Alexis Sanchez scored for Chile in their opening game at the Copa America but will he ever be able to rediscover his best form? Adam Bate gets the view from Chile on the possible reasons for Sanchez’s struggles at Manchester United and what might happen next…
Over in Chile, they were looking for a sign. Anything that might suggest Alexis Sanchez is capable of rediscovering his best form. Even a converted penalty in a warm-up game in Sao Paulo was being offered up as evidence of a return. So Sanchez's performance in Chile's 4-0 win over Japan in their Copa America opener was understandably well received.
Just days earlier, he had not even been expected to start the game and admitted afterwards that for the past six weeks he had "felt worse than he ever had before" following knee and ankle problems towards the end of the Premier League season. But after suffering some stiffness in the first half, he recovered to provide an assist and score a goal after the break.
Sanchez's header, the first goal that he has scored in any competition in five months, was a trademark one - a diving effort from close range that showcased his desire when inside the penalty box. It is the sort of moment that many have come to expect from him in a Chile shirt, but the sort of moment that has now eluded him for far too long.
If Manchester United supporters have been left stumped as to why their highest paid player has struggled so badly since his switch from Arsenal in January 2018, it is a subject that has been the source of just as much consternation in Sanchez's homeland.
His iconic status there is assured having scored the winning penalty in Chile's historic Copa America triumph on home soil back in 2015. As a result, his fortunes are always followed closely and there is no shortage of speculation about his current malaise.
"The reason why it went wrong? That is the question that we all ask ourselves," Guillermo Cancino tells Sky Sports. Cancino is a journalist with El Mercurio, Chile's paper of record, and someone who is not afraid to put some of the blame on his fellow countryman.
"The question can have many answers, all are possible and none can be ruled out," he says. "Hopefully, one day Alexis can answer it because his performances have been very bad at Manchester United under both Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
"Perhaps he could do without the pressure of being the best-paid player in the Premier League. Maybe he has just not been able to adapt to the playing style and requirements at Manchester United. Maybe his romantic relationship ending brought him down emotionally. Maybe he struggled to adapt to a complicated dressing room with new team-mates.
"It must be said that he arrived at a difficult time with Manchester United in transition. But as a top professional, he should be able to adapt to new roles and positions, or to rebel, in the good sense of the word, to find his place and perform well in the key moments.
"It is a mixture of him and the team. But whatever the reason for his problems there, it is as if he were another footballer entirely, one who has lost the joy of playing, the desire to beat opponents with his dribbling, and the intention to lead the attack. The statistics at United are lamentable and very difficult to imagine when he first signed for the club."
For the record, Sanchez has scored three goals in 32 Premier League appearances for Manchester United. This after boasting a one in two record in league competition for both Arsenal and Barcelona over the previous six-and-a-half seasons.
The irony is that many had suggested he would benefit from the rare summer break that he enjoyed in 2018. The fear of burnout had been real after Chile called on him for the 2014 World Cup, back-to-back Copa America summers and then the 2017 Confederations Cup. The failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia last year provided the chance to rest.
Instead, Sanchez's form slumped. Injury disrupted his summer anyway and the burnout theory was flipped on its head. Perhaps his problems began with Chile's failure to qualify for the World Cup, thus robbing him of a major incentive to maintain his standards? And if the national team's struggles had put the flame out, could they also be the ones to reignite it?
"I think it will be very difficult to see the version of Alexis Sanchez that shone at Arsenal again," adds Cancino. "But I do think that if he regains his focus he can return to a high level. He is a good player who is capable of making a great contribution when he plays with the joy of old. Hopefully it will be like that. Whether at Manchester United or elsewhere."
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