Manchester United were linked with a move for teenage sensation Renato Sanches last summer, but Bayern Munich moved in quickly to seal a €35 million deal with Benfica.
Now, almost 12 months on, Bayern Munich are still in the market for central midfielders despite already signing Lyon starlet Corentin Tolisso. It is believed that the Bundesliga giants are also close to agreeing on a deal with German international Leon Goretzka from Schalke, meaning Sanches, may fall further down the pecking order.
Sanches struggled to make his presence felt at the Allianz Arena during his first season, and as things stand, they currently have six other players capable of playing in midfield: Thiago Alcantara, David Alaba, Arturo Vidal, Javi Martinez, Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Kimmich.
Now, Jose Mourinho needs to find midfielders to free up Paul Pogba’s role in the team. The Frenchman struggled to control games last season, and the situation was not helped by Marouane Fellaini’s technical inadequacies and Michael Carrick’s diminishing powers.
The United manager may continue his pursuit of Sanches considering he remains a young player of immense promise, potentially good enough to add balance to United’s midfield, which requires improvement.
Mourinho has previously claimed he would have worked harder to land the Bayern Munich midfielder if he had been in the Old Trafford hot seat earlier. At a later date, the Portuguese manager revisited the subject of Sanches, stating how a European champion should be getting more game time.
It shocked the football world when Bayern paid so much money for an inexperienced 18-year-old, yet after just one year at Bayern, it would be bizarre to completely rule out the possibility of Sanches being a success in Bavaria.
Prior to Sanches’ transfer to Bayern, he had less than one full season of professional football with Benfica but did enough to make the Portugal squad for the 2016 European Championships in France.
Sanches was the youngest member of Fernando Santos’ squad, initially seen as a substitute, but his goal and man of the match performance against Poland in the quarter-finals ensured nation’s progression as they marched to the final and beat France.
Then, Sanches was voted Young Player of the Tournament by UEFA, going down in history as the youngest player to win the competition at 18 years and 328 days. It came as no surprise to see elite clubs such as Bayern Munich and Manchester United come knocking.
But when you look at Bayern’s midfield last season — Thiago Alcantara, Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso — it should not be considered a failure to any 18-year-old who struggles to find a starting place. Instead, he should soak up the experience of working with world-class professionals like Pogba did, aged just 20 when he joined Juventus.
Sanches can play as a defensive midfielder but is best in a box-to-box role. He may not solve United’s midfield problems but he would strengthen Mourinho’s options, especially if Marouane Fellaini finds another club this summer.
Although he is shorter than Fellaini (6 ft 4ins), Sanches (5 ft 9ins) has a huge build and could match the Belgian for physicality.
To date, Sanches is still to score a goal for Bayern. He is still to provide an assist in his football career in Germany and Portugal. The feeling he will play more next season since Alonso has retired is in more doubt than ever. And the last year will count as a lost one because opportunities were not seized, knowledge not accumulated, techniques and methods not grooved.
The football market is not kind, or wise or tender in its ministration. There is a stockpiling of talent as a long-term investment bond is ultimately a destructive act. Gabriel Jesus might just avoid this but it remains to be seen if Kylian Mbappe is too good to fall for it. This is modern football; littered with young talents who took the money, moved too soon and saw key years of development flushed down the toilet.
Should United sign the young Portuguese midfielder, rejuvenate his career and sell Fellaini, a trio of Pogba, Herrera and Sanches would potentially render the opposition’s press as less effective but self-destructive to the way they could play through pressure and exploit the gaps in behind, unlocking whoever the club sign as a replacement to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ed Woodward may want to test the water and investigate Sanches’ availability.