Manero

The Wonder Kid Is Back

By: Alfonso Duro

In the summer of 2011, FC Barcelona traveled to Udine to catch one of the most exciting wingers on the entire European stage. Alexis Sánchez had been showing great progress with the Bianconeri and even from his exiled position in the right wing he was able to battle the top goal scorers in Calcio.

It was then that Sánchez’s life would forever be changed. At Camp Nou, the Chilean striker was made a member of the Tiki-Taka cult led by Pep Guardiola—a style of playing that didn’t suit his skills. And this, in turn, became a threat to his impressive rise.

ALL THAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN. Sánchez signed for nearly 40 million euros to play for Barcelona. At just 23 years of age, the “Wonder Kid” had just become a true worldwide star. And while the whole planet wondered if he would reach the level of the greatest attackers of his generation, at his new club his arrival created a certain degree of jealousy.

But things didn’t work out exactly as expected. It was hard for Sánchez to realize his full potential with the Culés, while his performances kept him in a continuous love-hate relationship with the fans. Yet, he should at least be glad he didn’t make it to the infamous list of top-level flop signings by Pep Guardiola.

It wasn’t until his last season in the club—coincidentally, the only one in which he scored more than 20 goals—that fans got to see the better side of him, and when they ultimately accepted him as one of their most precise attackers. Unfortunately, it was already too late for Sánchez: his train to glory had passed without making the scheduled stop in Barcelona, and it was time to pack up his things and find a new home.

A NEW GUNSLINGER FOR THE GUNNERS. Although the Wonder Kid left many friends in Barcelona, when Arsenal came knocking on his door, the Chilean simply couldn’t say no.

A great World Cup was enough to tip the balance. Arsène Wenger put 50 million euros on the table and made right some of his past wrongs (like when he decided not to reinvest Robin van Persie’s transfer money to get a world-quality forward for the Gunners).

Sánchez was just the player Arsenal needed, and vice versa. Quite contrary to what happened in Barcelona, Alexis was admitted to the tribe immediately and became the star of the moment, overshadowing even Mesüt Özil during his now-accepted early season hibernation period.

With three quarters of the year now gone, most of Arsenal’s chances to achieve anything in an otherwise forgettable season rests on the Wonder Kid’s shoulders.

A FIGHT TO REMAIN AT THE TOP. Alexis Sánchez will turn 27 this year and there’s little left in him of the player that wowed everyone at Colo-Colo more than a decade ago. He has grown from a speedy and skillful winger to a through-and-through attacker. Just as Guardiola hoped when he signed him for Barcelona, Alexis can now play effectively in any position on the attack—being able to adapt his style to playing both sides of the field, being left as a lone front man or even playing as a ball feeder to a purebred striker.

On top of this, Sánchez has been consistently finding the back of the net, both with Chile and with Arsenal, and that is the main factor he needed to seriously go for what should be his next target: the Ballon d’Or.

Having reached his prime, it seems like the right time to solidify his position within the small club of top players in the world. And while obviously most of his chances will depend on whether or not Arsenal continues to remain among European royalty, Alexis clearly has all the individual ingredients needed to be fighting for that precious prize.

LOGISTICS: Follow Alexis Sánchez on Twitter here

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.