Andy Mitten

Why Sanchez will end up at Barca

Andy Mitten

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So what attracts you, Alexis Sanchez, to Barcelona?  

The opportunity of playing in the best team in the world alongside the planet's finest players? The added bonus of speaking your mother tongue in a sunny seaside climate similar to your own? It may not be the Pacific, but not many people would turn their noses up at living by the Mediterranean.

Both Manchester clubs went for Udinese winger Sanchez and both feared the worst when Barca joined the race. City's petro-dollars can easily outspend the Catalans and even debt-laden United can compete with the side who outclassed them at Wembley - financially, if not on the pitch. Yet the odds are stacked against both.

Not for the first time they have been used as a pawn in transfer deals to ramp up the price of a player. Just as Ronaldinho chose Camp Nou over Old Trafford eight years ago, players from Latin America will almost always choose one of Spain's big two over an English side - all things being equal.

There are the obvious cultural similarities, but Barca and Madrid are perceived to be the biggest clubs in the world in South America, even if Manchester United can match them and surpass them in several areas.

Their influence is much stronger in the predominantly Spanish-speaking countries of South America, whereas the leading English clubs are more popular in Scandinavia and many parts of Asia.

Grow up in Buenos Aires and Barca or Madrid would represent the summit of your football dream; Sanchez is from northern Chile but promised his (now deceased) father that one day he would play for Barca.

However, if Sanchez was from Bergen his reference points would likely be United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea.

Still, Barca's greatest selling point isn't the city, but their team. That has been strengthened by their dominance in recent years, but not every player who gets a glorious welcome at Camp Nou departs thinking that they made the right decision.

Ask Alexsandr Hleb or Mark van Bommel if they did right choosing Barca - both have serious regrets about moving to Catalonia and have talked of having to rebuild their careers and reputations.

The likes of United cannot bleat. United benefit from their exalted status just as frequently, a force strong enough to prise Wayne Rooney from Everton, the club he grew up supporting and still supports.

Or Alan Smith, the Leeds fan and hero of the Gelderd End. More recently, Phil Jones left Blackburn, where he was likely to be an ever present next season, for a chance at establishing himself in United's first team next term. Players are fearful that the train may only stop once.

Money is only one factor. There are plenty of former United players who regret being so star-struck when they arrived at Old Trafford that they neglected to negotiate a better contract.

In the 70s and 80s, many would later find out that they would be playing for less money than what they would have been on at smaller clubs.

And there are players like Sanchez who are likely to turn down better-paid offers because they want to play for Barca. An unscrupulous agent may edge their client towards the best payers, a good one will listen to where his client wants to play. Sanchez is one of the very few players fortunate to have a choice.

The 22-year-old has gone from a relative unknown (he didn't even make the Marca guide list of the best 26 players in Serie A last year) to being the most in demand player in world football.

Yet when I interviewed his compatriot Mark Gonzalez in January 2010, he said: "Everybody is talking about Alexis Sanchez. He was a winger who became a striker. I think people will be talking about him after the World Cup. He's still young and gaining in experience."

Former Liverpool winger Gonzalez was correct. You may wonder where Sanchez will get a chance in Barca's starting XI, but Barca want to increase their squad size.

And with Bojan (who featured in 36 games) and Jeffren (who featured in 10) both set to leave, there is space for another striker, especially one as good as Sanchez.

If he stars in a Barca side that retains La Liga and Champions League next season then he'll have chosen correctly. If he turns out to be another Ricardo Quaresma and leaves after a season then he might well wonder what might have been if he'd headed for somewhere colder.

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