90min

What Happened to Renato Sanches?

Grey Whitebloom
It's fair to say Renato Sanches didn't enjoy his greatest performances during an ill-fated loan spell at Swansea City
It's fair to say Renato Sanches didn't enjoy his greatest performances during an ill-fated loan spell at Swansea City / Athena Pictures/Getty Images
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In the cruel, meme-driven world of modern football, a single stray pass can haunt a player for years to come.

Portuguese one-time wonderkid Renato Sanches misplaced seven of his 22 passes during Swansea City's trip to reigning Premier League champions Chelsea in November 2017. But the one which hit the red Carabao Cup logo on the advertising hoarding - rather than a red-shirted teammate - is one which has come to define the midfielder's ill-fated loan spell in south Wales.

Renato Sanches was unsurprisingly hooked at half-time after his infamous pass against Chelsea
Renato Sanches was unsurprisingly hooked at half-time after his infamous pass against Chelsea / Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Just 35 matches for Benfica's senior team, aged 18 and in his maiden season of senior football, earned Sanches a call up for Portugal's Euro 2016 side and a mega-money move to German giants Bayern Munich. Three starts as his nation claimed their first ever international trophy that summer saw him named Young Player of the Tournament and award the prestigious Golden Boy.

In less than 12 months, Sanches had gone from a player Benfica bought for €750 - and 25 footballs - to the €35m European champion officially decreed the most impressive footballer under the age of 21 on the continent.

If the rise was rapid, the downfall was equally steep.

Sanches was afforded a measly six league starts under Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern before the affable Italian did what everyone thought was a huge favour, loaning the prodigy to his former assistant, Paul Clement, at Swansea City in the summer of 2017.

After being denied his number of choice following Premier League intervention - 85, the digits which adorned his back in that breakthrough season at Benfica - Sanches' nadir came with that stray ball at Stamford Bridge. In a bluntly candid interview with French publication l’Equipe after leaving the club, Sanches lamented: “It was not my choice to go to Swansea. I was forced to go there.”

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

Sanches picked up more yellow cards than Premier League goals and assists at Swansea
Sanches picked up more yellow cards than Premier League goals and assists at Swansea / Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Since featuring in almost two-thirds of the available minutes as Benfica claimed a league and league cup double, game time was distressingly hard to come by for the energetic Portuguese midfielder. A luxury he was momentarily granted upon his return to Bayern under Niko Kovac.

Admittedly, Sanches’ streak of nine consecutive Bundesliga appearances between September and November 2018 for Bayern was partly thanks to some notable injuries in the squad. This run may have also incorporated as many wins as defeats (three of each) but at least Sanches was getting out on the pitch.

This spate of minutes even prompted a return to the senior national team after 17 months in the wilderness.

Yet, just as Sanches conspired to contribute the only Bundesliga assist of his career - inadvertently teeing up the only goal against against RB Leipzig - the man christened 'Bavaria's rasta rocket' collected a needless second yellow card in stoppage time.

Sanches started just one more match - in a meaningless outing on the last day of the season - in the following six months before Lille swooped in to set his career back on track.

Another Portuguese midfielder already ensconced at Lille, Xeka, highlighted the link between Sanches' playing time and performance half-way through his maiden campaign in France, declaring: “He’s playing match after match and that’s making the difference now," as quoted by Goal. "It’s easier for him to show his level.”

After being fielded in a number of roles across Lille's midfield, Sanches began to thrive largely on the right hand side of a 4-4-2, taking on more and more opponents as his confidence swelled, driving Les Dogues up the pitch with a torrent of dribbles and contributing actively both on and off the ball.

In one curtailed season of French football, Sanches almost doubled his career output before arriving at Lille, netting three goals and laying on an assist as he hit double figures for league starts for the first time since his maiden season of senior football.

Intriguingly, Lille coach Christophe Galtier has returned Sanches to his favoured central midfield position this season, prompting a sizeable drop in his defensive output but a huge increase in progressive balls forward - doubling the number of completed passes into the final third with a staggeringly high average of more than ten per 90 minutes.

Lille have followed up last season's Europa League qualification with a guaranteed status among Ligue 1's top three on Christmas Day.

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

To plot Sanches' career arc on a scale of success versus time would depict a ski-jump slope in profile. Still only 23 years of age, Sanches has time on his side, but has already been burnt by making the leap of faith to one super club, can he risk making the same mistake again?


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