Poor Alexis Sanchez.
There is nothing like a disappointment to haunt the human psyche. Consider it: a close friend invites you to their wedding, and you are obliged to say yes. Every day until their blessed union, you’ll be enjoying something. A packet of Nice ‘n’ Spicy Nik Naks, for example, or an eclair, or a piece of Ornette Coleman free jazz. All equally wonderful things but – suddenly – you remember that in a few week’s time you need to put on a woollen suit in summer, stand up in Church, sit down In Church, not eat anything but vol-au-vents until four pm, then sit down, famished, in front of a terrible four-course meal aided only by bad, warm wine and directionless small talk with strangers surrounding you.
Poor Alexis Sanchez.
The thing about disappointment is that it is a funk that only slowly leaves you. A missed opportunity can’t simply be ignored. There are hypothetical recriminations in your mind’s eye, wondering how you could have done something differently. Perhaps you could have pretended to break your leg in order to escape the wedding, for example. Sanchez has something almost as bad to concern himself with now. He almost left Arsenal to join a football club run by something approaching a group of adults. Instead, he has a year of Thursday nights.
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Sanchez has cut a miserable figure this summer. He has claimed that he is ill with the ‘flu for some of it, coming late to training. As he sulked his way across Anfield against Liverpool, it was easy to draw some conclusions. While one should never read a great deal into a player’s body language, the fact that his body language said, ‘Why am I still suffering you abject clowns? I am an excellent player, what did I do to deserve this?’ when that is exactly what you and I would be thinking in his position, makes it easy to do just that.
Like most modern players, such as David de Gea, Sanchez did not have the gumption to force the move that he plainly wanted. We can only guess the motives, but sacrificing loyalty bonuses by asking for a move away, or worrying about public perception, prevents some players from putting in transfer requests. The truly ambitious might believe that they only have one career, and the emotions of sheep-like fans aren’t hugely important. Philippe Coutinho has at least acted with honesty in his desire to join a big club. By hoping everything would work out at the last minute, Sanchez built his own hopes up for as long as possible, only to see them dashed as Tucker’s Law came into force.
Sanchez, then, has at least half a year to consider what he should have done differently to get the move he wanted. Instead, he faces another year of separate, dispiriting disappointments. First of all, he has to play for an Arsenal side that failed to sign Thomas Lemar. If they had managed that, he would now be at City, enjoying Pep Guardiola redefining tactical excellence (except in defence). He can watch them blow away sides, while every day he trains with Arsene Wenger, the man whose lack of transfer nous spoiled his future.
He has to play for an Arsenal side that signed two players, and made a net profit by selling four senior players, if you include Wojciech Szczesny. A side that sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the side that will compete with Arsenal for a Champions League place. He has to play on the flipping cold pitches of Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov, a stark reminder that he is emphatically not playing in the Champions League for at least another season.
Sanchez is under pressure, then. But it’s not a pressure of expectation. Nobody doubts his talent, and he will be given a weekly opportunity to display them because Arsenal have no better player. The fans will be relieved that he has not left, and because they can’t do without him it would be a real surprise if they turned on him. Everybody expects that he will score 25 goals, and be one of only a few Arsenal players who will be able to hold another man’s gaze without shame after a game has been played.
The pressure is there, though. And the pressure will be coming from Sanchez himself. He needs to get over significant disappointment while suffering the various indignities of being an Arsenal player. There is no room to sulk – and this is a player so sulky that his teammates reportedly wanted him sold – because this is a World Cup year, and he can’t let his last major international tournament pass him by.
And, let’s remember, Sanchez is not the only world class player who could be available to Guardiola in the summer. Lionel Messi is throwing another of his bi-weekly mardfests in Catalonia. Antoine Griezmann will likely be content to leave Atletico Madrid. Sanchez was perfect for City, but perhaps only for this summer. The pressure on Sanchez is not for next weekend, or the one after that, but every single weekend until the season is over.