The swap deal which granted Alexis Sanchez his wish of joining Manchester United was completed on Monday after Henrikh Mkhitaryan agreed to join Arsenal.
The Chilean’s move to Old Trafford was dependent on the Armenian agreeing to move in the opposite direction and, after giving himself 48 hours to mull over his future, the playmaker decided to head for the Emirates.
Supporters may have sweated over the hold-up but you would hardly have guessed either man hesitated at the opportunity to head for pastures new with practically their first words upon joining new clubs. Sanchez claimed he was joining ‘the biggest club in the world’, while Mkhitaryan said he had supported Arsenal since he was a child. Who knew?
Swap deals are rare and even rarer still between two of the Premier League‘s biggest clubs. The transfer saga has stirred emotions on both sides with fans arguing over who has bagged the better player and who got best value for money. For now at least, however, the transfers provide as many questions as they do answers.
1) Where will Sanchez play?
It’s an enviable ‘problem’ to have but Mourinho must now decide where Sanchez best fits in at Old Trafford. The Chilean’s child-like enthusiasm means he’s effective across the frontline but Mourinho will have noted Sanchez’s admission that he ‘prefers’ to play down the left or in the middle during his first interview at the club.
After a difficult first season under Mourinho, Anthony Martial is arguably in the form of his United career and has made the left wing position his own in recent weeks. To hand the role to Sanchez now – without giving the Frenchman a fair crack at the whip – would be unjust for a player who was hardly trusted at all by his manager last season.
That leaves just two options and Mourinho will have to decide between practicality and exuberance. A position on United’s right wing – ahead of Juan Mata – would benefit the team above Sanchez. United have craved a right winger since Angel Di Maria’s departure in 2015 and Mata – though talented – saturates the central areas by coming in off the flank.
Sanchez played wide right for Barcelona before being switched to play centrally and, though he’s more than capable of playing there, by his own admission it’s not his preferred position.
The Chilean would much rather play in an attacking midfield role behind Romelu Lukaku. With Martial in good form and Pogba playing behind, it seems a better fit for Sanchez personally but it removes Jesse Lingard – United’s most in-form player – from his best position. Unbalancing the team’s shape at this stage of the season could undo much of the good work of recent weeks.
Sanchez’s flexibility means he’s adept at a number of positions but if United are to compete in the Champions League they need their matchwinners in their best positions. United are still competing on three fronts this term and need Sanchez firing if they’re to end the season with silverware.
Will Manchester United be forced to change their wage structure?
The exact figure that Sanchez will earn each week at Old Trafford is unknown but one thing is for certain – he’s now the best paid player in the Premier League.
The unique nature of the deal and the fact the Chilean was out of contract in six months meant United would always be forced to ‘even out’ their outlay by handing Sanchez increased wages.
The money in football is unfathomable to those in the stands but even the United squad would have raised a collective eyebrow at reported wages of £500,000-a-week.
United’s previous top earner, Paul Pogba, is believed to earn around £290,000-a-week and is said to be demanding an increase on his salary following Sanchez’s arrival.
Mourinho on signing Sanchez
‘Alexis is one of the best attacking players in the world and he will complete our very young and talented group of attacking players.
‘He will bring his ambition, drive and personality – qualities that make a Manchester United player and a player that makes the team stronger and the supporters proud of their club dimension and prestige.’
If the Chilean delivers, nobody will question United’s outlay but a failure to produce on the pitch could provide a problem in the boardroom. If Sanchez doesn’t pull his weight there will be a number of United stars demanding increases and future signings will look for parity with the Chilean’s pay packet.
United’s wages-to-turnover ratio still hovers around the 50% mark and the club will be comfortable with that. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is likely to depart in the summer, meaning another of the club’s big earners will be off the books but the likes of David De Gea and Juan Mata are due increases.
What next for Mesut Ozil?
The interest in Sanchez last summer spread throughout Europe but Mesut Ozil barely attracted attention from potential suitors despite being in the same situation as the Chilean.
The German’s position at the club remains the same as it was then; he’s yet to agree a new deal at the club and could walk out for free at the end of the season.
Arsenal remain hopeful of tying him down to a new deal but much could depend on who the Gunners attract this month to replace Sanchez. A move for Dortmund ace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in the balance but Ozil’s decision must be made for the long-term.
Ozil had a close relationship with Sanchez but ironically the Chilean’s departure could hand the German the upper hand in negotiations with the Gunners, who could be willing to stretch their budget now to keep him.
But Ozil must question himself whether staying at the club is a matter of finances. Arsenal were willing to make Sanchez the highest paid player in their history but the forward will argue he’s moved to win trophies. The German is 30 later this year and the Gunners look even further away from winning a league title than when he joined in 2013.
Are Arsenal the right club for Henrikh Mkhitaryan?
Mkhitaryan touted a lack of playing time as his main reason for leaving Old Trafford but it remains to be seen whether the Emirates will cure the problems he’s encountered in the Premier League.
On the face of things the Armenian appears a better fit for Arsenal than he does for United. Intelligent, nimble and energetic; Mkhitaryan possesses all the qualities associated with Wenger’s best sides.
He’s likely to take Sanchez’s left wing position but he’s at his best in the middle, where Mesut Ozil operates. The biggest bonus of playing the Armenian centrally is his ability to carry the ball from midfield into attack and Mourinho was an admirer of Mkhitaryan’s usefulness in transition.
Mkhitaryan’s record at Manchester United
The former Dortmund man is certainly likely to play more in north London and the removal of the incessant scrutiny that United players are subjected to will benefit Mkhitaryan’s performances.
Too often the Armenian would bow to the pressure at Old Trafford and good runs of form would be curtailed almost instantly by one abject performance.
Wenger’s softer approach could work wonders with the undoubtedly talented Armenian but whether he’s a success or not will be down to him.
Will Man City regret missing out on Sanchez?
Pep Guardiola’s side maintain they pulled out of a deal for Sanchez because of the Chilean’s extortionate wage demands.
City’s new-found sense of financial morality is bizarre but the short-term effects of missing out on Sanchez look to be minimal.
A 12-point lead at the top of the table means the title is almost certainly headed back to the Etihad in May but Sanchez’s arrival at Old Trafford could have a transformative effect on Mourinho’s side.
It’s clear Mourinho underestimated the rebuilding job that he took over 18 months ago but in Sanchez he has a genuinely world class performer that should hit the ground running.
Sanchez’s arrival crucially means United have one less piece of business to do in the summer and Mourinho can focus on improving United’s midfield and in full-back positions.
City will not miss Sanchez this season but they’ll regret letting him slip through their fingers if the Premier League title finds its way back to Old Trafford in 18 months’ time.