News Live Scores
Lille

Renato Sanches: From Golden Boy to Bayern flop and back again at Lille

10:00 WAT 20/12/2019
Renato Sanches Lille 2019-20
The 22-year-old is rediscovering his best form in Ligue 1, three years after being crowned the most promising player on the planet

Marcus Rashford, Leroy Sane, Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman were among those left trailing in the wake of Renato Sanches when he was crowned the Golden Boy of 2016.

However, there has been a mounting fear that his career would be best remembered for a pass to an advertising hoarding.

During a thoroughly unproductive loan spell with Swansea, where he played only 15 times across a whole season, his nadir came at Stamford Bridge, when he mistook the Carabao logo for a team-mate.

Manager Paul Clement had the mercy to wait until half-time before hauling Sanches off after a miserable display.

That moment was a motif of a player who had utterly lost his way after breaking through at Benfica and starring for Portugal during their shock Euro 2016 triumph.

A subsequent €35 million (£30m/$39m) move to Bayern Munich proved a disaster, with the midfielder featuring in just half of the Bavarians' games during his three-year stay at the Allianz Arena, and managing just a single goal.

The Golden Boy had turned to dust. 

Finally, though, there are signs that he may be about to come good, having joined Lille in the summer for a club-record fee of €25m (£21m/$28m).

Even the start of his time in France, though, was unconvincing.

The 22-year-old was troubled by a hamstring injury and the effects of three difficult years in which his confidence had vanished. However, as Lille have started to find their rhythm, so too has Sanches.

Initially, the Portuguese seemed to feed off the team to win back some self-belief, but now the reverse is true; in recent matches, it has been Sanches driving Lille.

Head coach Christophe Galtier has used the Lisbon-born star in a handful of different roles already, fielding him in various different guises in the centre of midfield, but it has been since he switched to the right that he has shone.

In the position vacated by Nicolas Pepe in the summer, Sanches seems to have rediscovered the alacrity that caught the eye in his teenage days.

He notched his first goal for the club last weekend against Montpellier. His overall performance was thrilling, though, with the tricks growing more audacious as his confidence grew and the match progressed.

With 84 minutes on the clock, he was a fitting match-winner, cutting in off the left to fire a shot of remarkable power past Geronimo Rulli, who had produced a sequence of fine shots to thwart Sanches’ team-mates previously.

“I’ve waited for this goal for a long time,” he admitted. “I’m very happy. I had warned my team-mates that I was going to score – I had plenty of chances in other matches.

“This time I was paid off. It feels good; it makes you happy.”

But it was not just the goal that was impressive.

Over the course of the fixture, he produced 10 successful dribbles – a Ligue 1 record this season, eclipsing even Neymar – offered five shots, four of which hit the target, and showed his defensive ethic by winning back possession on eight occasions.

“He was better than the other 21 players,” Galtier said. “He did some magnificent things that people who come to this stadium want to see.”

Although he was not decisive in Tuesday’s thumping 3-0 Coupe de la Ligue success away at Monaco, the old flair was again evident as he troubled the home defence with his willingness to dribble. An elastico attempt was a particular highlight. 

And team-mate and compatriot Xeka says there is more to come from the European champion.

“He’s playing match after match and that’s making the difference now,” he explained. “It’s easier for him to show his level. He played well on Friday but he’s still not at his very best. I know him well. I know he can still do better.”

That spells danger for Lille’s opponents, but it is also heartening for a young man who admits that he was utterly lost for a period.

“It’s true that for a year or two I wasn’t at my level,” he admitted. “But that’s in the past now. I’m finding my feelings again.

“I’m enjoying life in Lille and playing for LOSC. It’s a young city, a young team.”

Sanches must prove himself in the longer term if he is to shake off the flop tag that has been attached to him in both Germany and England.

However, if he continues along the route he is currently treading, he will once again be recognised as a golden talent and not someone who once passed to a cartoon bull.