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What happened to Renato Sanches?

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In the cruel and even world of modern football, a single lost pass can haunt a player for years to come.

Portuguese prodigy Renato Sanches misplaced seven of his 22 assists on the trip from Swansea City to reigning Premier League champions Chelsea in November 2017. But whoever hit the red Carabao Cup logo on the billboard – rather than a teammate in a red jersey – is the one who has come to define the midfielder’s ill-fated loan spell in South Wales.

Chelsea v Swansea City - Premier League
Renato Sanches was unsurprisingly hooked at half-time after his infamous pass against Chelsea | Athena Pictures / Getty Images

Just 35 games for the 18-year-old Benfica’s senior side and in their debut senior football season earned Sanches a call-up for the Portuguese team at Euro 2016 and a mega-silver transfer to the German giant Bayern Munich. Three starts as his nation won its very first international trophy that summer, named him Young Player of the Tournament and awarded the prestigious Golden Boy.

In less than 12 months, Sanches had gone from a player Benfica had bought for € 750 – and 25 soccer balls – to the 35 million euro champion officially declared the most impressive under-21 footballer. from the continent.

If the climb was fast, the fall was just as steep.

Sanches was entitled to six meager starts in the league under Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern before the affable Italian did what everyone thought was a huge favor, crediting his former assistant, Paul Clement, to Swansea City in the summer 2017.

After being denied his choice number following Premier League intervention – 85, the numbers gracing his back in that decisive season at Benfica – Sanches’ nadir came with that stray ball at Stamford Bridge. In a frank interview with the French publication L’Equipe after leaving the club, Sanches lamented: “It was not my choice to go to Swansea. I was forced to go.

Clement later claimed that Sanches was much more damaged than [he] thought’. His successor at Swansea, Carlos Carvalhal, went further and said that: “Renato has a great talent but he stopped learning when he left Benfica.

Swansea City v Southampton - Premier League
Sanches collected more yellow cards than Premier League goals and assists in Swansea | Athena Pictures / Getty Images

Since playing in almost two-thirds of the available minutes as Benfica clinched a brace in the league and the League Cup, playing time was woefully difficult to find for the energetic Portuguese midfielder. A luxury that was momentarily granted to him on his return to Bayern under Niko Kovac.

Certainly, Sanches’ streak of nine consecutive Bundesliga appearances between September and November 2018 for Bayern was in part due to notable injuries in the squad. This race may also have incorporated as many wins as it lost (three of each) but at least Sanches was coming out onto the pitch.

That streak of minutes even prompted a return to the senior national team after 17 months in the wild.

Yet just as Sanches conspired to contribute to the only Bundesliga assist of his career – inadvertently scoring the only goal against RB Leipzig – the man dubbed ‘Bavarian rasta rocket’ picked up a second unnecessary yellow card in downtime.

Sanches only started one more game – in an insignificant outing on the last day of the season – in the next six months before Lille stepped in to get their career back on track.

Another Portuguese midfielder already in Lille, Xeka, highlighted the link between playing time and Sanches’s performance at the midpoint of his first campaign in France, saying: “He plays game after game and that makes the difference now, ”as reported by Goal“ It’s easier for him to show his level. ”

After being lined up in a number of roles in the Lille midfield, Sanches began to thrive largely on the right side of a 4-4-2, facing more and more opponents as his confidence grew. , pushing Les Dogues on the ground with a torrent. of dribbling and actively contributing both on and off the ball.

In a cropped season of French football, Sanches nearly doubled his career output before arriving at Lille, scoring three goals and securing an assist as he hit double digits for league starts for the first time since his debut. senior football season.

Oddly enough, Lille coach Christophe Galtier sent Sanches back to his preferred central midfielder position this season, causing his defensive output to drop significantly, but a huge increase in forward progressive balls – doubling the number of passes completed in the last third with an incredibly high average. more than ten for 90 minutes.

Lille followed the Europa League qualification last season with guaranteed top-three status in Ligue 1 on Christmas Day.

Sanches’s rejuvenation has even prompted talk of a move to reigning Premier League champions Liverpool in the upcoming winter window.

To plot the Sanches career arc on a scale of success over time would represent a ski jump slope in profile. At only 23 years old, Sanches has time on his side, but has already been burned by making the jump to a super club, can he risk making the same mistake again?

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