If Alexis Sanchez winds up at Manchester United, how could that impact the three clubs most prominently involved in his transfer saga?
Alexis Sanchez certainly appears headed to Manchester United.
The Arsenal forward is out of contract at the end of the season, and after appearing like a lock to go to Man City, Pep Guardiola's side pulled out of the running, reportedly over the player's agent going back on his word. Chelsea was reportedly in the race as of Monday, but that reeked of an agent throwing another club into the ring to drive up the price of the transaction. Antonio Conte himself didn't seem to think that the Blues were interested in signing the Chilean star as of his Tuesday press conference.
With seemingly no other bidders willing to spend big to land a player they could sign for free this summer, that leaves Man United essentially bidding against itself and Arsenal in a position of cautious leverage. If United truly wants Alexis, Arsenal can set its demands and wait two more weeks until they're met. If the Gunners push for too much or change the equation as the deal nears culmination, though, then they risk being left without anything to show for the Chilean superstar this winter, must employ a lame-duck player for the remainder of the season and will surely lose him for nothing come summer.
The parameters of a deal seem like they're changing by the hour. With everything from a £35 million transfer fee, to a fee plus Henrikh Mkhitaryan going to Arsenal, to a straight player swap between the two parties, this transfer saga is far from settled. But indulge the rumors and reports and presume that Alexis is indeed on his way to Old Trafford. Let's take a look at the best possible outcomes for the teams involved in this prolonged soap opera:
Alexis joins in a straight swap for Mkhitaryan. The club doesn't have to drop a massive transfer fee or worry about having an unsettled star in its ranks. Mkhitaryan appeared to reach his peaks under Jose Mourinho last season, but then dipped back into the valleys this season, and the manager appears to have no urgency in trying to lift the Armenian star back up given the other talent at his disposal. Instead of being forced to work out the problems internally, Man United can do what most financial powerhouses can do these days, and that's buy its way out of the conundrum.
Does Alexis fill a need area? And at 29 and in the midst of a subpar season by his lofty standards, does he have top-tier years left in his tank? Those are Mourinho's new questions to answer, but it's a better problem to have than retaining an unhappy Mkhitaryan. In the meantime, the Special One is thrilled as he believes he's pulled one over on his arch-nemesis, Guardiola. As for Alexis's impact on this season, it's hard to see him making a true difference, with the club already in good shape to finish in the top four in England and reach, at the very least, the Champions League quarterfinals.
The club could miss out on a transfer fee, but in lieu of that it lands a talented playmaker in Mkhitaryan, then spends big to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund–funded in part by the forthcoming sale of Theo Walcott–and recreates the BVB magic of years past. New chief scout Sven Mislintat, who used to preside over Dortmund's signings, takes a victory lap for remaking the club's attack with its two key stars, Alexis and Mesut Ozil, out of contract at the end of the season.
Ozil and Mkhitaryan are redundant, but Arsenal now has the insurance policy in place to allow the German international to walk and it has the proof to quiet its fans who demand the club spends more to compete with the Premier League's top tier. Mkhitaryan is rejuvenated by the move, and Arsenal now has the momentum and new blood to both make a top-four push and win the Europa League. It returns to the Champions League stage by one of those two routes–and the April 28 meeting at Old Trafford is not decided by an Alexis game-winner.
Man City has the advantage of watching all of this unfold knowing full well that it'd take a collapse of historic proportions for the club to miss out on the Premier League title this season. Adding Alexis would have provided cover for the injured Gabriel Jesus, while incorporating more depth for a run at the Champions League crown. But ultimately, he would have been a luxury addition–one that Guardiola would have enjoyed but certainly didn't need.
Money isn't an issue, and if City feels it has holes to plug for its run this season and beyond, it has two weeks to go find more options that fit the bill. Most importantly, the club doesn't wind up bringing in a bit player that it is forced to pay like a starting contributor. City's locker room and team psyche is stable. There's no use in jarring it by poking at player ego and adding even more financial competition. Ultimately, Alexis's arrival at United provides a logjam in the attack there and prevents the club from signing longer-term solutions like Antoine Griezmann. As City will learn, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make.