No one predicted Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez and Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be swapping clubs in this January transfer window, yet one of the most intriguing deals in Premier League history is about to be confirmed.
wo weeks of rumour, innuendo and cynicism surrounding a transfer that has been agreed without a single penny being exchanged between the two clubs has thrown up a host of contentious issues, so here is an Independent.ie guide to a deal that has inspired debate far beyond football circles.
WILL ALEXIS SANCHEZ GET £500,000-A-WEEK?
There has been a mixture of horror, anger and bemusement over the suggestion that Sanchez will become the first Premier League player to collect half a million pounds for every week of his four-and-a-half year contract at Manchester United, but let’s put some flesh onto that bare bone of information.
Even at the age of 29, a player of Sanchez’s quality and standing in the game would command a transfer fee in excess of £75m in the current inflated transfer market, yet his status as a free transfer as his Arsenal contract comes to an end in June changes the boundaries on this deal in an instant.
Essentially, United are handing a percentage of the fee they would have paid to sign Sanchez from Arsenal to his advisers (around £10m if the rumours are to be believed), while using the rest of their budget for this deal to hand the player a £300,000-a-week contract that is bolstered up annual signing on fees and a lavish image rights deal that will allow United to use his ‘brand’ on their merchandising around the world.
The combined fee from all aspects of his contract may mean he is earning the equivalent of £500,000-a-week until the summer of 2022, but this is no ordinary sporting transaction.
Players of Sanchez’s status are rarely available on free transfers and that perfect storm has allowed the player and his advisers to cash in on the move of a lifetime.
WILL PAUL POGBA REALLY BE FURIOUS?
There have been reports that Paul Pogba and United's highest profile stars will resent Sanchez’s status as the new star of Old Trafford, but that is unlikely to concern manager Jose Mourinho.
If Pogba has a contract that ensures he enjoys wages parity with United’s top earner, his weekly salary will rise to match that of Sanchez’s and yet it is likely that Old Trafford chiefs have been shrewd enough not to break their wage structure to get this deal over the line.
Sanchez is likely to be earning a basic wage comparable to that of his United team-mates and if there is a disparity, that will be because he was signed as a free transfer and was therefore arriving under different circumstances compared to Pogba, David De Gea or Romelu Lukaku.
One of the reasons why Manchester City pulled out of a deal to sign Sanchez is believed to be the concern that a bumper contract for Sanchez would raise the asking price for Kevin De Bruyne and his agent when they look to thrash out a new deal for the Belgian forward later this year, yet United clearly believe this is a deal that fits within their budgets.
WHY THIS MAKES SENSE FOR UNITED?
This deal ticks so many boxes for United's commercial team.
Okay, so they are paying ridiculous amounts of money to agents and to secure the signature of their new No.7, but the spin offs from a sporting and commercial perspective outweigh any negatives.
United will break down the costs of this transfer over the span of the four-and-a-half-year deal Sanchez has signed up for, in a process known as amortisation in accountancy circles.
The up-front fees will appear in United’s accounts for this financial year, but the wages and bonuses Sanchez will receive will be spread over the course of the contract and with no transfer fee to pay, this looks like a viable deal.
The image rights section of his deal will allow Sanchez to earn huge sums, as he will also benefit from being part of the United brand that will enhance his own status as a world superstar.
As for his new employers, they will be eager to tap into the Chilean’s appeal in the South American market, as United have lacked a marquee name to spread their message in that quarter of the soccer planet in recent years.
United and Sanchez can be good business partners, with his social media pulling power and positive brand image factors that would have been considered before the green light what given on this deal.
Throw in the fact that the wages of Henrikh Mkhitaryan are off the United wage bill as he moves to Arsenal as part of this deal and the reality that the £300,000-a-week wages of veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic's will also be removed in the coming weeks as he considers offers to move to America's MLS and the cash pot to fund this transfer is revealed.
CAN SANCHEZ SHIFT THE BALANCE OF POWER IN MANCHESTER?
From a sporting perspective, this is a coup for Jose Mourinho.
The United boss was vocal in his calls for the club’s owners to compete with Manchester City for top players last month and while those public comments appeared to be risky, he was clearly pushing his case for this deal for Sanchez to be finalised.
By signing a player who has been a big target for Pep Guardiola since he took over as City boss in the summer of 2016, Mourinho has inflicted a strike against his old foe and signed a world class player who can turn his team from pretenders into champions. He will not care about the financial aspects involved, as this is a double victory in his eyes.
United’s hopes of challenging for this season’s Champions League title have been instantly enhanced by Sanchez’s arrival and if he leads his new employer to Europe’s top prize in Kiev next May, this deal will suddenly look like a game-changing masterstroke.