Pep Guardiola wasn’t alone in wanting Alexis Sanchez at Manchester City. In fact, their interest began long before Manchester United gazumped them for the attacker’s signature in January.

Mike Rigg, a former sporting director at the club, admitted to BBC World Football that his rigorous checks on the Chilean in 2011 even considered his shopping habits. On that occasion, Guardiola’s Barcelona beat Roberto Mancini’s City to the prize, securing Sanchez’s transfer from Udinese for an initial €26 million.

Sanchez’s eventual arrival in Lancashire six-and-a-half years later was more than signing Arsenal’s best player for United. The Red Devils showed they could compete with their nouveau-riche rivals off the pitch – potentially tightening the widening chasm on it – while seeming to revive the club’s knack of wringing every last drop from footballers at their peak or entering the swansongs of their careers. Sir Alex Ferguson had a remarkable strike rate when he scoured the market for short-term fixes in his attack.

Year Forward Age
1997 Teddy Sheringham 31
2004 Louis Saha 28
2007 Henrik Larsson 35
2008 Dimitar Berbatov 27
2009 Michael Owen 29
2012 Robin van Persie 29

The success stories with players in decline since Ferguson’s 2013 retirement have been meager. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s spell after joining as a 34-year-old was fruitful albeit brief following a serious knee injury in a Europa League quarter-final, while Radamel Falcao and Bastian Schweinsteiger fell flat under Jose Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal.

So far, United’s memories of Sanchez – who was unveiled just over a month after his 29th birthday – only merit storage in a hunched shoebox with the shot-shy record of Falcao and stiff stalkings of Schweinsteiger, rather than in the golden vaults alongside Teddy Sheringham’s equalizer in the 1999 Champions League final. Simon Stone, who works the Manchester beat for BBC Sport, tweeted on Sanchez last month: “Struggle to think of a big signing who has disappointed quite so much. Even (Juan Sebastian) Veron was good in patches.”

Why hasn’t it worked?

From a purely footballing perspective, the environment was uncomfortable to begin with for Sanchez. Manchester United had been involved in protracted rumors regarding a move for Inter’s Ivan Perisic in the summer of 2017, and various outlets have recently reported that Mourinho wishes he had the Croatian aboard rather than out-of-sorts Sanchez.

There was also a surplus of options in the position Sanchez often operated for Arsenal – impatiently scampering and scurrying down the left channel – before he signed a United deal apparently worth £14 million annually after taxes. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford already represented two elite choices in this slot, with Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard, and Juan Mata able to satisfy the role as well.

Mourinho seemed to acknowledge as much when he simply cited “options, just options” as his reasoning for omitting Sanchez from September’s trip to West Ham United.

OLI SCARFF / AFP / Getty

Then there is the basic issue of Sanchez not being a quintessential Mourinho player. Not only is his stature more diminutive than the 6-foot giant regularly favored by the Portuguese handler, but his tendency to gamble and therefore squander possession is looked upon distastefully by Mourinho. Only Salomon Rondon, Richarlison, and Jordan Ayew blooped more unsuccessful touches than Sanchez (96) in the Premier League last season, and he was dispossessed 83 times – placing him seventh overall in the division. When it came to his club, he was significantly worse than the next United player most liable to be robbed of the ball: Martial with a count of 55.

Mourinho is one of the least tolerant managers in world football when it comes to mistakes, and giving up possession is a glaring error by his high standards. The Times’ Paul Hirst understands Sanchez is also perturbed by Mourinho’s conservative mindset when he opts to laud the Tocopilla native’s defensive drudgery rather than praise his attacking contributions.

Off-field matters

There are apparently external factors at play in Sanchez’s difficulties, and ones that could purportedly lead to an escape to Paris Saint-Germain. (Not that he would find a pathway into the starting XI any easier in the French capital while Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, and Julian Draxler are on the payroll.)

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Similarly to how some claimed he was negatively perceived by Arsenal colleagues, Sanchez has reportedly made few alliances at Carrington. His incessant calls for the ball in matches are believed to be one point of contention.

Some teammates, however, are said to understand he has been affected by the break up of a relationship. There are further concerns he has struggled to settle in Cheshire – a leafy county awash with footballers representing clubs in the northwest – as he prefers city life.

Personal lives are seldom given consideration when it comes to underperforming footballers – but could the intrusive scouting methods of Manchester City have uncovered characteristics that indicated Sanchez would find it tricky to integrate in the dressing room or make a home in the northwest? If United vice chairman Ed Woodward’s procurement of Sanchez was partly encouraged by an opportunity to scupper City’s business, the power move is now a hollow statement and – as long as Sanchez keeps up a scoring rate of four goals in 28 appearances – a significant drain on the club’s payroll.

It would be a surprise if Sanchez started in Sunday’s Manchester derby – against the club he was so close to joining on two occasions – after another ineffectual outing in midweek against Juventus. Manchester City will be delighted to have Riyad Mahrez on their books, and to have unwittingly burdened their great rival with a player who clearly doesn’t suit United.

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