The curious case of Renato Sanches

From Benfica’s next wonderkid, to Bayern and Swansea reject, to finally realising his potential and finding his feet as recent Ligue 1 champions Lille.

Its safe to say that its been a rollercoaster of a career for the enigma that is Renato Sanches. In 2015, he turned heads from all of the biggest European clubs as he made his first team appearance for Benfica in the Primiera Liga and the Champions League, his first goal coming in the form of a thirty-yard worldie in the league against Académica, a strike which highlighted the talent and potential that the Amadora-born maestro possessed.

In his sole season with the As Águis, he led them to the League and Taca da Liga double, before Bayern decided to pull the trigger and pay the €35 million release clause to bring him to Munich. A deal that totalled €80 million, with the extra €45 million dependent on objectives set out by the German outfit.

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During his early career, and especially during his ‘Young Player of The Tournament’ winning displays at Euro 2016, he drew comparisons to Dutch legends Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids. Sanches’ ability to play as a dominant holding midfielder, a galloping box to box number 8, and a classy playmaker made him invaluable during Portugal’s winning campaign.

However, the big money move to Bayern didn’t pan out for the 2016 Golden Boy as he made only 25 appearances in his rookie season with the Bavarian side, 25 appearances that included just 4 league starts, only one of those starts lasting the entirety of the 90 minutes.

Without a single goal or assist to his name, it was a disappointing season for the player who wore the tag of fourth highest transfer in Bayern’s history. To be fair to Sanches, there aren’t many 18 year olds who would get half those appearances with a midfield that graced talent such as Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alacantara and Xabi Alonso, but the price tag warranted a better performance for him.

Although Ancelotti did state he would stay in Munich for the following season, his struggles with the language and integration into the squad saw him shipped off to Premier League strugglers, Swansea City. There was huge expectations him throughout the league and everyone expected for him to be a class above his teammates After a string of hamstring injuries, Sanches was sent home to warmer weather to aid his rehabilitation, and did not play a competitive minute for the Swans after 2 January 2018.

Needless to say, he did not pull up trees in the Premier League and he seriously conned optimistic Swans fans who would’ve thought that the potential he once showed could translate to their style of play and turn them into a top table side. I could imagine the amount of fans on the southwest coast of Wales who were looking at Renato Sanches’ best skills videos on YouTube only to be let down by a man who’s highlight of his career at the Liberty being a pass to an advertising board which he confused for a teammate.

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Returning to Bayern started well as new manager Niko Kovac wanted to integrate him to the squad based on the talent that he recognised in training stating:

I’ll try to make him feel good here. When someone feels good, it’s much easier to perform well. He has skills that you don’t see every day in the Bundesliga; that’s why FC Bayern signed him.

He backed the manager’s good faith by scoring his first goal for the club in the Champions League against his former club Benfica and was awarded Bayern’s best player for September. That form didn’t last too much longer with his happiness and discontent with the club coming to the fore at the start of the 19/20 season when he stated in a post match interview that he wished to leave the club after a 2-2 draw against Hertha Berlin, two days before his 21st birthday.

Imagine that, a man of that age wishing to leave one of the planet’s biggest clubs. At the time, it seemed like a brass and crazy decision. But oh how right he turned out to be. The Ligue 1 may not have the best competition week in week out, but they do possess a European powerhouse in Paris Saint-Germain, a team which had dominated domestically for the last decade, and a team that fell to the feet of Sanches’ Lille side during the 2020/21 season as Christophe Galtier’s side won the club’s first league title since the 2010/11 season. Sanches showcased once again that he does possess world class ability and he just needs the right mind frame and perhaps manager to do so. Galtier seems to be the man to recapture Sanches’ form as he was deployed all over the Lille midfield and found most success in the position vacated by Nicolas Pepe on the right of midfield, showing the alacrity that caught Bayern’s eye in his teenage years.

The form that ensured he left players such as Marcus Rashford, Ousmane Dembele, Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman in the dust as he won the world’s best young player in 2016 has been further displayed in his recent displays at Euro 2020. Although he did not start the first two games of the competition, his substitute performance in the loss to Germany showed that he had the steel, the guile and the battering ram ambition that they needed in their match against world champions France.

Again he showed his undeniable abilities and proved that at only 23 years of age, there’s still a world class ability within him, he just needs to work to become a world class player. For me, I have always thought he was a fantastic player who could play anywhere in midfield without really knowing at any one time which position he was meant to be playing. A combination of the right manager, right team and his willingness to unlock that potential.

If the rumours are true and Sanches is due another big transfer in the summer, I think PSG would suit him perfectly. A manager like Mauricio Pochettino is renowned for nurturing young talent, like he has done in the past, and PSG are crying out for more star power, especially in the centre of the park after Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City played through them during their semi final of the Champions League. Sanches would add class and power to that midfield beside Gini Wijnaldum and Marco Veratti. That midfield trio is something Pochettino could easily build around, giving Renato his second Hexagoal and possibly a chance at the long awaited European glory in the French capital.

For Benfica, the long list of graduates keeps growing, these players, along with Renato go to others such as Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Ederson and Victor Lindelof, just to name a few of their recent successes.

The Author

Jack Murray

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