Alexis Sanchez is a fine player treasured by just about every elite club in Europe. His emergence started on his loan spells for Udinese, playing for two South American giants in Colo-Colo and River Plate. After he returned from these outgoing loans, he proved to be a great player for Udinese alongside the legendary Antonio Di Natale. This run included a game against Palermo, where Alexis scored 4 goals in only 52 minutes of play. There is definitely a reason why some fans call him ‘Electric Sanchez.’
Next for the little Chilean was a transfer to arguably the most storied club in the sport, FC Barcelona. The transfer fee was 26 Million Euros, which was a lot of money at the time (in this regard, it is incredible how much inflation has happened over the last few years in transfer markets). All of his three seasons in Catalonia were impressive. A La-Liga title and Copa Del Rey trophy rewarded this team, and his 47 goals over three seasons definitely helped. It is easy to grow as a player when you are playing alongside a generational talent in Lionel Messi. Despite all of these accolades, his stint at Barcelona was underwhelming considering the massive talent Alexis has in his feet. Something was missing, it would appear.
I believe there was one problem in Barcelona. Now let me start off by clarifying that Alexis Sanchez is an undisputed world-class player. However, he is definitely not on the same level as Messi. He probably wasn’t even the second best attacker on the team, as he also had to play alongside Neymar in his final year. This becomes an issue, as Alexis serves best as the focal point of an attack, his game is based around penetrating back lines, dribbling into tight spaces, and generally being an incisive blade down a defence. A perfect compliment for Lionel Messi would be an attacker who is conservative with the ball and proficient at keeping possession; two attributes that Alexis Sanchez does not have. His role on Barcelona was best suited to wear down teams ‘parking the bus,’ and Pedro was already occupying that niche to an extent.
Alexis comes into his own when playing for teams where he has the green light to take chances with the ball and use creativity. In may, he was an instrumental part of an Arsenal team that won the FA cup by a huge 4 goal margin. In July, an emphatic ‘paneka’ penalty brought home the Copa America for Chile. Mesut Ozil is a perfect partner in the attacking midfield, as he prefers to pass and keep the ball in possession.I believe that balance is really important for any football team, and Arsenal is trying to create that with a wide variety of player identities in their deep squad. There are guys like Francis Coquelin, who loves to hammer opposing players, and others, such as Walcott, who could easily be mistaken for a speeding Ferrari on the right flank.
At the core, Alexis’ struggle at Barcelona was due to a simple problem. With his style of play, he wasn’t talented enough to replace Messi, but also too gifted to simply play an auxiliary or bench role. Luckily, there is only one team in the world with a player of Messi’s caliber, and we are not that team.