More than a few eyebrows were raised in the summer when it was announced that Renato Sanches, European football’s ‘Golden Boy’ award winner for 2016, would be joining perennial English Premier League strugglers Swansea in a season-long loan deal from Bayern Munich.

It was a move that was greeted with outright surprise in some quarters – why on earth would he trade life at the German champions for a basement battle in England?

After all, the 20-year-old was the toast of Euro 2016 after helping to guide Portugal to the title, and he was duly named the Young Player of the Tournament. Not bad for a teenager barely out of short trousers.

Bayern Munich had secured Sanches’ services prior to the European Championship, paying Benfica 35 million euros for the privilege, which seemed a bargain after the tournament. In a perfect world, the transfer would have been the catalyst for Sanches taking his game to the next level and becoming a global star.

But as we know, football doesn’t always pan out the way it’s supposed to.

The youngster enjoyed just six starts in the red-and-blue of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, and took to the field for just 201 minutes in their lengthy Champions League campaign as he struggled to nail down a regular starting berth in a squad packed with quality.

It was not the end of the world for a 20-year-old to not be playing every week; the worst fear for boy wonders is that they burn out prematurely. But for a young man who had the world at his feet in 2016, it was something of a fall from grace to be collecting splinters on the substitutes’ bench rather than medals and accolades.

To some extent, the switch to Swansea feels like a defining moment in Sanches’ career. It’s a new style of football to be mastered – the Premier League is rather more robust than the Bundesliga, and certainly less technical, and a strong campaign should see him climb the pecking order at Bayern on his return.

Although, a less than agreeable season at the Swans will tarnish his previously burgeoning reputation further, and it is unsure where his career would go from that point forward.

So how has Sanches accustomed to life in Wales so far?

Swans Lacking Grace

Imagine the excitement in Swansea when it was announced that Euro 2016 winner Renato Sanches would be joining the club, albeit on a temporary basis.

This was a team that avoided relegation from England’s top flight by the skin of their teeth in 2016/17, so to get their hands on one of the beautiful game’s hottest properties must have come as something of a surprise for the Welsh faithful. This season, with a quarter of the campaign gone, Paul Clement’s side are as short as 10/11 for the drop and that’s short enough for bonus bets to come into play as a genuine alternative to a cash punt.

Replica shirts were sold, terrace chants were formulated, and the 20,000 or so in attendance at the Swans’ second home game of the season against Newcastle – Sanches’ debut in the white shirt – could be forgiven for the feelings of excited anticipation that they were experiencing.

What followed was a poor – perhaps understandably so – performance, with Sanches giving the ball away regularly and struggling to come to terms with the pace of the English game. But mitigating circumstances were not hard to find: he had only linked up with the club a week prior as the transfer window closed, and participated in just two training sessions before being flung straight into Paul Clement’s starting eleven.

Sanches speaks little English, and so his familiarity with Clement from his time as an assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern looks to be a key connection. Judging by the Newcastle game, Clement’s instructions – in whichever language they are delivered – did not seem to be getting through.

That was September, and now as we hurtle into November we sense that Sanches’ fortunes on English soil have not really improved. He has been beset by recurring problems associated with a thigh injury, meaning that he has had to watch two of the last three matches his new employer has played from the sidelines.

Perhaps, though, there is a silver lining on the horizon. In his last start against Leicester, Sanches appeared much more composed in possession, and his movement was intelligent rather than the ‘headless chicken’ levels of chaos his earlier showings had delivered.

The suggestion is that he is becoming accustomed to the defensive requirements of playing in a struggling side – not something he is used to from his time at Benfica and Bayern. The Portuguese starlet made one key tackle against the Foxes and three interceptions as he got stuck into another back-foot display from the Welsh outfit.

Swansea have now lost four of their last five Premier League matches, and they only occupy one of the positions in the league table outside of the relegation zone by virtue of goal difference.

So naturally, they will need some big performances from Sanches in the weeks and months to come if they are to avoid becoming embroiled in yet another relegation dogfight.

To the Future

The difficulty now for Sanches is in ensuring his standard of play does not dip long-term to that of the relegation-threatened outfit; he’ll be heading home to the probable Bundesliga champions next summer, after all.

He’s an instinctive player, and one who thrives with quality around him; is it any wonder he looked so good at Euro 2016 with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in his vicinity?

Unfortunately, he won’t enjoy such support at Swansea, whose tactics away from home in particular have an air of the ‘belt and braces’ about them. That is not an environment in which we would expect the 20-year-old to thrive, but he must learn to adapt his style to ensure career longevity.

Will Sanches’ game have improved following his season at Swansea? That is not at all certain, but his character may well have been strengthened by a campaign of struggle, and after the honeymoon period that has been his first two years as a professional footballer, maybe that could prove to be an essential component in his development.


Comments (3)

  1. Justin/rochester

I'm can't decide whether or not it's a good thing for him playing at Swansea. I feel like there's more pros than cons to the argument though and all I really selfishly care about is how he plays for Portugal. The English league is the most...

I'm can't decide whether or not it's a good thing for him playing at Swansea. I feel like there's more pros than cons to the argument though and all I really selfishly care about is how he plays for Portugal. The English league is the most competitive league in the world and I don't think that's debatable. Even him playing every week and losing, I still feel like that's better than not playing at a world class team. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that training everyday with world class players and not getting regular game time is similar to playing every week in the best league in the world as far as development goes. I think a move to Spain similar to what Guedes did with Valencia would have been better than Swansea but it's too late for that. I'm sort of confused about what Renatos best possession is too. Is he an explosive number 6 or an attacking center midfielder suited to play behind the forwards. It's too early to know how he'll end up in Swansea but I certainly think there's more good that will come from this move.

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  1. Val

Great post Justin.

I agree on all fronts with what you said.

Just wanted to add. If this was the Bento years I would be worried but when you consider what players are available for Russia and there are only 3 spots with 1 going to either...

Great post Justin.

I agree on all fronts with what you said.

Just wanted to add. If this was the Bento years I would be worried but when you consider what players are available for Russia and there are only 3 spots with 1 going to either William or Danilo the prospects are solid;

Joao Mario
Adrien Silva (back in January with Leicester)
Joao Moutinho
Andre Gomes
Bruno Fernandes
Ronny Lopes

Bernardo will be deployed further up field although he could cover in a pinch. That’s a lot of solid options. Who knows what other star may emerge from now to then.

The thing with Renato is he offers something the others don’t. He is as tenacious and hard working as Adrien, he has the get the ball through people and shooting from range of Bruno and he has the uncanny ability to rise to the level of the opponents like Moutinho. He is unique.

Also the emergence of William into a fantastic and creative force lessens the lose of Renato.

He burst onto the scene so quickly and received so much success so quickly we forget his age, 20! The move to Bayern was awful but a move to Swansea is good for him. He will come good it is just a matter of time to which he has plenty.

Guerreiro is the one we need to recover! That guy is GOLD!

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  1. Marco

He's absolutely terrible.

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"Is this squad stronger than the Euro 2016 squad? That's impossible to say. What I can say is that I'm as confident in this squad as I was for the Euro."

Fernando Santos
(Portugal coach after announcing the Seleção squad for World Cup 2018)