7 facts you did not know about Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal v Sunderland - Premier League
Sanchez celebrates in the rain.

Alexis Sanchez seems to be on the verge of completing a January move from Arsenal to Manchester United, thus ending his three-and-a-half year stay in North London.

The Chilean forward has been the media spotlight for some time, with his spell to England prefaced by a couple of years at Barcelona, but while some parts of his personality and story are well known, such as his love for dogs, others are less so.

Here are seven facts you did not know about Alexis Sanchez.

#1 His Childhood Was Tough

Sanchez was born in the small city of Tocopilla in northern Chile. His father left the family when he was young and his mother worked as a cleaner and sold fish every summer to try and make ends meet. Sanchez helped pay his way by cleaning cars at the gates of the city’s cemetery.

It was not an easy childhood, as his brother Humberto revealed in a 2014 interview.

“Alexis had nothing when growing up,” he explained. “He had to fight for everything he has. We were the poorest of the poor... Sometimes he was so hungry he would knock on neighbours’ doors and ask for bread. They would always give him what they had to spare.”

#2 The Local Mayor Gave Him His First Pair of Boots

Chile v Panama: Group D - Copa America Centenario
Sanchez received his first pair of boots from an unlikely source.

Sanchez learned his craft on the dusty streets of Tocopilla. It quickly became clear he had a lot of potential but his mother lacked the means to provide with a good pair of football boots.

So his mother turned to the city’s mayor Aleksander Kurtovic for help.

“My mother went to speak to him to ask whether he could find me some boots as I never stopped playing and I wasn’t such a bad player,” Sanchez told AS in 2014. “One day he showed up at our house with a pair of football boots. I can’t explain how happy and thrilled I was! I couldn’t believe it!”

#3 His Childhood Idol Was Marcelo Salas

Marcelo Salas
Marcelo Salas was Sanchez's idol.

Marcelo Salas is probably best remembered in England for his well-taken goal in Chile’s friendly victory over England at Wembley in the build up to the 1998 World Cup, but his long career on both sides of the Atlantic began and ended at Universidad de Chile--the club that Sanchez supported when he was growing up.

The buccaneering striker was hence an obvious idol for the young Sanchez.

Later, he had an opportunity that few get. In September 2007, he got to play alongside his idol, as he and Salas started together up front for the Chile national team in a 2-0 friendly win over Austria in Vienna.

#4 His First Salary Was £60 A Month

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At 16, Sanchez moved 150 miles east of Tocopilla to the mining town of Calama to join Cobreloa - the club at which his later international teammates Charles Aranguiz and Eduardo Vargas also took their first steps in the professional game.

The older members of the squad took him under their wing and taught him how to cook and look after himself. On the pitch, he showed enough talent in training and youth matches to earn his professional debut aged 17, in February 2005.

The opponents were Deportes Temuco and the venue was the 12,000-capacity Estadio Zorros del Desierto in Calama. He came on as a 71st-minute substitute in a match that Cobreloa won 5-4.

It was a humble beginning to a career that would later see him play in the top flight in Argentina, Italy, Spain and England, and it had a salary to match. Even after breaking into the first team, Sanchez was paid just 50,000 Chilean pesos a month - the equivalent of £60.

#5 His Nickname Was Given To Him By A Chilean Journalist

Chile v Switzerland: Group H - 2010 FIFA World Cup
El Nino Maravilla in action. In the aftermath of his debut for Cobreloa, Sanchez was given the nickname that has stayed with him up until the present day: el Nino Maravilla. The Wonder Kid.

The man who bestowed that sobriquet upon him was local journalist Jaime Cortes, of the newspaper El Mercurio de Calama.

“Sanchez had shown in training sessions that he was an outstanding player, even though he was small and thin,” Cortes recalled in an interview in 2011. “The day that he debuted, he pretty much changed the course of the match. That day, the idea of calling him La Pequena Maravilla came to me... and it became el Nino Maravilla.”

#6 He Is Chile's All-Time Top Goalscorer

Chile v Australia: Group B - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
At 29 and with presumably still a few years ahead of him at international level, Sanchez is already the joint most-capped player, alongside Claudio Bravo, in the history of the Chilean national team but also the country’s top goalscorer.

Sanchez’s total of 39 goals from his 119 appearances put him two clear of his idol Marcelo Salas in the all-time standings and four clear of his regular international strike partner Eduardo Vargas, the closest active player.

Indeed, among other members of the country’s golden generation, winners of the 2015 Copa America and the following year’s Copa America Centenario, Sanchez is certainly in the argument as the greatest Chilean player of all time.

#7 He Gives Back To His Hometown

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Sanchez is understandably a hero to the people of Tocopilla, but not just because they are proud of what he has achieved in the game. He also gives back.

The Premier League schedule means that he has been unable to do so in recent years, but when he was playing in Spain and Italy, he returned every Christmas to distribute presents to the city’s inhabitants from an open-top float.

Sanchez has also paid for the construction of football pitches in Tocopilla, providing future generations with a place to hone their talent and perhaps, eventually, follow in his footsteps.

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Edited by Karan Khandelwal
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