In a reactionary, emotional sport like football, it’s hard to escape hyperbole when discussing the game or the sum of its parts.
Everything is either amazing or terrible, players can vary from world class to clueless in an instant and managers walk a constant tightrope as they try to balance the weight of a club on their shoulders. But in the case of Renato Sanches, El Bulo, the world truly was at his feet twelve months ago.
For the boy wonder from a troubled Lisbon neighbourhood, it was a rapid rise that few will ever get to experience. Rewind back to October 2014 and he was playing for one of Benfica’s junior teams against Sporting. Come May 2016, he was shining for his country at the European Championship before signing on the dotted line for Bayern Munich – all before he’d turned 19. The German champions were reckoned to have pulled off a huge transfer coup when they snapped up the latest jewel in the Benfica production line for an initial €35m, in a staggering deal that could potentially rise to €80m in add-ons. However, fast forward to the present day and you’ll find it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
He may be Europe’s Golden Boy; the best young player at Euro 2016, but his career is spluttering. Despite Carlo Ancelotti personally requesting his signing, the midfielder barely managed 600 minutes in the Bundesliga and started just twice in 2017. One of those starts came right at the end of the season against Darmstadt when Bayern already had the league title wrapped up, which coincidentally was his only 90 minutes of the season. Renato’s form was poor when he did play, looking a long way from the player who ripped Portugal’s Primeira Liga apart a year earlier with such confidence and comfort in his own ability.
It was clear that Bayern may have been one step too far for the now 20-year-old, and while the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva are all looking like safe bets for a seat on the plane to Russia next summer, Renato will instead be working away from the limelight in his bid to join them. AC Milan and Chelsea were interested in his services, but the next time he puts on a shirt and laces his boots it’ll be for Swansea City in South Wales – a move which has both confused and excited the world of football in equal measure.
But the move makes sense: “We wanted Renato Sanches to join a club where he is able to play at a high level and where he has a coach who wants him,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “He has to continuously play for a year, and that’s not guaranteed given the quality in our squad.”
Rummenigge is spot on. What Sanches needs are games. He needs to play every week for a coach he can trust and in Paul Clement he’ll have just that. The Swansea boss has worked alongside Ancelotti for most of his coaching career, including a stint at Bayern for six months before he packed up for the Liberty Stadium to prove himself as the main man. He will know exactly what the Portuguese midfielder can provide and will offer him that license to thrive. The thought of Roque Mesa sitting deep and dictating play, flanked by the industry of Sanches and technical security of Sam Clucas could be the foundation of something really encouraging for the Welsh side.
The 20-year-old possesses all of the necessary attributes to become a truly dominant force in the centre of midfield. He welcomes the ball to feet in tight areas, can spray a 40-yard diagonal with relative ease and always looks to be the ‘link man’ within the build-up or during a sequence of passes. When that doesn’t work, he can rely on his outstanding physical attributes to breeze past opponents in congested areas, power shots in from range and charge into tackles for good measure. He can be guilty of hiding sometimes which can see him drift in and out of games, but all the constituent parts are in place for him to arrive in the Premier League and hit the ground running.
It might not be the most glamorous destination for one of Europe’s hottest properties but this is very much a deal that suits all three parties. The loan itself will bring Bayern a reported €8.5m fee, and they will get Renato back with many more minutes in his legs and in his mind next summer. Swansea on the other hand have made a bold statement, they’ll have a supremely talented player on their books for a season and their rebuild can continue under Clement. Finally, for Renato, his career has suffered its first setback but the only way is up and a change of scenery could be the perfect catalyst.