In an exclusive interview with Goal, Dick Law discusses the Chilean’s renewal saga and the pursuit of a World Cup winner
Alexis Sanchez agreed to a new Arsenal deal and the contract was with the lawyers – only for the Chile international to stage a last minute U-turn.
The future of Sanchez dominated the headlines during the final 18 months of his Arsenal stay, with the Gunners desperately trying to keep hold of the forward they had signed from Barcelona in 2014.
But ultimately he left with just six months of his contract remaining, joining Manchester United in January 2018 in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan move in the opposite direction.
Sanchez scored 80 goals in 166 appearances for Arsenal during his stay at the club – winning two FA Cups along the way in 2015 and 2017.
His departure was seen as a huge blow at the time, although he has gone on to struggle massively at Old Trafford – finding the net just five times in the past 18 months.
Prior to his exit, Arsenal did all they could to convince him to stay and thought they had done just that in December 2016.
“We had a deal,” revealed former transfer and contract negotiator Dick Law, during an exclusive interview with Goal – his first ever with UK media.
“It was in December and we had been talking to his agent [Fernando Felicevich] throughout all of 2016, the whole year. We got to December, I flew to Santiago and we did the deal.
“The soccer professional agreed to it on a phone call from Fernando’s office. Fernando and I shook hands and discussed how difficult the negotiation had been and we had the deal done.
“The contract team drafted the new contract and sent it over to the lawyers representing Sanchez and in that space of time, while the documents were being proofed, he changed his mind for whatever reason.
“We don’t know who got to the soccer professional, or why he changed his mind. But the bottom line was, he did.”
Following Sanchez’s change of heart, Arsenal were widely expected to cash in on the forward during the summer of 2017 after the FA Cup final success against Chelsea.
He still had a year remaining on his deal and Manchester City were consistently linked with a £45 million ($56m) move for the forward.
Arsenal, however, did not want to sell to a Premier League top-four rival – something Ivan Gazidis told Ferran Soriano when the Manchester City CEO called early on in the summer and first floated the idea of a potential transfer.
But the Gunners were aware that a bid could come in and so were in discussions with Monaco and Thomas Lemar about the French winger potentially moving to the Emirates to help fill the void left by Sanchez, should he eventually move on.
A formal offer didn’t arrive until deadline day itself, however, and in the end, the three clubs ran out of time to finalise the moves – with Arsenal unable to bring in Lemar from Monaco as a direct replacement.
“There were no formal offers for Sanchez until the end of the window when the Manchester City one came in,” explained Law.
“So then you run into a pretty simple calculation. It was the end of the window, literally the last day, and we wanted to be in a competitive position for the Champions League the next season.
“Were we more likely to compete for a Champions League position with Sanchez or without him? The decision was, we would be more competitive with him.”
Law added: “We did try to get Thomas Lemar that day, but it didn’t get done.
“We thought we had Lemar and then that would have meant Sanchez to Manchester City. It was as simple operation of using the Sanchez money to pay for Lemar.
“We had a deal done for Lemar, Sanchez had a deal done with City. But Lemar had been called up for France and Monaco had played the thing out and they ended up playing it out too long.
“They didn’t send a clear signal to the soccer professional before he left for the national team and when they did send that signal, Lemar was already there with the French national team on the day of their international match and the deal fell apart.
“It was a shame because it would have been interesting to see Lemar at Arsenal, but you have to move on from these decisions and circumstances. You can’t sit and dwell on what might have been.”
Sanchez eventually moved six months later, rejecting the chance to join City during the January window in favour of a move to Manchester United – who handed the Chilean a record-breaking contract believed to be worth around £500,000 a week.
It was a transfer that was celebrated at the time by those at Old Trafford, who saw it as a major coup, but Sanchez has been unable to repeat the sort of form at United that he showed so consistently at the Emirates.
“I don’t think Manchester United have got what they paid for with Sanchez,” admitted Law.
“United drive a hard bargain for players, they don’t usually go crazy with wages – but for some reason they went crazy on Sanchez.
“We never understood the transaction and I think Sanchez was just pushing to get out the door, but in retrospect I think he miscalculated.
“Is he a richer man today than if he kept his word on our offer in December, 2016? Yes, he has earned a few more millions. But I don’t know that he has been more satisfied and I don’t know where he goes from here.”
Sanchez’s exit and the way it played out ensured that the Chile international has been not viewed particularly favourably with the Arsenal faithful, despite what he achieved during his spell in north London.
But what can’t be questioned has been the impact he made while he was at the Emirates following his move from Camp Nou in 2014.
He arrived at a cost of £35m ($44m), with Arsenal seeing off interest from Juventus and Liverpool to land the frontman just a year after signing Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid.
“It all started with [former chief scout] Steve Rowley at the Toulon tournament,” explained Law.
“Sebastian Rozental, who works for the agency Twenty Two which has been owned by Sanchez’s agent Fernando Felicevich in Chile, walked over and said to Steve: ‘Sanchez has been going to leave Barcelona’.
“All of us being natural sceptics, we thought there was no chance when Steve called us. So we went back to the agents and they said it was true and that Barcelona had even given them a price.
“So I flew out immediately to Santiago to just get a sense from Fernando about how serious this was. If we were just going to be a stalking horse for Juventus or Liverpool who knew that they were losing [Luis] Suarez, then we didn’t want to play that game.”
Law added: “Off the back of that meeting I made the judgement that there was half a chance, but the closer on the deal was Arsene [Wenger] – he won that one for us.
“Arsene met with Fernando in Rio at the World Cup two or three times over the next 10 days talking about his philosophy, about where Sanchez could play, that sort of thing. Off the back of those conversations, Sanchez really took a liking to the notion of coming to London.
Article continues below
“Liverpool were throwing a tonne of money at him, but my understanding was that there was no real personal contact. My conclusion was that Sanchez felt like a makeweight in the Liverpool – Barcelona transfer negotiations for Suarez.
“It was more of a money deal than anything else and I think when you deal with South Americans, you have to throw a human element in there.”