Last summer, Portugal managed to defy the odds to come out of Euro 2016 as champions. The man who grabbed the headlines? Not Cristiano Ronaldo. Not Nani. Not William Carvalho. Renato Sanches.
The teenage midfielder ran teams ragged throughout the tournament, validating Bayern Munich’s choice to splash out nearly £30million on him before the tournament.
But, following the big money signing and all of the hype, Renato Sanches is yet to make a real impact on the Bayern Munich team. After 25 appearances for the Bundesliga leaders, the 19-year-old is yet to score or claim an assist.
So, was the Portuguese wonder kid a waste of £30million, or has he simply been adjusting to life in the Bundesliga?
Coming to Germany
In his breakthrough season with Benfica in 2015/16, Sanches didn’t record many goal contributions, only two goals and one assist, but it was his tireless work ethic, tenacity in midfield, and rugged tackling that earned him a regular first-team place and national recognition.
As a defensive-midfielder, predominantly, Sanches wasn’t expected to score many goals, simply protect the back line and keep the ball in possession, but at Bayern Munich, more is likely to be expected of him. Being a team that is competing on three fronts every season – Bundesliga, Champions League, DFB-Pokal – Bayern need players who can contribute goals in each position.
This season, their attacking strategy has almost entirely been centred on Robert Lewandowski, who leads the team with 41 goals – the next highest scorer being Arjen Robben with 14. While this is a tremendous feat for the Polish striker, it could be seen as cause for concern and a leading factor in Bayern not making it past the quarter-finals of the Champions League or the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal.
Lewandowski failed to score in the first-leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid – a game which Bayern lost – and he didn’t net against Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal semi-final – another loss for Bayern Munich. He is the team’s main scoring option and when he’s been shut out by top-class opponents, Bayern have struggled to find enough goals to compensate.
Thomas Müller’s drop from 32 goals to nine has reduced the potency of the team, but scoring has been found in other players to help bridge the gap.
With Renato Sanches somewhat lacking the ability to produce goals on the pitch, or not having that keen sense to create the final ball through, he becomes overshadowed by the stack of Bayern Munich midfielders who can produce at both ends of the pitch.
Bayern’s crowded midfield
Bayern’s central midfield is overflowing with talent, boasting the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Arturo Vidal, Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez, Joshua Kimmich, and even Philipp Lahm presents an option in the position. While the teenage star, Renato Sanches, is an incredibly talented midfielder, he just doesn’t bring the same level of two-way play that his teammates do.
Two of the names above – Alonso and Lahm – are retiring at the end of the season, which gives Sanches a better chance of getting into the starting line-up, you would think. But given the other four names ahead of him, he still sits as fifth choice, mainly to be used in specialist situations in defensive set-ups, or as the first line of defence in a very attacking line-up.
Even though Sanches is only a teenager, his teammate competitors aren’t exactly old; none of Thiago, Vidal, Kimmich, or Martinez are even 30-years-old yet. As it stands, Bayern Munich signing Sanches looks like a waste of money as they have central midfielders who are young and produce both attack and defence.
Obviously, they knew this going into the transfer, not only did Bayern Munich sign him to stop other top teams from bringing him in, but also because he brings a unique style of play that they can cultivate and integrate into their team in the coming seasons.
Was buying Sanches a mistake?
Renato Sanches has all of the skills required to become one of, if not the, best defensive midfielder in the world one day. He’s got great vision and fast reaction time; very quick both on and off of the ball; is remarkably strong for his slight frame; can control and pass the ball well; is a superb tackler and is great at intercepting key passes.
There’s no doubt that Bayern Munich brought in a true gem and, surprisingly, manager Carlo Ancelotti’s strategy to give Sanches spells in and out of the starting line-up has been a wise choice. It’ll allow the Portuguese to perfect his game alongside his more experienced teammates without putting too much pressure on the young man.
If his starting appearances in the first team continue to increase gradually, and he’s duly rewarded with more starts if he performs well, Sanches is set to become a great player and a key cog in Bayern Munich’s team. He may have cost nearly £30 million, but he is still only a teenager and has a fair amount of developing to do yet.
Renato Sanches has the potential to make his transfer fee look like mere peanuts; it’ll just come down to how he develops his game over the next couple seasons.