A European Championship winner, recipient of the Golden Boy Award and the subject of a €35 million transfer from his boyhood club to one of the continent’s giants, and all at the tender age of 18. That was a nice way for Renato Sanches to spend his 2016.
Unfortunately, 2017 hasn’t quite gone as well for the young Portuguese starlet. Just eight starts this term is threatening to turn his dream move sour, and as we know young players need game-time to continue their upward trajectory.
With Bayern Munich’s settled side widely expected to coast to the title and Carlo Ancelotti clearly not fancying the 19-year-old – for the time being at least – the question, sadly, has to be asked: what next for Renato Sanches?
The Waiting Game
“Every player wants to play, that’s completely normal. The solution is not to give up but to continue working, all the while knowing that my moment will arrive,” Sanches said in an interview with "A Bola" earlier in the year. “I have faith in my efforts and for that reason I don’t feel down. Only eleven can play so I will work until my time comes. I knew this was going to be hard and it’s all part of integrating here.”
Sanches’ words show a certain level of maturity and a willingness to look at the bigger picture, and that bodes well for a player locked into a contract with the German club until 2021.
Patience will be essential, as the opportunities – certainly from next season onwards – should present themselves readily if Sanches continues to put in the hard yards. Xabi Alonso and Phillip Lahm have already announced their retirements at the end of the season, while Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery, both 33, aren’t going to go on forever.
New faces will be required to step up to the plate, and this passing of the baton is almost a symbolic gesture: the likes of Thiago Alcântara, Douglas Costa and Joshua Kimmich will be expected to make their mark, while there will surely be more chances for Sanches either on the flanks or in his preferred central role. He simply has to take any opportunities he gets.
When you need a bit of support at a new club, when the detractors doubting your ability are circling, you might as well get a club legend on board. Happily for Renato, he can call upon the backing of a man who played more than 300 times for Bayern Munich.
Lothar Matthaus wrote in his Sport Bild column: “He's been through a lot in 2016: a hugely unexpected success at Euro 2016 and a big-money move to a new country. In the first half of the season, he wasn’t the player I know. He lacked self-confidence and enjoyed little game time.
“That will change in the second half of the season. He’ll get more games because of rotation and show the qualities in the number eight position that make him special: strong tackling, determination and goal-scoring ability. I’m a Sanches fan.”
So Matthaus is on side, and that stands Sanches in very good stead. After all, the former World Cup winner knows a thing or two about cultured footballers.
To the future
So really the future is in Renato’s hands. He can ride out the rest of the season, learn more about what it takes to play in a side expected to win silverware and go deep into the Champions League, and use the experience next season when he will be required to make a more forceful contribution in the absence of Alonso and Lahm.
When Bayern signed him it was always with one eye on the future – regardless of how advanced his development has been already, so expect the second half of 2017 to be the time when Sanches shows just why he is so highly rated by the great and good of the beautiful game.
By Matthew Harris