Alexis Sánchez came to Barcelona with a big & growing reputation within the game. After being awarded the Serie A player of the year in 2010/11, the Chilean commanded a €26 million fee (with a potential €11 million in add-ons) when leaving Udinese, drawing a lot of attention on him as you’d expect. Unfortunately for him and Barça, though, he hasn’t quite settled in as initially anticipated.
His first season in Catalonia resulted in 15 goals and 5 assists in 41 games, a decent if unspectacular return. His second saw him contributing to a few more goals, with 11 goals and 13 assists in 46 – a very slight improvement from 0.49 to 0.52 direct goal contributions per appearance made. These statistics do pale in comparison when put next to the almost implausible ones of Lionel Messi, but they aren’t half bad in themselves. Of course not everything can be shown in statistics; his defensive contribution, work rate and facilitation of space are all astounding assets. All in all he’s a very gifted and intelligent footballer – and yet something just isn’t quite right with him at the Camp Nou, something which means that they are unlikely to see the best of him.
The problem with Alexis isn’t his talent, as some of the negativity around him suggests – it’s his style. As a player who thrives on space and instinct, the whole Barcelona system just doesn’t suit the Chilean. Teams playing against them will do their absolute best to limit the amount of space on the pitch and, with a lot of his attacking game focused on finding and exposing gaps in the opposition, his individual qualities are somewhat belittled within the more tactical approach which is taken. His natural tendencies mean that he often appears to over-think things when playing for Barcelona – exactly what he does. Going against your instincts is never easy.
Another factor contributing to this lack of real achievement in Spain is the position he has been played in. After having his most success as a ‘fantasisti’ (or free-role playmaker) at Udinese, which meant he was able to either start centrally or drift in from out wide, his role at the Camp Nou was and still is limited to being deployed mainly on the right wing. Despite this previous accomplishment, given that Lionel Messi occupies the areas which Alexis would most like to play in, the Chilean has an almost non-existent chance to play in his preferred role.
With the world’s best player inhabiting Alexis’ role, you have to question quite why Barcelona signed him in the first place. From a perspective of looking at ability only, the decision is understandable – he is a terrific talent. When you weigh in other factors like Messi and the contrasting style of the Blaugrana compared to his, however, question marks appear. Whilst the idea of transforming and nurturing someone to fit your needs is a nice one indeed, it is somewhat impractical in reality. Put simply, Barça don’t really need Alexis and Alexis doesn’t really need Barça.
That’s not to say he wouldn’t be a loss to the club if he left – despite the criticism he gets, he’s a brilliant player who has a lot of his career still ahead of him. Whether they should sell Alexis is a difficult question to answer given his clear talent, and Gerardo Martino’s appointment may have some influence on him, but given their conflicting styles a move away for the Chilean may well suit all parties better at this rate.