Romelu Lukaku sold, now Alexis Sanchez has landed in Milan to join him. Two troublesome yet totemic players transferred out of Manchester United in one summer.
Their exits have very much split the United fanbase. Which side of the fence do you sit on? Good riddance or ‘Good god, what is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer playing at’?
There’s methodology to the Norwegian’s notions, but the moves might also seem like madness.
Getting rid of two senior players in the same window does seem more nonsense than nuanced. One is only 26 but is the Premier League’s joint 18th most prolific goalscorer ever – tied seventh when you weigh his output on ratio (113 goals in 252 games), which is better than Wayne Rooney, Robbie Fowler, Frank Lampard and eight others who have found the back of top flight nets more times.
The other is both his country’s record goalscorer and caps holder, has won back-to-back Copa Americas, as well as major trophies in England and Spain.
Solskjaer is putting his faith in youth, re-instilling traditional Old Trafford values. It’s admirable. Diehard United fans are all for it. It’s a component which has been missing at a club that has long prided itself on uncovering and nurturing young talent – especially their own.
But has the boss given any thought to an injury crisis? United’s striking department right now consists of three players: Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood.
Greenwood isn’t 18 until October. Martial is the eldest, at 23, and remains very much a work in progress, as does 21-year-old Rashford.
The England international’s highest Premier League goals return to date is the 10 scored last term. Martial’s is 11 in a debut 2015/16 campaign which promised so much.
Sanchez’s best return? Twenty four in 2016/17. Lukaku’s? Twenty five for Everton the same season.
Throw in Juan Mata and Daniel James to United’s forward options for good measure. Now compare them to the attacking ranks at the other ‘Big Six’ members.
Manchester City: Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterlling.
Liverpool: Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri.
Tottenham: Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura.
Chelsea: Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud, Pedro, Willian, Michy Batshuayi.
Arsenal: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe.
United’s unit is the sixth best in terms of output, experience and depth. It would make sense to have kept at least one of Lukaku or Sanchez around.
Then again, would it really have been more beneficial? In regards to actual numbers of bodies and experience, yes. Of course it would. But outside of the superficial facade of keeping up appearances with peers and pleasing social media hoards? In terms of team harmony, spirit, solidarity and togetherness? No, it wouldn’t.
For example, Sanchez was reportedly on an eye-watering basic wage of £350,000 per week at United – yet produced five goals in 45 appearances. Sure, he was on the wane when United prised him away from Arsenal. Miles put on the legs while travelling constantly for Chile during his summers were beginning to take a toll.
But even in that porous final half season at the Emirates, Sanchez still scored a respectable eight goals in 22 appearances. In the Copa America this summer a renaissance seemed apparent when he scored twice and created another, before injury curtailed his involvement and, subsequently, his pre-season and likely 2019/20 early season participation for Inter.
Teemu Pukki, meanwhile, in three top flight games since earning promotion, has doubled Lukaku’s tally of goals against the’Big Six’ following two strikes against Liverpool and Chelsea in Norwich City colours.
Look past the Lukaku goals – 28 in 66 Premier League games and 42 in 96 overall – and it was clear he doesn’t fit into a United team, especially under Solskjaer.
He has always been pegged as a flat-track bully, a player who can steamroller the ‘farmers’ of the league, but not the aristocracy fraternising at its peak.
Of those 42 United goals, only four came against elite teams, and just one against the top six, in a 2-1 league win over former employees Chelsea in his debut season. The others? The brace in the Champions League last-16 second-leg win over PSG last season and a consolatory strike against Real Madrid in the 2017 UEFA Super Cup – a glorified friendly.
Sanchez is finished at the top level, while Lukaku is arguably never going to be good enough to thrive there. Then there is the reported dressing room disharmony.
Lukaku and United’s most influential player, Paul Pogba, used to be close. They holidayed together in America the same summer he arrived. But their relationship soured long ago and he had few friends in the dressing room upon vacating it.
The Belgium striker apparently annoyed staff during pre-season by pulling up early in training sessions citing a niggle. Pessimists would perhaps see this as a ploy, to not risk injury ahead of a potential transfer. There was also the debacle over releasing sprint speeds of senior players from a training session on social media.
As for Sanchez, how long do you think it would be before his astronomical salary would be questioned by more productive members of the squad? Not long, as has already been proved. Rashford’s signing of a lucrative new deal thought to put him on £200,000 a week might seem extortionate to many, who feel he hasn’t fully proved himself. But when you compare his 19 goals in 69 games since Sanchez’s arrival to the Chilean’s five in 45, he’s prolific.
The two reuniting in blue and black might fill Inter fans with delight. But the Nerazzurri need more than a fading star and cumbersome giant to topple juggernauts Juventus.
If Solskjaer’s methods do turn out to be madness rather than magic, then he will get what he deserves. But for now, let him carve his masterpiece. By the end of the 2019/20 season it’s more likely the departed duo and Inter will be singing the blues than the new-look Red Devils.
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