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What happened to the 2016 Golden Boy?

At a time when the young Swansea midfielder Renato Sanches is receiving so much criticism, Sports Gazette tries to understand where the problem is, taking a look at his stuttering career that went from success to failure.

The journey of a young professional footballer is usually hard: they are below all their teammates and must prove their value with the small number of chances they get. They usually need some time to assume as a regular player in the team, and often, loans are the solution to that problem. The story is completely different when talking about Renato Sanches, and maybe is there that the problem resides. Strange? Let’s see.

In September 2015 Renato Sanches was playing for Benfica B in the Portuguese second division. Eleven months later, the 18 years old at the time was lifting the European Cup for Portugal.

In between, Sanches made his debut for the main team of Benfica (in October) and from then, was regular choice – 24 appearances, 2 goals – being one of the key players in that season’s achievements: quarter finals of Champions League and champions of Portuguese LIGA NOS and Portuguese Cup.

Impressed by his performances and his wild style of play – as one day Benfica manager Rui Vitória described him – Bayern Munich signed a contract with the then 18 year old boy, just before the Euro cup started, paying a considerable amount of 35 million pounds (a great deal for Benfica if we consider the team from Lisbon, payed 25 footballs to Águias da Musgueira get him when he was just 11 years old).

And that looked the right decision. Renato was a key player in Euro 2016 as Portugal conquered, especially during the knockout stages. He commanded the counter-attack that gave Portugal the win against Croatia in the last sixteen and he scored the goal in a tight game against Poland in the quarter-finals. He was a European champion and later in the year he was also a Golden Boy, beating the Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford.

Since then, what looked the start of an amazing career turn out to be a nightmare. Last season, in Bayern Munich he was always in the shadow of Arturo Vidal, Xabi Alonso and Thiago Alcantara, so the chances to shine were few. He did not record any goals or assists and was considered a Bundesliga flop.

He also lost his position in the national team and started to play with the under 21 team, playing the U-21 European Cup one year after winning European cup with the full squad.

At the start of the current season he was sent on a loan to Swansea and the chorus of criticism is stronger than ever.  But has Renato Sanches lost his skills? Or he was just never that good?

He was probably not ready for Bayer Munich after winning so much and so fast, always playing a central role during the last year. His bad moment is probably the consequence of skipping these initial stages that I mentioned in my first paragraph. Having to face them later after winning so much makes everything more difficult.

It may also be a consequence of a risky agent and personal decisions it was not difficult to guess that his life in Munich would be far from being easy with so much concurrency, and, with Manchester United also interested on him that was probably a better move.

Besides people often forget we are talking about a 20-year-old player that has what is arguably the most difficult role in football. As a midfielder you are the pendulum of the team, you are responsible for giving the perfect balance between attack and defence. It’s not a position where it’s possible to hide a bit in a match and not take risks until you recover your confidence.

For all these reasons Renato Sanches has been probably drinking from his own poison and the consequences are clear. However his qualities are real. He must find a way to reignite his wild way of playing football that attracts so many fans. If that happens it would mean good news for him and for Portugal.

José Bourbon
José Bourbon was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He completed his first degree in Social and Cultural Communication at Universidade Católica Portuguesa, in Lisbon. In the summer of 2015 he had the opportunity to work alongside some of the best journalists in Portugal during an internship at Expresso, one of the most famous newspapers in Portugal. He also played a part in the creation of BETup – an entrepreneurship news website that he worked on for six months. José currently writes for Winept, a Portuguese website dedicated to wine, but sports journalism is his main passion, specifically tennis and football. It goes without saying, José is also a Sporting and Portugal fan.
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