Alexis Sánchez: the Premier`s new Luis Suárez
Alexis Sánchez: the Premier`s new Luis Suárez
Anyone who has watched the two players in action can see their obvious similarities. Speed, skill and an incredible dribbling ability define both Suarez and Sanchez, but is their tenacious determination to succeed that sets them apart from others.
"I was ready to give him time if he needed it, but he has settled in much quicker than expected," Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said after Sanchez scored twice in the 3-0 defeat of Burnley. "Now I play him through the middle and he has shown he can find the ball, he can dribble and he can go at you. There are similarities with Suarez a little bit -- by going at you, by being where you do not expect him to be in the box, and by having that huge desire to be at the end of things."
Famously, Wenger tried to persuade Suarez to join the Gunners with a cheeky bid of 40,000,001 pounds back in the summer of 2013; it was rejected out of hand by the Reds and saw owner John W. Henry tweet in response: "What do you think they're smoking over there at Emirates?" However, a year on and Wenger appears to have found the perfect alternative as Sanchez has taken to life in England, scoring seven goals in his nine league games to date.
Alexis' rise has not come easy, though. From his days playing barefoot street football in Tocopilla, he has grown over the years.
ESPN FC asked the game's top experts for insight into his time with each of his teams.
Tim Vickery on Cobreloa (2004-06) and Chile (2006-)
Right from the very start he was marked out as a wonder kid, a truly special talent, which explains why someone of his size (5-foot-7) and, at the time, slight build was getting a game in the Chilean first division when he had recently turned 16.
He didn't waste time at international level either and was thrown in for warm-up games (for the opposition -- Chile hadn't qualified) before the 2006 World Cup at the age of 17 and looked instantly comfortable at the level. Real progress came, though, in 2007, when he was the leading light in Chile's under-20 side, which came third in the World Cup at that level in Canada.
After that he had the benefit of Marcelo Bielsa taking over as senior Chile coach -- Bielsa's love for wingers, and those who can get behind the defensive line, soon made Sanchez an important player in the team. His strength was clearly his dribbling talent, but his striking of the ball soon improved as well.
He only really struggled with something that comes with youth: making the decision of when to lay off the ball, when to unleash the dribble. Initially he was doing too much of it too far from goal, but after he made the move to Udinese he soon came back to South America in loan spells with River Plate (Argentina) and Colo Colo (Chile).
I think the Colo Colo spell was especially important because he was part of an attractive, effective team, with big names such as centre-forward Humberto Suazo and seemingly destined-for-greatness playmaker Mati Fernandez. It was a great place to gain confidence and also game smarts, to improve in terms of decision making. He's never really looked back since.
James Horncastle on Udinese (2006-11)
Udinese is the perfect place for players to develop. It's away from the spotlight, they're a patient club and there's little or no pressure. This helped Alexis quietly and discreetly adapt to Europe and to Serie A.
He was likened to Cristiano Ronaldo as a teenager -- and his muscle conditioning today does little to discourage the parallel -- and had The Boy Wonder instead gone to one of the continent's elite clubs earlier he perhaps wouldn't have got the time to find his feet amid all the hype that followed his displays at the U20 World Cup in 2007.
Alexis was by no means an instant hit at the Stadio Friuli. His first coach, Pasquale Marino, copied how Chile played him -- out wide in an attacking trident. It wasn't until Francesco Guidolin returned to the club, reviewed his role, and used Alexis behind Antonio Di Natale that he exploded.
"We took a gamble on Sanchez," Guidolin told La Stampa. "He had always played wide, but when I arrived I put forward the idea of playing him behind the striker. From a central position he can be even more decisive. Playing as a No. 10, he is more unpredictable and harder for opponents to keep tabs on."
He learned a lot from his strike partner Di Natale, one of the great forwards of his generation. Indeed, Di Natale's partners have often ended up at bigger clubs: Sanchez went to Barcelona then Arsenal; Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella to Juventus. Di Natale believes his current partner, the Colombia international Luis Muriel, is more naturally talented than Alexis but there's a crucial difference - hunger.
Alexis, like Ronaldo, emerged at Udinese as a great trainer, dedicated to self-improvement. Di Natale believes he taught Sanchez most and would stay back and train together, practising shots from distance. There's no doubting their partnership was the best he and Udinese have had in recent years. The pair combined for 39 goals in Alexis' final season. For him, Udine was where he came of age. It was the place 'The Boy Wonder' became a man.
Graham Hunter on Barcelona (2011-14)
Alexis was slightly unfortunate to be at FC Barcelona at a time of great upheaval -- a time when, after great stability, he worked under four coaches in three seasons: Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, caretaker Jordi Roura and Gerardo "Tata" Martino when Barca had had two coaches in the previous nine years.
His hesitancy and lack of self-assurance cost him in his first two seasons. It was difficult both making the transition from a club like Udinese to a world giant like Barcelona, and learning how to play around Lionel Messi. The club made huge efforts to support and mature a player who was popular within the squad and who possessed evident talent plus a huge work ethic, although that didn't really bear fruit until the final season.
When I interviewed him, Alexis put "decision making when on the ball" into the category of things he wished to improve in his game and I thought that was shrewd. He landed here at the tail-end of a very synchronised, planned style of football which was heavily based on "positional play" and had been learned by many around him since they were 12 or 13.
That was difficult for him to adjust to, as was the fact of him needing to play as a "domestique" to Messi when Alexis thrives on being out in front of the peloton -- leading by example. Note, clearly, that in the first two seasons, when the system was of the Cruyff-Guardiola-Vilanova school of thinking, his goal total was very low, matching his self-confidence.
As soon as the play became more direct, more old fashioned under Tata Martino, Alexis shone, scored more, finished more clinically and set the path for the manner in which he's playing now at Arsenal.
John Cross on Arsenal (2014-)
Alexis brought world-class ability, wonderful excitement and a bit of the X factor when he arrived at Arsenal. A big signing like him shows ambition, proves determination to be successful and, rather like with Mesut Ozil, is a game-changer for the London club. But, while Ozil took time to settle on the pitch, Alexis's arrival has inspired both on and off the pitch.
Alexis has raised the tempo, created excitement and shown Arsenal mean business. He has also delivered great value for money and looks a snip at 35 million pounds. Arsenal signed a world-class player, one who can win and change games on his own.
His physical strength, power and desire are things that stand out, while his determination and never-say-die spirit are fantastic. He never stops working on the pitch. As Arsene Wenger said, he even runs out for training, he never walks.
No doubt he can go on to be the best striker in the Premier League. At the moment, surely Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero are the best around, but Alexis drops deeper, he marauds through all areas of the pitch. Maybe that makes him more of an all-round player like Suarez.
Running everywhere on the pitch, his technique is fantastic -- his volley against Manchester City and reaction to fire home his rebounded free kick against Anderlecht show he can score goals of the highest quality -- and the fans love him.