Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United over Man City isn't just about money
This article was first published on Jan. 15 and has been updated.
Transfers, especially between two great rivals, can be emotive subjects, which explains some of the ludicrous aspersions cast on Alexis Sanchez's reported move to Manchester United. Of course money comes into his decision, but there's been an achingly tedious section of commentators claiming his choice is Pep Guardiola's holier-than-thou principles and the Evil Empire of Manchester United's riches.
Manchester City have offered Sanchez an incredible pay hike -- if it was purely down to remuneration, he could stew at Arsenal for a few more months and then accept a greater wage and signing on fee as a free agent in the summer. He could even move to China and play in the Chinese Super League, with all the money he could ever wish for.
But it doesn't even need to get that far to dismiss those who believe Sanchez is greedy. The simple fact why he is not wearing a Manchester City shirt is because they failed to agree terms with Arsenal, whether last summer or this month. It hasn't even got to the point whereby Sanchez has two simple choices, having been given permission to speak to both clubs. Manchester United are prepared to pay what Arsenal want, and Manchester City are not. They're the ones turning down Sanchez, because they are not prepared to pay what Arsenal want for him. He's not turning them down, he hasn't had the chance to. That's the crux of it, and a simple way of highlighting why this money talk is grating.
There's also been an irritating suggestion that Sanchez and Guardiola are meant to be, that the Chilean is desperate to be reunited with the man that coached him before. Why? Some seem to have this doe-eyed view of the pair's time together at Barcelona, which actually ended with a damp squib instead of this wonderful match made in heaven some portray it to be.
Guardiola became increasingly agitated with Sanchez's head-down, Energizer Bunny style at the Camp Nou during the 2011-12 season, the supposed thinking man's coach preferring a greater collective effort across the park rather than relying on individualistic brilliance.
Sanchez was benched for the crucial 2-1 defeat at home to Real Madrid in April 2012, his 70th minute strike seconds after coming on in vain. Barcelona lost to 10-man Chelsea to throw away the chance of reaching the Champions League final, Sanchez suffered with injuries throughout the campaign and at the end of it -- which saw Jose Mourinho win the title with Real Madrid in record-breaking style -- Guardiola left his job.
The man who bought Sanchez from Udinese didn't fancy managing him, or them, any more so the Guardiola/Sanchez relationship lasted just one season, in which Barcelona failed in their two main objectives: winning La Liga and the Champions League. Hardly sounds like the type of set-up Sanchez would be desperate to rekindle, does it? Just because Guardiola is probably the world's best coach right now doesn't mean everyone is aching to play for him. He's not a demi-God that footballers the world over throw themselves at. Perhaps, shock horror, Sanchez isn't obsessed with Guardiola and has been persuaded to pursue another path?
Of course Manchester United would be able to pay Sanchez handsomely -- and why are we damning people for choosing the best deal open to them, as if they should be vilified for thinking of themselves? -- but there's plenty of potential football reasons why he may favour Old Trafford. And in any case, what were Robinho, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Carlos Tevez et al choosing when they moved to City following their takeover in 2008?
United have been stagnant since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, desperately seeking someone who can lead their charge to the top. Mourinho, for all the claims he is yesterday's man and toiling in Guardiola's slipstream, still retains huge pulling power, and his psychological tactics should not be underestimated. Perhaps United's predicament has been conveyed to Sanchez, the want-away Arsenal man told that he is the leader Old Trafford needs right now. He can be the man to deliver Premier League success once more. At the Etihad he'd be another cog in an already well-oiled winning machine. Perhaps he values the challenge, rather than simply the pay cheque. It's not as if he's going to some backwater for a quick buck. For all their travails, United remain a big deal.
Can City's prospectus offer the same? Many will claim Sanchez is turning down a Premier League medal but how do we know this is the sticking point for him? Not many people get close to Sanchez to form a comprehensive dossier on his character but a few tell-tale clues, plus his ferocious playing style, suggest how much of a ruthless, driven winner he is. Would he really care picking up a Premier League medal that was largely won without him? The race is run and he'd only be there for the victory lap of honour.
His angry reaction to a 3-3 draw at Bournemouth last season while the game-saver Olivier Giroud larked around with a daft scorpion celebration said it all: Sanchez is a relentless, determined leader. Much in the same way Roy Keane doesn't believe himself to be a Champions League winner as he missed the 1999 final, perhaps Sanchez wouldn't feel he played such a part to make the all-but certain league title medal seem the sticking point in the deal.
Money, of course, plays a part but there's a litany of other reasons that may have persuaded Sanchez -- reportedly eager to play for United before -- to favour Mourinho.
It may leave those at City a little bitter at missing out on a big target to their big rivals, but a little perspective -- not least some introspection after another long term target has seemingly slipped away -- is required here.
Alex Shaw is General Editor at ESPN FC. Follow on Twitter: @AlexShawESPN.