London (AFP) – Alexis Sanchez’s long-running transfer saga finally ended on Monday when he left Arsenal for Manchester United in a deal that will reportedly make him the highest-paid player in the Premier League.
Here AFP Sports picks out five facts on the 29-year-old Chile striker:
Sanchez grew up in abject poverty — his father abandoned the family shortly before he was born — in the Chilean coastal town of Tocopilla. His mother Martina sold fish and Sanchez earned some money washing cars. While still a boy, he swore to her and his three siblings that one day they wouldn’t have to worry about where the next loaf of bread would come from.
He told Spanish newspaper El Pais in 2013: “I’d say to my mum, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be a footballer and everything will work out -– we’ll have money’, and she would laugh.” He honoured both promises.
‘The Wonder Child’
His class was evident from an early age when he made it into the Cobreloa first team aged just 16 and earned his nickname “El Nino Maravilla” (The Wonder Child) on his debut from Jaime Cortes, a journalist covering the match. “It was a complicated game and Sanchez set up the winning goal,” Cortes told The Daily Telegraph in 2011 when Sanchez had helped the unfashionable Serie A side Udinese to qualify for the Champions League. “He was given a standing ovation. It was then that I thought of the nickname. He came on the pitch and he dazzled with his tricks, which were the same as he did every day in training. Cobreloa had a genuine marvel. He was just a kid, just 16, with a boy’s size, a boy’s body, a boy’s mind. So he became El Nino Maravilla.”
Sanchez may have been left frustrated by his lack of silverware in his time at Arsenal but he has proved instrumental in his country’s trophy-laden run — at least till the bitter disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He is Chile’s all-time leading scorer with 39 goals and he was pivotal in their two successive Copa Americas (2015/16) and reaching the final of last year’s Confederations Cup. Sanchez — who shares the record of caps for the national side with goalkeeper Claudio Bravo of 119 — lived up to his reputation for being uncomfortable in the spotlight off the pitch when he tweeted after the 2016 Copa award: “I’m speechless.”
No place like home
Sanchez’s fame has earned him the honour of having a statue erected in his honour in Tocopilla. However, the town itself has been the recipient of more than just the afterglow of his fame — he donated £160,000 for improvements to five football pitches, including the dust bowl on which he began playing football barefoot. Pictures released to media show that when he is back in Chile he hands out free football shirts to poor children. “He’s a great example of what you can achieve through hard work,” the mayor of Tocopilla Fernando San Roman told The Sun in 2014. “He came from a very humble background but clawed his way to success. He never gave up, never accepted his lot. He is loved by everyone because of this.”
Champions League dream
The one trophy Sanchez desires more than any is not the Premier League crown but the Champions League. However, as he made plain to The Guardian last year there is a clear order of preference having missed out on it at Barcelona and then at Arsenal. “My idea is to play and win the Champions League, it is a dream I have had since I was little,” he said.
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