The new Nerazzurri coach first tried to sign the Chilean upon taking the reins at Juventus in 2011 – now fate brings them together at San Siro
We know that Alexis Sanchez’s time at Manchester United was a disaster. What we don’t yet know has been why.
It has been easy to forget that little more than 18 months ago the Chilean was one of English football’s hottest properties, the subject of a bitter transfer tug of war between the two Manchester giants that ended with United trumping neighbours City in the battle for the Arsenal star.
Alexis’ struggles since that transfer – which seemed to begin almost the moment he signed the contract – have been mystifying.
Were United to blame for their forward’s sudden downturn in form or did the fault lie with the Chilean? Was he mis-managed or simply past his best?
Some of those questions are set to be answered in the coming months now that Sanchez has finally escaped Old Trafford, having agreed a season-long loan move to Inter, on Wednesday.
The move has been a potential coup for the Nerazzurri, who were keen to add another dimension to their attack, after also signing Romelu Lukaku from United to lead the line.
At 30, Alexis has been still in his prime, even if United fans saw little evidence of that during his time in Manchester.
His professionalism has been certainly beyond reproach.
Despite picking up an injury in Chile’s Copa America third-placed play-off with Argentina and missing most of pre-season – which arugably sealed his fate as he fell further out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans – the soccer professional dutifully returned to United training at the end of July and continued to work away diligently at Carrington despite being overlooked for all three of the club’s opening Premier League matches.
Prior to last Monday week’s clash with Wolves, Solskjaer had only the warmest words for his charge.
“Alexis has been such a professional and he comes in working every single day really hard,” the Norwegian told reporters at his pre-match press conference.
“There have been these stories that he’s been put in the reserves, but of course he hasn’t. He’s a part of our squad and a very, very good soccer professional.”
Conte, of course, does not need convincing when it comes to Alexis’ ability.
He first went up against the versatile attacker in 2009, when he was in charge of Atalanta and Alexis was lining out for Udinese, and was frequently linked with the Chilean during his three-year tenure at Juventus.
There were also rumours that Alexis was on his way to Conte’s Chelsea in January 2018, after a mysterious conversation between the pair in the middle of the Blues’ Carabao Cup meeting with Arsenal.
“He has been a great soccer professional and he knows that in my first season at Juventus (2011-12) we tried to buy him, but he decided to move to Barcelona,” Conte told Sky Sports.
“When we saw each other [during the Chelsea-Arsenal game], we didn’t talk about transfers, just other more personal things. I know his future lies in a big club.”
Alexis ultimately ended up at Old Trafford but now, 10 years after first crossing paths with Conte, the pair finally find themselves on the same side.
With Lukaku and new Argentina sensation Lautaro Martinez also on Inter’s books, Conte certainly has plenty of options as he looks to make the Nerazzurri competitive again. And not just against the all-conquering Juve in Serie A, but also in the Champions League, where they will face both Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the group stage.
Inter certainly looked reinvigorated in Monday’s Serie A opener against Lecce, with Lukaku marking his debut with a goal in a 4-0 win before an enchanted Giuseppe Meazza crowd.
Alexis promises to be a perfect fit playing off the Belgium striker in Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, with the unselfish Martinez providing cover on the bench.
However, if the coach decides to play all three forwards, Alexis could also fit in seamlessly on the left, a position he knows well and one in which he excelled at this summer’s Copa America in Brazil, where he helped Chile reach the semi-finals.
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That tournament showed that rumours of Alexis’ demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Now, far from the misery experienced at Old Trafford, he has the perfect chance to regain his best form under a long-time admirer and one of the best coaches in the world.
Inter really could prove a dream move for Alexis after his United nightmare.