Alexis Sanchez’s decision to turn down Manchester City in favour of a move to Manchester United from Arsenal back in January caught many by surprise. What has perhaps been even more surprising is just how little impact the Chile international has had since turning up at Old Trafford. Handed the famous number 7 shirt, Sanchez seemed tailor-made for the role. An established world-class player – who had already proven himself in the English Premier League during his time with the Gunners – joining a club desperate to return to the top seemed like a match made in heaven.
Not long after the 29-year-old’s arrival was announced by United, Sanchez grabbed two assists on his Reds debut, albeit against League Two outfit Yeovil Town in the FA Cup fourth round. Just over a week later, making his Old Trafford bow, the Chilean found the back of the net at the Stretford End in a routine victory over Huddersfield Town – scoring the rebound from his own saved penalty kick.
Since then, however, the former Barcelona man has been hugely disappointing, with that strike against the Terriers the only goal to the winger’s name from his 10 appearances for his new club. Whilst Sanchez has been far from the only underperformer for the Reds, his displays have arguably been the most alarming. His arrival has seen the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford either pushed out to their less-preferred right-wing spot or out of the starting XI altogether, whilst in midfield, Paul Pogba has also appeared to have been unsettled by the addition of another superstar.
Upon his unveiling by United, it was widely expected, with some justification, that Sanchez would be able to handle the pressure of being handed the famous number seven shirt and add his name to an illustrious list of stars to have worn that shirt before him. Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid back in 2009, many have been handed the legendary number, with very little success.
Shortly after the Portuguese’s departure, the number seven was surprisingly bestowed upon Michael Owen, who had just arrived on a free transfer. Whilst the England international secured cult status by scoring that stoppage-time winning goal against Manchester City, he did not do much else of note during his time at Old Trafford.
Antonio Valencia was rewarded for his fine 2011/12 campaign by being handed the famous shirt but the Ecuadorian was unable to replicate his previous season’s performances and reverted back to his number 25 after just one term.
United thought they had finally found Ronaldo’s heir when they landed Angel di Maria for £59.7 million back in 2014. Fresh from playing a starring role in Real Madrid’s Champions League win a few months earlier, the Argentina international made an impressive start to life at Old Trafford. That form, however, would not last much longer and the winger joined Paris Saint-German less than a year later, with his tail between his legs.
Not long after the Argentine’s departure, the number seven shirt was filled by the hugely-talented Memphis Depay, who arrived from Ajax for £25 million with a reputation as one of Europe’s brightest talents. After a promising start, the Dutchman was in and out of the team, producing only flashes of brilliance, before Jose Mourinho sanctioned his departure to Olympique Lyon.
Enter Alexis Sanchez. On paper, the Chilean is perhaps the best equipped to add his name to United’s list of illustrious number sevens. His arrival in January was supposed to galvanise United in their pursuit of City and of the Champions League title. Instead, the Reds have lost further ground to their arch-rivals and exited Europe at the first knockout stage, barely putting up a fight against the Spanish outfit Sevilla.
Of course, it would be unfair to think that Sanchez is doomed to succeed at United after just a couple of months. The Chilean is experienced enough, as well as talented enough, to overcome his teething problems and leave his mark at Old Trafford. Mourinho has shown, however, that he is prepared to drop his most high-profile players – as Pogba can testify – if they are not performing and Sanchez will be aware that he must up his game considerably if he is to be a success at United.
Some of the Reds’ previous number sevens have arrived with huge reputations, only to see their inability to fill the shirt get the better of them and leave Old Trafford as damaged goods. At this stage of his career, Sanchez will be hoping to buck the recent trend and turn his fortunes around, becoming the latest in a long line of historic United number sevens in the process.