Why Swansea City is the last chance saloon for Renato Sanches
In the summer of 2016, if you’d have told someone that by September 2017, Renato Sanches would be playing for Swansea City, you probably would’ve been laughed at. After all, Sanches was the new Portuguese wonderkid; he’d had a fantastic first season for Benfica and then at just 18 he’d lit up the European Championships as Portugal won the tournament, being named as the Young Player of the Tournament in the process.
Sure, he was rumoured to be heading to the Premier League, but for Manchester United or Chelsea, not a club like Swansea City.
In the end, Sanches would make a big money move not to England, but to Germany, with Bayern Munich. Around £27.5m was what it took for Bayern to secure his signature, and it was expected that Sanches would go on to star for the Bavarian club for years to come. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at all.
The move turned out to be a disaster; Sanches made just 25 appearances for Bayern in 2016/17, mostly as a substitute, only started four league games, and didn’t register a single goal or an assist. It was unbelievably disappointing given how good he’d looked in the summer.
And so once the 2017 summer transfer window opened, the likelihood of him remaining in Munich seemed minimal. Despite his disastrous season, he wasn’t short of suitors. Manchester United were again linked with him, as were Liverpool and Chelsea. Outside of the Premier League, the word was that AC Milan, Monaco and Paris St. Germain were also interested. But instead, South Wales turned out to be his destination. So why?
Basically, the move makes sense from a Bayern perspective. The larger clubs wanted to buy Sanches outright, or take him on a season-long loan with at least a clause to allow them to buy him permanently at the end of the term. Swansea, on the other hand, have signed him on a loan-only basis, paying £4m for his services.
And at Swansea, he’ll be working alongside Paul Clement, a man who's well known and respected greatly by Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti and the Bayern brass due to his stint there as Ancelotti’s assistant prior to his move to Swansea. And naturally, the idea is for him to return to Munich at the end of the season, hopefully, renewed as a player and with his momentum back.
The fact that Bayern expect him to come back means they haven’t lost faith in him just yet, but there can be no doubt that this season in South Wales is essentially the last chance saloon for Sanches, particularly from the perspective of his future in Munich.
So what went so wrong with the move? In hindsight, it’s quite easy to understand. Sanches was just 19 at the time of the move, and while other young players making big moves have succeeded greatly – Wayne Rooney’s move to Manchester United in 2004 for instance – they have tended to be moves within the same country. There were fears over Kylian Mbappe’s future when it was rumoured that he was moving to Real Madrid, but by moving to PSG instead, within France, it’s likely he’ll be far more comfortable and have a bigger chance of success.
Sanches meanwhile found himself in a strange country, was unable to get a quick grasp on the German language, and at just 19 most likely couldn’t cope. It also didn’t help that in reality, Bayern didn’t need the player. Like many other big clubs, they have a tendency to stockpile players, making it difficult for younger stars to break through.
Sanches started the early games of the season but once it became clear he was struggling to fit in, it was easy for Ancelotti to replace him with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal or Thiago Alcantara. But remember it was never reported that Sanches had attitude problems or wasn’t training correctly, or any of the criticisms usually fired at out-of-form young talent.
This is why Swansea could be a good move for him. The move has been criticised by some because of the feeling that Swansea’s squad – consisting of mid-level talents like Tom Carroll, Wayne Routledge and Leon Britton and a handful of prospects – Tammy Abraham and Alfie Mawson mainly – isn’t good enough to help Sanches improve his game to the point where he’s ready to return to Bayern.
But in reality, does Sanches actually need to improve his game? That’s questionable. Remember that this was a player who, at Euro 2016, outshone the great Cristiano Ronaldo for large portions of the tournament.
Sanches doesn’t need to improve his own game; instead, he’s there to help Swansea to improve their standing in the Premier League, and in the same breath, re-establish himself as a top talent in the European game. He’s there to create goals for Abraham and the returning Wilfried Bony; to give a holding midfielder like Britton someone to shield as he charges forward; to give the Swansea fans something to believe in and to enhance Paul Clement’s reputation as one of the Premier League’s best up-and-coming coaches.
Essentially, he’s at Swansea to attempt to play the same role that the legendary Juninho did at Middlesbrough back in the mid-1990’s, not to become the next Bojan who struggled throughout his time at Stoke City.
But what if Sanches fails at Swansea? The possibility is definitely there. He’s been substituted in both of his opening games for the club and hasn’t really set the world on fire thus far, but then he’s only played two games. And as with Germany, England isn’t his home country of Portugal and the Premier League is a very different place to both the Bundesliga and Portugal’s Primeira Liga. And the move is a relatively low-pressure one, too.
While he’s the main attraction at Swansea as their biggest-name player – and even that’s arguable with the return of Bony – he isn’t close to being the main attraction of the Premier League. When you factor in big names like Harry Kane, Paul Pogba, Alvaro Morata and Wayne Rooney, as well as newcomers like Gabriel Jesus, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Alexandre Lacazette – all at huge clubs – Sanches at Swansea is practically small-fry in comparison.
Essentially, he can fly under the radar. This means that the pressure on Sanches at Swansea isn’t anywhere near the level it was at Bayern last season – he’s seen as someone who failed at his first attempt at the big time, not the best Portuguese talent since Cristiano Ronaldo and the new Clarence Seedorf – and so his chance of success seems much greater. If he does fail, however, what would then happen to him?
He’s young enough to recover, particularly with his talent, but he’d go down as one of the all-time busted prospects. Most likely, Bayern would no longer want him and nor would one of Europe’s bigger clubs. He’d most likely end up back in Portugal, quite possibly with Benfica again.
All in all, it means this one-season stint at Swansea City is likely the last chance saloon for one of Europe’s brightest up-and-coming stars. With any luck, he’ll make the most of that last chance and get back onto the road to glory. As a football fan, he’s got too much talent to end up lost in the shuffle.