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The Finale of Manchester United’s Series of Galacticos

Throughout the turbulent post-Sir Alex Ferguson years, a total of five Galacticos were signed. While Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved to be an inspired signing, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, and to a smaller degree, Paul Pogba, all struggled in the wake of their big-money moves. However, while the performances of Di Maria and Falcao, harmed United’s on-pitch endeavours, the fifth and final ‘Galactico’ was to prove harmful both on and off the pitch.

In January 2018, United signed Alexis Sanchez, in a deal which United fans met with both shock and excitement. But unfortunately for United, Sanchez’s stint on the piano was the finest tune they would get out of the Chilean. In the weeks preceding the arrival of Sanchez, speculation was rife regarding the potential departure of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

In spite of a superb start to the season, assisting five goals in the first two games of the campaign, the performances of the Armenian declined at an astronomical rate. As a result, Mkhitaryan was included in a ‘player-swap’ deal for Arsenal’s star player, Alexis Sanchez. While Mkhitaryan was struggling in the weeks preceding his departure, Anthony Martial shone.

With three goals in consecutive games, including a stunning long-range effort against Everton, Martial’s superb performances suggested that the Frenchman may have finally come to the fore under Jose Mourinho, following a difficult first season under the Portuguese. However, following the arrival of Sanchez, Martial was largely reduced to a bit-part role to accommodate the Chilean.

The extent of the effect the implementation of Sanchez had on Martial is illustrated by his subsequent statistics. Following Sanchez’s debut on the 26th January, Martial didn’t score a single goal in the remaining four months of the season. The decision to alienate Martial would be understandable if Sanchez was performing exceptionally, however, the former Arsenal forward only managed three goals in the duration that Martial was excluded from the side. For many, this symbolised United’s short term approach, that had cast a cloud over the previous five years.

Not only did the arrival of Sanchez hinder Anthony Martial, but it also appeared to have a negative effect on the balance of the team. In matches that Sanchez started, United looked tangibly disjointed. This was partly due to the presence of both Sanchez and Paul Pogba on the pitch. Both of United’s Galacticos sought to occupy similar positions in the final third, ultimately meaning that neither player was able to flourish. This translated into United’s on-pitch results, with the Red Devil’s winning only ten out of seventeen games following the signing of Sanchez. 

The most damning indictment of Sanchez’s pejorative impact came in the UEFA Champions League last sixteen tie against Sevilla. Following a 0-0 draw away at ‘La Bombonera’, United needed a win at Old Trafford to progress to the quarter-final stage. Famously, United was defeated 2-1 a result that was disastrous in the context of United’s season. The lack of fluidity in attack on that woeful night was a sign to many that Sanchez had negatively affected United’s attacking play.

While Sanchez’s on pitch performances had a majorly negative impact on United, the nature of his transfer was to hit the club even harder. In order to persuade Sanchez to join the club, United gave the winger a contract worth £350,000 a week, £60,000 more than Paul Pogba. In addition, it’s estimated that Sanchez earns an extra £150,000 a week from commercial endorsements and bonuses.

This had a drastic knock-on effect at the club, with mainstays such as David De Gea allegedly demanding a wage increase due to the astronomical wage of Sanchez. Furthermore, United’s willingness to pay Sanchez £350,000 a week led to United fans becoming even more disillusioned with the running of the club.

This was illustrated when United declined to pay key central midfielder Ander Herrera £160k a week, leading to the Spaniard departing the Red Devil’s for Paris Saint-Germain. Similarly to the outlandish £200 million transfer of Neymar, the wages Sanchez obtained from United has drastically inflated the desired wages from the current players in the squad. 

Not only has Sanchez’s contract negatively affected the financial demands of the current squad, but it’s made United’s desire to sell the underperforming Galactico virtually impossible. Any potential suitors of Sanchez have understandably abandoned their pursuit of the Chilean due to his absurd wages.

It seems that the only way United will be able to offload Sanchez is if the club continue to pay a percentage of the £350,000 a week wage packet.  At a time where United are attempting to rebuild the current squad, Sanchez is a massive footballing and economic hinderance on the club. But ultimately, their inability to offload the Chilean is self -inflicted.

The only ameliorative aspect of the Sanchez debacle is that it appears to have ended Ed Woodward’s pursuit of ‘Galacticos’. After overseeing the predominantly disastrous endeavours of five elite stars, many view the tenure of Ed Woodward as a failure. Since the signing of Sanchez, United have reverted to their traditional transfer policy of signing rising stars, illustrated by the arrivals of Daniel James and Aaron Wan- Bisakka.

While Sanchez’s pianist endeavours were musically in key, his following contributions to the club were distinctively out of tune. But following the abandonment of the ‘Galactico’ era, Manchester United hope they can regain their ability to strike the right chord.

Written by Alexei Braithwaite

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