Renato Sanches rebuilding his career for Portugal after Bayern misery

Renato Sanches was so bad on loan at Swansea he once passed to a sponsor board… but prodigy who helped Portugal win the Euros aged 18 before flopping at Bayern Munich is back to his best at Lille and just scored his first international goal in FOUR years

  • English football fans remember Renato Sanches for awful loan spell at Swansea
  • It reached an embarrassing low when he passed to an advertising board 
  • Moment summed up three lost years of his career when at Bayern Munich
  • Sanches fell from grace after winning Euro 2016 with Portugal as a teenager
  • But he has rebuilt his career at French club Lille and returned to national duty
  • Sanches scored his first Portugal goal in four years against Andorra this week 

Mention the name Renato Sanches to followers of English football and it’s a moment of comedy that springs most readily to mind.

Playing a game at Chelsea during his loan spell with Swansea City, Sanches mistook the red logo of energy drink Carabao on an advertising board for a red-shirted colleague and duly passed the ball straight out of play.

Despite his head-in-hands reaction in the away dug-out, Swansea manager Paul Clement at least had the good grace to wait until half-time before hooking the Portuguese midfielder.

Renato Sanches was embarrassed while playing for Swansea against Chelsea in 2017 when he mistook his red-shirted team-mates for a sponsor logo and passed the ball to it

It marked the low point of an awful loan spell for Sanches as his career went into a nosedive

Swansea manager Paul Clement reacts to the pass on the sidelines at Stamford Bridge

That was November 29, 2017. Just 16 months earlier, Sanches had played a starring role in his country’s unexpected triumph at Euro 2016 and earned himself a £30million transfer to Bayern Munich.

Two months later, he’d left Marcus Rashford, Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembele trailing as he collected the prestigious European Golden Boy award.

Now his hugely promising career had plummeted in next to no time to this embarrassing low. No doubt Sanches had to dig out a map to locate Swansea when Bayern dispatched him there. Was he good enough even for them as his form faded?

It seemed a classic case of too much, too young. Sanches was 20 at that point, plagued by injury, desperately out of touch and unwanted by the big club who had moved to sign him even before he dazzled at a major tournament. The sparkle in his game had vanished.

Luckily, that wasn’t the end of the tale. His career trajectory has been heading upwards again ever since he left Bayern for Lille in 2019 and on Wednesday night Sanches scored his first international goal in over four years.

Sanches has rebuilt his career, however, and scored his first goal for Portugal in four years

Sanches slotted home from Cristiano Ronaldo’s assist during the 7-0 win in Lisbon

His confidence has been restored by increased game time after leaving Bayern Munich for Lille

Fair enough, it came against Andorra, one of seven Portugal stuck past the minnows in a friendly at the Estadio da Luz, the stadium of his first club Benfica. But it will certainly do for now.

It seems the lost promise of Sanches has been found again. Back in January, he was being linked with a return to the Premier League with Wolves, that enclave of Portuguese players, off the back of some fine form in France.

If that would have represented a career going full circle – Premier League to Premier League – the real trajectory of Sanches’ career has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. And he’s still only 23.

The rise had been rapid for the kid Benfica signed as a nine year old from junior club Aguias da Musgueira for €750 and 25 footballs.

Not long after making his senior debut in October 2015, Benfica committed him to a new contract with a release clause of almost £40m. They knew they had a talent on their hands.

Sanches burst into the Benfica first team as a 17-year-old who could boss the midfield

He was then excellent at Euro 2016, helping Portugal win the tournament by beating France

It soon became apparent why. Not only was this 17-year-old bossing midfield battles – living up to his nickname El Bule, the saucepan in which water is boiled because of its robustness, given by his grandmother – but was capable of scoring world class goals.

As is often the case with talented young players emerging at Benfica, the leading clubs of Europe were soon sniffing around. Bayern were quickest off the mark, signing Sanches on the eve of Euro 2016 for £30m plus a potential £35m in add-ons.

Manchester United were one of the interested clubs Bayern beat to his signature and Sanches said at the time: ‘I think everyone knows that there was an offer from Manchester United but there were others. I chose Bayern because it’s a big club and I’ll win titles.’

It soon became apparent why Bayern paid so much as Sanches played a prominent role in Portugal’s Euro 2016 win despite only making his senior international debut in March of that year.

Here was a player with the world at his feet, apparently nerveless in the biggest of games. He scored against Poland in the last eight and started the final against France, which Portugal won 1-0 thanks to a goal from another Swansea flop – Eder – in extra time.

Sanches (second right) had been bought by Bayern Munich before the tournament for £30m

But his time with Bayern turned out to be hugely frustrating with opportunities limited

Sanches may have won the Golden Boy in the warm afterglow of Euro triumph but his time at Bayern quickly turned into a disappointment.

He failed to record a single goal or assist in 25 matches during his first season and started just four Bundesliga matches, completing only one.

It didn’t help that Bayern already boasted the likes of Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara and Xabi Alonso in their midfield, leaving precious little opportunity.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti was under pressure to deliver another Bundesliga title and so younger players weren’t favoured, while Sanches also had issues learning German.

It was against this backdrop that Sanches was sent out on loan to Swansea in August 2017, despite Ancelotti’s promises he would remain at the Allianz Arena.

His season on loan with Swansea in the Premier League was worse as his career declined

Getting Sanches looked like being a real coup for Swansea but turned out very differently

Clement had worked with Ancelotti at various clubs and it looked as though he’d pulled off a real coup but Sanches endured another disappointing season.

Dogged by injuries and inconsistent form, he played just 15 games for Swansea.

‘It was not my choice to go to Swansea. I was forced to go there,’ he later admitted. ‘They gave me everything, but I did not want to be there.

‘The most difficult moment? When I was injured, I couldn’t train. It was the descent; you can’t feel the motivation any more.’

There was a brief upturn after returning to Bayern – he even scored against old club Benfica in the Champions League – but he soon faded into the background again.

By the start of the 2019-20 season, Sanches was agitating for a move away from Bayern. He admitted as much in a TV interview, drawing the ire of chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. He was also fined 10,000 euros for missing a training session.

Sanches agitated for a move away from Bayern and ultimately joined Lille last year

But eventually he was allowed his escape, joining Lille for £21m and after overcoming a hamstring injury, the confidence of the old Sanches soon returned.

Taking the old position of Nicolas Pepe following his move to Arsenal, the Portuguese rediscovered the old audacity in his game and started getting into dangerous positions again.

The Ligue 1 season was curtailed because of the Covid-19 pandemic with Lille just missing out on Champions League football in the points-per-game calculations.

A bright start to the current season saw him called back into the Portugal squad in October for the first time in two years and his goal against Andorra will be seen as another step in the right direction.

He has since enjoyed more game time and has rediscovered the joy lost from his game

‘Honestly, I feel better than a few years ago when I signed for Bayern,’ Sanches told La Voix du Nord last week.

‘Simply because I play more, and when I play more, I have more confidence in myself. This is really what has changed.’

The link with Wolves ahead of the January window comes as little surprise. Sanches is a client of agent Jorge Mendes, who plays an advisory role in the Molineux club’s transfer dealings.

If the move does materialise, it can only be hoped the midfielder’s second crack at the Premier League is more successful than his first.

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