The 2018/19 season looks set to be a crucial campaign in the career of Portuguese midfielder Renato Sanches, as the former Benfica prodigy looks to finally assert himself in Germany with Bayern Munich.
Sanches signed for the Bundesliga champions from Benfica in May 2016, shortly before Portugal’s European Championships triumph in France. The youngster’s performances for the Seleção at the tournament suggested that the Germans had pulled off a major coup, and Sanches was issued the Golden Boy award at the end of that year.
However, despite then Bayern coach Pep Guardiola describing Sanches as "one of the best young players by far in Europe” with “a big future ahead of him” the €35m signing struggled to find his feet at the Allianz Arena, leading to a loan move to Swansea in the English Premier League during the second half of last season.
Now back in Germany, Sanches told the club’s TV station he is delighted to have returned to one of Europe’s giants. "I'm ready to play here this season," he said. “I'm very happy to play at Bayern Munich, it's a great experience and a great honour for me. Bayern are one of the best clubs in the world – anybody would love to be in my shoes, playing for Bayern Munich.”
Perhaps some cause for optimism for Sanches has been the words of Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who confirmed the 21-year-old’s return in May. “He's had a couple of difficult years, which I believe are linked to him winning the Golden Boy award after the 2016 Euros. We were absolutely convinced of his qualities two years ago so we're not going to give up on him now."
Sanches may also draw inspiration from a change of coach, with Niko Kovac stepping into the Bayern dugout this summer. "Of course I'm happy with the new coach – it's a new opportunity for me to show what I can do again," Sanches said. "He's a coach who pushes his players to perform, and that's something I'm very happy about, because I know I can fulfil the expectations.
"It's a big club, always challenging to win titles and with a great history. It's an honour to be back playing here. My smile was always there, I've never lost that, but now I feel that I'm more mature, so maybe that gives me a different perspective on a lot of things.”
Sanches is yet to be named in a Bayern match-day squad so far this campaign, but after featuring for his country during the international break he will be hoping to be involved as Bayern face Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.
The midfielder certainly does not seem to lack for confidence. Asked by FCB.tv what his biggest weakness is, the Portuguese replied: “I have no weaknesses. I am strong.
"My aim is to play here and stay at Bayern as long as possible. I feel very happy here and it's an honour for me since Bayern are one of the best clubs in the world – anybody would love to play here and I want to work hard now and give everything I've got."
For their part, Bayern will be expecting a return on their investment, but Rummenigge is positive about the future. "Niko will try and bring him back to his old strength," said the Bayern chief. "It's an exciting project."
By Sean Gillen