Renato Sanches faces make or break season at Bayern Munich
Renato Sanches' last highlight was winning the European Championship in France two years ago. Others which followed have been pure horror. Among them an aimless pass to advertising hoarding when Swansea City visited Chelsea. With Niko Kovac at Bayern Munich's helm, however, the Portugal international has a real chance for a fresh start.
Carlos Carvalhal gave a brutal assessment of Sanches towards last season's end. As compatriots, the Swansea manager knew the 20-year-old better than anyone in South Wales. Perhaps a little frustration came through due to his own inability to keep the Jacks up. The 52-year-old wasn't pleased how things panned out:
Renato himself knows that he has had a bad season and is not at the level that he once was. He needs to return to Portugal because he's still a young guy. He stopped learning when he left Benfica.
Indeed, Sanches' fast accelerating career has sputtered. One elite campaign hoised him into prominence. Fearless on the ball, a monster without it, the Portuguese midfielder had a ruggedly assertive presence. He could shoot, pass, tackle, as well as work the angles and rhythms of central midfield. His muscular display was influential for Benfica. Not only in dominating domestically, also advancing to the Champions League quarter-finals.
Bayern's £34 million capture was considered a coup by many two summers ago. Especially after Sanches' stunning performance at the Euros. Cristiano Ronaldo inevitably took most plaudits, but the youngster stole the show at times as Portugal lifted a major trophy for the first time in history. The Amadora-native was named the tournament's top young player. He then claimed the highly-coveted Golden Boy award.
Sanches lost his magic touch somewhere between Lisbon and Paris. Without it, he's shifted to mediocrity. He played 600 minutes at Bayern, featuring just twice in 2017. Another strange twist followed at Swansea, managing to complete 90 minutes only four times.
After that miserable chapter, Sanches career was in severe decline. A return to the Allianz Arena looked unlikely. AC Milan and Everton were both reportedly prepared to help out. Kovac, though, has other ideas. The 46-year-old offered a shot at redemption:
I am looking forward to working with him (Sanches). He has skills which you don't see in the Bundesliga very often. I hope he takes this challenge here and will be a hit in the end.
It is clear Kovac is unsure what to expect. Regardless of innate talent, the Croat remains sceptical whether Sanches can truly rise to the challenge next season. Competition for places is fierce in the Bavarians' central midfield. Arturo Vidal, Javi Martinez, Thiago, Sebastian Rudy and Corentin Tolisso are all vying for two spots.
In terms of unearthing hidden potential, Kovac is genius. While at Frankfurt, he mined gold with young, promising yet inconsistent players. Marius Wolf, Ante Rebic, Luka Jovic and Danny da Costa among others were nomads in their early years but found solace after just one season under Kovac's tutelage.
It is now down to Sanches to prove his worth at Bayern. There's not as much pressure this time, compared to when first arriving. A strong campaign will reignite his career. Anything less could be fatal.