Will Alexis Sanchez lift the curse off Manchester United's number 7 shirt?
In football, the most iconic shirt number is arguably the 7. Whenever you see someone wearing the number 7 for a team, you expect him to be among their best players and cause your squad any number of problems. Manchester United have had a rich history associated with the number seven. George Best. 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson. The King' Eric Cantona. David Beckham. Cristiano Ronaldo. Each was Manchester United's best player for a time at Old Trafford. Best and Ronaldo won the Ballon d'Or while wearing the #7.
But it seems like Cris took the shirt's magic with him to Real Madrid. Michael Owen was in decline when he inherited the jersey. He scored just five goals in four seasons for the Red Devils. It was then handed to Antonio Valencia after he was named the club's Player of the Year. His form dipped in the 2012/13 season and he politely handed it back.
When Angel di Maria arrived from Madrid, it was hoped he had brought the magic Ronaldo had pilfered with him. Yeah, no. Manchester United broke the British transfer fee record for the Argentine winger. He never settled with the club or in the city and was sold to Paris Saint-Germain after just one season.
Memphis Depay was a brash young star. Red Devils faithful hoped he was cut from the same mould as Best and Beckham in that regard. He was not. Memphis was shipped off to Lyon a year ago January. He's rocking the number 11 there.
United went without a number seven for a whole year. Then Alexis Sanchez took up residence in January in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going to the Emirates. The Chilean winger struggled to settle in at first, flashing only glimpses of his talent. He had Man of the Match performances in his first two games before the initial adrenaline faded. United as a whole dipped in form. Sanchez was the ultimate scapegoat. It didn't help that he had taken the place of Anthony Martial, who had quietly put up numbers that Sanchez still hasn't quite matched.
After a few turgid games, Alexis has come on. He is now looking like the world-class player Jose Mourinho advertised. To lift yourself up after bad phases is the sign of a champion. He has stepped up in the big games too. The 29-year-old put in tireless, impactful shifts against Chelsea and Liverpool. He and Paul Pogba won United the Manchester Derby. Sanchez was instrumental in all three United goals. He also scored the crucial equaliser in the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham. That is the work of a number 7.
It hasn't been all glitter and gold but his absence was clearly felt against Brighton on Friday. It just shows how important he has become to this United team. Because it's not just about the goals and assists. He is a vocal figure in the attack. He leads the press and tracks back. If he doesn't have the ball, he hunts it down. The moment he gets possession, he is looking to take people on and make something happen. He takes responsibility and initiative, something which others in the squad do not.
It is just the beginning for Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United. With a full summer's rest and a proper pre-season behind him, we should see the real deal in 2018/19. He has the winning mentality, character and ability for a United number 7. Bank on him to break the curse.