Renato Sanches recently returned to Stamford Bridge for the second time since his infamous advertising board pass over four years ago.
The embarrassing sequence, in which Sanches mistook a Carabao energy drink advertisement for a teammate, epitomised the murky depths that the young midfielder had sunk to. The season prior, Sanches had joined Bavarian behemoths Bayern Munich off the back of a Golden Boy-winning Euro 2016 campaign with champions Portugal.
Unsurprisingly, though, the youngster struggled for minutes in a stacked midfield. Thiago Alcantara, Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez, Joshua Kimmich and Phillip Lahm were all vying for spots in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting XI, which meant the new kid on the block didn’t get a look in. Thus, a loan move away was logistical and then Swansea boss Paul Clement used his connections with the German giants to bring Sanches to South Wales for the 2017/18 Premier League campaign.
Despite his quiet 2016/17 season, the Portuguese starlet arrived on UK shores with an abundance of hype, but he’d swiftly depart as a laughing stock and one of the all-time flops in Premier League history.
"“[Renato] thought he was going to Man United, Chelsea or PSG. When he came [to Swansea], he was far more damaged than I thought. He was a boy who had almost got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He got in a vicious cycle of poor choices. The other players were saying, ‘He’s playing like that and you’re not picking me,’ so it became difficult to pick him,” said former Swansea manager Clement."
But Sanches wouldn’t turn out to be a classic case of ‘peaking too early’.
The midfielder slowly rebuilt his reputation on his return to Munich before penning a five-year deal with French club Lille in 2019. Let the remontada begin!
Renato Sanches’ renaissance at Lille has seen him re-emerge as a bonafide star once more
The Portuguese international arrived at Stamford Bridge for Lille’s recent round of 16 first leg in the Champions League against Chelsea with the horrors of Swansea very much behind him. In France, Sanches has repaired his once tarnished prestige to re-emerge as a name courted by Europe’s finest.
Now 24, the Portuguese midfielder has matured considerably from his teenage years and he once again seems ready to try his luck at one of the continent’s elite.
Juventus’ interest in the player is long-standing. They identified Sanches as a possible alternative to Manuel Locatelli last summer amid protracted negotiations with Sassuolo. But their eventual – and inevitable – breakthrough in talks meant Sanches was never pursued. The Bianconeri, though, are plotting the reshape their midfield once again this summer.
Arthur Melo and Adrien Rabiot are two players that could depart, leaving the door open for a new regista and mezzala in Turin. Reports suggest that Sanches is back on Juve’s radar along with a lengthy list of midfield stars, but perhaps it’s the Portuguese international whom the Bianconeri should be keeping the closest eye on.
Why are Juventus right to be targeting Sanches this summer?
Well, Sanches appears the ideal fit for the mezzala function. The 24-year-old is a diminutive powerhouse with ballerina feet. He’s destructive between both boxes, with his ability to get his side up the pitch notable. The midfielder ranks second in the Lille ranks this season regarding progressive carries per 90 minutes (7.01!) and first for progressive passes per 90 (8.11).
In short, Sanches is a relentless ball-progressor and his versatility means he can comfortably rotate out wide and drift deeper to aid the build-up. While primarily a central midfielder, Christophe Galtier often deployed Sanches wide right during Lille’s title-winning campaign last season.
Massimiliano Allegri will undoubtedly have concerns over his defensive contribution, but the re-emerging Portuguese star certainly isn’t incompetent in this regard. Instead, the primary worry any club should have with Sanches is his injury record. Transfermarkt records 17 injuries for Sanches in his career thus far, with the vast majority of those being muscle issues.
His hamstrings are distinct sources of concern, while he missed nine games this season with a knee injury.
Thus, while Sanches would almost certainly be a cheaper deal to pull off for Juventus than, say; Paul Pogba (wages) or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (monster fee), there’s no denying the element of risk involved with signing the Euro 2016 Golden Boy. But that shouldn’t deter the rebuilding Bianconeri.
Sanches, as all of Juve’s reported midfield targets are, is a distinct upgrade over the lumbering Rabiot. He could play alongside Locatelli and ahead of a new regista, or perhaps Denis Zakaria, in a dynamic, progressive-looking Juventus midfield. Sanches would add heaps of dynamism, genuine craft from midfield and innovation in the final third.
The 24-year-old has five assists in Ligue 1 this season, with his 4.35 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes topping the Lille charts. He’s a carefree, free-spirited risk-taker capable of lifting rafts of supporters off their feet.
Renato Sanches has risen from borderline ruin to blossom once more into one of Europe’s most highly-regarded midfielders. He’s no longer the confidence-stricken adolescent plagued by self-doubt, but a bonafide star once again. For Juventus, the reward overwhelmingly outweighs the risk.