Strong Copa America won't be enough to rescue Sanchez's career
NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP / Getty

At Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez often wears the expression of a man caught in a thunderstorm who remembers he left his bedroom window open. There's a frustration, a world-weariness - clues that he'd rather be anywhere but ineffectively ferreting away in a town like Croydon or Bournemouth.

He would much rather be with Chile.

"I twisted my ankle. I kept playing for the love I have for this national team," Sanchez said after scoring the winner in Friday's 2-1 win over Ecuador, according to The Associated Press. "When I play for my country, I'm always playing happy."

Just like his playing style, it wasn't subtle. Sanchez made no secret of his delight to be temporarily pardoned from his toils in club football.

Sanchez's two goals in Chile's opening two matches of Copa America require context, though. The 4-0 scoreline against Japan flattered La Roja, and Sanchez scored when the Samurai Blue were unraveling late in the game; then, when Chile met an abject and ill-disciplined Ecuador, the winger was generously granted an acre of space to finish.

JUAN MABROMATA / AFP / Getty

It would be a fool's errand to forecast the revival of Sanchez's career in Brazil. Besides, when Chile's clunking convoy grinds to an inevitable, jarring halt in the South American Football Championship, Sanchez will soon be given a stark reminder of how bad things were for him at United.

And it may be worse than he remembered. There's a new poster boy for a refreshed philosophy at Old Trafford in Daniel James, who made over two-thirds of his league starts for Swansea City down the left. James is raw and thus not an immediate starter for United, but - just as Marouane Fellaini served as a constant reminder of David Moyes' muddled regime - his arrival tags Sanchez as an emblem of the Red Devils' old and chaotic transfer policy: basically, paying over-the-odds for players Manchester City are tracking.

Now, Sanchez competes with James, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and sometimes Jesse Lingard down the left. Sadly for the unpopular Chilean, the competition for places is far from the greatest hindrance to the 30-year-old's United career.

Judging from his 18 months in north-west England, the pace and bustle that Sanchez has relied on for much of his playing days have been dwindling for some time. He can't have much hope in vaulting the pecking order of left-wingers at Old Trafford, and it would take a remarkable transformation - one that requires more tactical sense than is apparent in the attacker - for him to lengthen his career with a move to the center of midfield like Ryan Giggs was able to. Additionally, it's hard to imagine him yielding to a full-back role in the same fashion Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia did.

Chris Brunskill/Fantasista / Getty Images Sport / Getty

A transfer is undoubtedly the best eventuality for Sanchez and United, but that would require huge sacrifices from both parties. The Chilean reportedly earns over £400,000 a week after incentives, and no club would sign him to the same terms given his poor form. From a United perspective, can executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward swallow his pride and invite more fan animosity by letting one of the most resounding and costly statements of his regime leave - and in a window when Paul Pogba is also posturing for a move?

Perhaps the only way selling Sanchez could reflect positively on Manchester United is if his departure is packaged as an early signal of intent by a sporting director. In short, Sanchez would be a political pawn.

International breaks can sometimes act as a springboard for footballers, but in this case, Sanchez's uptick in form will likely be little more than a brief respite from the issues that have plagued him at United. He should enjoy "playing happy" while it lasts.

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Strong Copa America won't be enough to rescue Sanchez's career
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