The received wisdom two-and-a-half years ago – inside Old Trafford, not just outside – was that if Alexis Sanchez is available, you sign him.
It was not entirely wrong, either. It is easy to forget now, as talks over an expected sale to Internazionale progress, but Sanchez arrived in Manchester as one of the most devastating attacking players in European football, having broken the 20-goal barrier in three of his last four seasons, hitting 30 for Arsenal in the previous campaign alone.
That a player of his calibre and Premier League pedigree would essentially be available for free – with an unsettled and unwanted Henrikh Mkhitaryan departing in exchange – was viewed as a rare, exceptional opportunity by many at Manchester United. One too good to turn down. One too good to miss.
Of course, the flaw in that reasoning was that there was a club on the other side of town who were more than happy to pass up on Sanchez and they have not looked back since.
Manchester City could be accused of sour grapes at the time, given they suddenly had significant doubts about a player they had come close to signing only five months earlier, but those doubts proved valid.
One of the biggest was Sanchez’s desired salary, the same salary which still hangs like an albatross around United’s neck.
The exorbitant figures vary across newspaper reports due to different clauses, incentives and image rights activations. The most reliable number comes from Football Leaks, who obtained the 49-page contract and revealed his basic Old Trafford wage to be £391,346 a week during the 2018-19 season following United’s successful qualification for that season’s Champions League.
Whether his weekly pay packet ever reached £500,000 or more through various other add-ons, Sanchez’s performances were never worth such sums.
And his salary – inflated by the absence of a transfer fee – was not the only problem. Sanchez cost United both money and their bargaining position, weakening the club’s hand in negotiations with other key players.
Paul Pogba’s nose was put out of joint and he is still yet to renew terms, despite finally being content enough to stay at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future. David de Gea is now earning a salary comparable to Sanchez’s, and has another three years left to run on his contract, with his performances and status as United’s first-choice under scrutiny.
It is no secret that Sanchez struggled to adapt to life in Manchester – regularly returning to London when possible – and never fully assimilated into the core group at Carrington. In his defence, the majority of his time as a first team squad member coincided with Jose Mourinho’s downfall and were not United’s happiest in general, but some of the Chilean’s struggles were his own making and they reflected in his performances. He left for Inter last summer after five goals in 45 appearances.
Finally, the sorry chapter appears to be coming to a close. And as negotiations with the Serie A club over a permanent move for Sanchez advance, the mistakes they made then are informing talks with Borussia Dortmund for Jadon Sancho.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was relaxed about United’s transfer business on Tuesday ahead of their return to Europa League action against LASK Linz, insisting that the window is long and there was no need to secure targets early, amid reports that United were close to agreeing a structured and incentivised deal which met Dortmund’s €120m (£108m) asking price. Senior United sources distanced themselves from those suggestions on Tuesday night, claiming there was some distance left to travel before the two clubs agree on a fee.
And though Sancho would likely take Sanchez’s No 7 shirt, the chances of him taking up the same proportion of the wage bill are remote. United are determined to show greater discipline and will not so blatantly break the wage structure already in place.
Then there is Sancho’s contrasting profile. He is 20-years-old, not 29, and coming off the back of two extraordinarily productive Bundesliga campaigns with room to grow and develop, rather than arriving after a difficult six months at his previous club with further regression likely. He would be a player for today and tomorrow, rather than just today.
You could say pursuing a talent like Sancho is a ‘no-brainer’, an opportunity that is far too good to turn down, and one to simply wave through just as with Sanchez before him. That eerie similarity between the two deals is a reminder that there are no guarantees in football and fewer still in the transfer market and United are pursuing their No 1 summer target with a deal of caution. Perhaps, finally, they are both moving on from their greatest transfer mistakes of the past and learning from them too.