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Renato Sanches struggling at Swansea as 2017 woes continue

December 7, 2017

Peaks and troughs are part and parcel of a young player's career but Renato Sanches has taken that to the extreme. After an incredible breakout year in 2016, the on-loan Bayern Munich midfielder is at his lowest ebb.

Fußballspieler Renato Sanches Swansea City
Image: Getty Images/C. Ivill

What a difference a year makes. As 2016 drew to a close, Renato Sanches was the brightest prospect in world football. The dynamic midfielder had picked up a Portuguese title and league cup as well as winning the Primeira Liga's best-goal and breakthrough-player awards.

 At 19, he'd already collected more silverware than many experienced pros, and when he joined Bayern Munich in May 2016, the €35 million($41 million) fee was widely regarded as a bargain. When he subsequently starred for Portugal as they won Euro 2016, picking up the Young Player of the Tournament award in France, the decision looked further vindicated.

During Carlo Ancelotti's gradual introduction of Sanches into Bayern's first team he added another individual award to his bulging trophy cabinet, winning the European Golden Boy, a title previously claimed by the likes of Paul Pogba, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.

But, despite the recognition and the hype that accompanied his arrival, Sanches failed to nail down a spot in a highly competitive Bayern midfield. As 2016 became 2017, his star waned, as Sanches started only two of a possible 16 Bundesliga games after the winter break and drew some criticism for the quality of his performances, in particular his wastefullness in possession.

Renato Sanches with the Euro 2016 trophy
Renato Sanches played a key role in Portugal's Euro 2016 winImage: picture alliance/Pressefoto ULMER

A season-long loan move to Swansea, and a reunion with Ancelotti's former assistant Paul Clement –  now in charge of the Swans – was Bayern's answer to his struggles. It was also a seemingly enormous coup for Swansea, who had sold key men Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente in the off-season. 

Chris Wathan, chief football writer for the Western Mail and Wales Online media outlets, told DW that expectations were high after the loan move was announced.

"Some of it (the hype) was perhaps a little misplaced, in as much as a lot of people didn’t know what type of player he was. Swansea needed a number 10 and that's not Renato Sanches' natural game.

"He didn’t have the best of starts but there was still a great deal of anticipation that he'd be something special in the Premier League. But it hasn't turned out like that."

Wathan said that, while Sanches has shown glimpses of his ability, he's struggled for both confidence and fitness while often being frustratingly wasteful in possession. The nadir of the midfielder's young career came when he was substituted at halftime in Swansea's 1-0 loss to Chelsea on November 29.

One particular moment stood out for those on social media, when Sanches mistook an advertising logo for a teammate and passed the ball straight out of play under no pressure, much to Clement's apparent bemusement.

"He had a poor half," Clement said after removing Sanches at the interval. "I feel for him, he is a talented player but I don't think in any of the games he has played this year he has showed the talent he has.

"It goes without saying that if you move from Benfica to Bayern Munich and win a European Championship with Portugal playing in games in the latter stages of the competition, you are a very good player. But he is struggling for confidence, he is struggling for form."

Wathan said that, while Sanches isn't the only Swansea player failing to live up to expectations, he's not been the hit with the fans that many had expected back in August.

Renato Sanches with Carlo Ancelotti and Mats Hummels
Renato Sanches arrived at Bayern Munich to great fanfareImage: picture alliance/dpa/M. Balk

"There are a few fans getting on his back," he said. "At the stadium there are a few groans and moans but that's not singling out Sanches. But if there's an example of how he hasn’t really justified that intital excitement and anticipation it's that he doesn’t have a song yet – I don’t remember a time when his name has been chanted."

At 20-years-old, there's still plenty of time for Sanches' name to ring out when he returns to the Allianz Arena but there's little doubt that an important year in his development has fallen by the wayside. His relationship with Clement, so critical to his move to Swansea, appears to remain strong. But with the Swans the only side in the Premier League's bottom four not to change their coach yet, the Englishman's position must be under question.

With Ancelotti, the man who brought him to Germany, also having moved on, the chances of Sanches returning to Bayern in January seem slim. The World Cup may loom large for most of the world's elite, but despite his accolades, talent and the hype surrounding him, Sanches' first challenge of 2018 will simply be to get back into the first 11 of a side bottom of the Premier League. It's a far cry from what stood before him at the start of 2017.