer’s Copa America arrives with extra significance. This is a competition that has always brought the best out of Sanchez. He is the defining talent of his group of Chilean players, a legend in his homeland. A dismissal showing over the next month, however, would underline just how far Sanchez has fallen.
Chile can make history by winning a third successive Copa America title that started on Friday after success in 2015 and 2016. No team has ever done that before. A lot has changed for La Roja, however, since the last Copa America. They failed to qualify for last summer’s World Cup and there is a sense that their golden generation might soon fade, with a distinct lack of fresh talent to replace them.
They still boast quality. Arturo Vidal enjoyed a surprisingly successful first season at Barcelona, finding his feet after a difficult start to become a regular starter and key figure for the Catalans, while Erick Pulgar has become an impressive performer in Serie A for Bologna. Chile remain a South American football powerhouse even if their decline is embodied in the individual fortunes of Sanchez.
The Man Utd forward will be back in his comfort zone this summer, back playing for the team where he has perhaps turned in his best performances over the past few years. Sanchez must use this to get his career back on track. His United career might already be as good as over, with the Old Trafford side desperate to offload the Chilean’s enormous wage, but there is still time to change the narrative of his twilight years.
That might require Sanchez altering his approach as a footballer. It might even require a positional change. The Chilean has always relied on his energy and drive and so if his body can no longer provide that, at least not at the top level, then he must think how he can use his qualities elsewhere on the pitch. His future might be as an out-and-out centre forward, a static frontman. Or maybe even as a deep midfielder.
Sanchez can do little now to avoid his fate at Man Utd. He will be remembered there as the biggest flop in the club’s modern history. It’s time for the Chilean to look at what he can do to revive his career, starting with the Copa America and his country’s opening game with Japan on Tuesday night. It might be here that the ketchup finally starts to pour from Sanchez.