Renato Sanches's loan to Swansea City was supposed to afford a talented rising star a chance to play. Instead, it resulted in a broken player whose confidence looks shot. There's reason to believe he'll bounce back, though.
It looks as though Renato Sanches' dismal time at Swansea has come to a premature end following news of his return to Germany on Friday morning. The Portuguese international has spent most of 2018 on the sidelines nursing an injury, and has been sent back to Bayern Munich as a result - with a return looking unlikely.
It caps off what has been a catastrophic seven months for the 20-year-old in South Wales, and no party involved with the loan will be happy with the way it has turned out. We've seen nothing but criticism thrown his way ever since his debut back in September. His time at the Liberty Stadium will be best remembered for that hilarious pass to an advertising board against Chelsea, but one tricky year in the Premier League will not define Renato Sanches in what will be an incredible career for the European golden boy - that's one obvious truth that we've learned from watching him week in, week out in Swansea.
Before we start singing his praises, let's jump on the critical bandwagon that's been circling Sanches for months and look at where it all went wrong for him...
His arrival on deadline day was an eventuality that the player himself didn't want. Former Swans boss Paul Clement has confirmed that. It was a tricky time for him; a poor debut season at Bayern, a summer of uncertainty and a complete lack of confidence landed him at a club that was a gargantuan step down from playing at the Allianz Arena. The pressure on Sanches to perform along with the lack of inner belief accumulated to a point where the 20-year-old boy became heavily damaged - and it was obvious in his performances.
It was a complete headloss. An understandable one, but in the most competitive league in the world that kind of thing is going to be amplified; and amplified it was. Decision making was out the window; stupid long range efforts on goal, wayward long passes when the simple option was a much better choice, and playground like hogging of the ball just made him look unbelievably out of his depth.
And this was a player that was the talk of the Portugal team that had won Euro 2016 only a year previously.
You could put it down to him thinking he's a cut above the rest of the squad which, quality wise, he probably is. But an attitude problem doesn't look to be the case. As poor as his form was, you could never question his effort on the pitch. He'd be everywhere, and it's one of the reasons why he will eventually go down as a great, and this dreadful term in Swansea will be nothing but a distant memory. It's that simple. Remember Frank Lampard's loan to the Swans? Of course you don't, because it's irrelevant to the rest of his career. Sanches' development will be the same.
But why is that? We all saw what happened to Fernando Torres' career once he'd left Liverpool for Chelsea on January deadline day 2011. From the best striker in the league to the worst overnight.
Sanches is still so young. At 20 he's probably got another 15 years in him - and a loan stint in Swansea will have little effect on the eventual finished product. Sure, his confidence is through the floor right now, but it won't be there forever. He'll return to Bayern, and likely take another loan stint - the best for him would probably be a return to Benfica; take him home, he's loved there, comfortable - it's a perfect breeding ground for success. From there it'll all pick up again.
His quality is fantastic. Every now and then we saw glimpses of it in the Premier League. Sanches can take on three players like they're nothing. He's not the tallest, but he's bloody strong, and he'll cut through players like butter. Defensively he's good - he can still improve - but he's competitive in that area.
Sanches has all the characteristics of a top level midfielder, and will run anyone into the ground. Like a midfield Carlos Tevez in his approach to the game. He's like a greedy little kid who doesn't want anyone else to play with his ball, and dedicates himself to winning it back. It's that work ethic that will take him all the way to the top.
It was weird to watch him play; you can see everything going through his head - he's eight steps ahead of the Swansea squad at any given moment because that's what he's been drilled into at Bayern. He's playing chess and Sam Clucas is off in the corner playing checkers. It's frustrating when no one else sees the things that he sees because it makes him look bad.
Of course, a large portion of his play is down to him and him alone, but Renato was actually too good for the team, and that played a part in his downfall.
He just lacks the experience. Whisper it quietly, but his stay in Wales will have probably done him the world of good in the long run. Until that point he'd had it perfect - Bundesliga title, Euro 2016, Portuguese league champion; he was playing FIFA on amateur.
Swansea was a reality check, the lowest point he'll probably ever have in his career, and he'll no doubt learn from it; it'll ground him. Form is temporary, class is permanent. Sanches will pick it back up and absolutely fly. Sure, he'll leave SA1 without a goal or assist to his name, but he's definitely learned a lot in the torrid seven months.
It's a real shame he didn't get a proper chance to play under Carlos Carvalhal, because it would've suited him down to the ground; it's a genuinely sad story.