Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
Alexis Sanchez holds many titles, mainly the most expensive transfer in Chilean football history. The forward has been a face of the South American country for years now, and is looking to prove his worth at Arsenal. The club bet big on Sanchez by making him the second most expensive transfer in club history, just behind Mesut Ozil. Arsene Wenger is hoping the forward can produce goals and help lead the club to the top of the Premier League table. But it wasn’t all money and glory growing up for Sanchez.
Rags to Riches
Alexis Sanchez may be the most well known person from Tocopilla, Chile, but he may not be the most well known thing from there. That distinction belongs to the 2007 earthquake that ravaged his hometown. A magnitude 7.7 earthquake occurred near Sanchez’s hometown, and aftershocks tore through with magnitudes up to 6.8. The town claims around 25,000 inhabitants, and its name translates to “the Devil’s corner.” With a nickname like that, it is easy to see why Sanchez’s upbringing might not be the most comfortable of tales.
Sanchez grew up in a poor single-level home with his mother, two sisters, and brother. He would perform on the street at age 6 for money, while washing cars and pushing carts as he grew older. He began playing football barefoot in the street along with other children in his hometown. He began using football at a young age to help him escape the mines, where most of the men from his town ended up working.
Sanchez joined and progressed through nearby team Cobreloa’s youth system, eventually making his first team debut in 2005. His talent was spotted by Udinese of Serie A and bought by the club for 1.7 million pounds. In order to help him mature and stay close to home, he was loaned to Chilean team Colo-Colo on a season-long loan. The Chilean finally made his way to Udinese in 2008, having a breakout season during 2010-11, scoring 12 goals in 33 appearances. That is when the giants came calling.
Those giants come from a little place named Camp Nou – that’s right, FC Barcelona. The Catalonian club spent 25 million pounds on the forward, and in his three seasons, did not disappoint. His final year at Barca saw him score 19 goals in 34 La Liga appearances, setting him up for the huge transfer to Arsenal last summer. Reports vary, but the club spent between 30-35 million pounds on the forward, setting him up to be a star for the Gunners. He has certainly lived up to the hype, even if the team as a whole has not. Sanchez has 11 goals in 17 appearances for the club, who are desperate to climb the table and catch Chelsea, sitting in 6th place with 17 points. All along the way, Alexis Sanchez has not forgotten where he came from.
Back to His Roots
The manager who gave Sanchez his first opportunity in first team football was none other than Nelson Acosta. Acosta coached the Chile national team at the 1998 World Cup. It really is fitting that a Chilean national team coach would give their future star his first opportunity in senior team football. It wasn’t long after Acosta gave him his first chance at the club level that Sanchez got the call-up and made his international debut against New Zealand in 2006. His first goal came in September of 2007 against Switzerland, the first of many. He has participated in two World Cup cycles, making the squad for both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Unfortunately, Chile fell to Brazil in both World Cups in the Round of 16. In the 2014 version, the match came down to penalty kicks, with Sanchez failing to convert on Chile’s second attempt. Despite falling, many around the world applauded Chile’s efforts.
You would be lying if you said Sanchez has an imposing figure. At 5 foot 7, weighing a buck sixty, Sanchez is not one to use physicality to subdue defenders. He relies more on his bag of skills, tricks, and crafty dribbling to out maneuver his opponents. He also tracks back on defense, particularly for the Chilean national squad.
Sanchez flows with the flashy style that stars like Ronaldo exhibit. There is a reason why these flashy tricks are applauded; they are hard to pull off. While they may create a highlight reel goal, there is also about the same amount of chance that it does not work. Some Arsenal supporters have criticized his flashy style, as he gives the ball away quite a bit. His passing leaves a lot to be desired, with a success rate around 80%, compared to about 90% for Mesut Ozil.
With all of that, Alexis Sanchez plays with the South American grace that we love to see. His flashy high risk, high reward is certainly exciting, but doesn’t provide the stability that Arsene Wenger enjoys. One other knock on his game is the fact that he is very one-footed. In 52 appearances with Barcelona last season, he only took five left footed shots, compared to 65 with his right. Speaking of feet, he currently sports the Nike Mercurial Superfly boot.
Off the Pitch
Throughout his career, Alexis Sanchez has been a proponent of earthquake relief. His own country has been hit multiple times, while also helping raise awareness for other South American countries. He has played in multiple charity matches for earthquake relief, and frequently donates to his home country.
Sanchez does have a girlfriend, Spanish Art Director/Designer/Model Laia Grassi. Grassi recently relocated from Barcelona to London when Sanchez joined Arsenal, even sporting a Gunners jersey on her Instagram. There are rumors of the couple being secretly married or engaged.
Sanchez will be a major piece in the success or failure of Arsenal and Chile for quite awhile, so get used to the name.