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Alexis Sanchez exit solves nothing - Short-sighted Man Utd are in freefall

12:00 PM GMT 30/08/2019
Alexis Sanchez Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Man Utd
The Red Devils will pay the majority of the Chilean's wages at Inter - further evidence of the gross mismanagement that has set the club back years

This week, Manchester United finally offloaded Alexis Sanchez to Inter but the deal is highly favourable and risk-free for Antonio Conte’s new team.

United will still be reportedly paying over £200,000 ($243,000) of Sanchez’s weekly wage and the Nerazzurri do not have an obligation to buy. That is a huge embarrassment for executive vice chair Ed Woodward, who sanctioned a deal which made Alexis the best-paid player in English football history.

For that outlay, Alexis scored five times in 45 games. Teemu Pukki, a free transfer signing for Norwich last summer, has scored that many in his last 263 minutes of Premier League football.

Alexis' loan move solves nothing. United are still being drained of wages and instead of rehabilitating Sanchez into a fully functioning member of the first-team squad, Solskjaer has instead pushed him away.

At the club, he would be worth something; away from it, he is worthless.

But that is only one of the weapons-grade transfer mis-steps made by United since Solskjaer got the job. Problems in this department began right at the outset.

It was decided that Marouane Fellaini was not the kind of player to star in the Solskjaer era. His only league minutes under the Norwegian came in the first match in charge, against Cardiff City. But Fellaini had proven himself to be more than a useful player under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

He scored important goals and disrupted opposition backlines with his aerial ability and strength. In short, he was the most effective player that United had when it came to settling games late on.

He is still scoring for Shandong Luneng – a team that fits his profile – but for United to lose him with no adequate replacement brought in was short-sighted. There is no other player at the club who can do what he does.

Ander Herrera, meanwhile, declined a belated offer of a new contract. He left on a Bosman for Paris Saint-Germain having been – arguably – the most successful of the club’s post-Sir Alex Ferguson era signings.

His place in the team has been ceded to Scott McTominay, a young player whose attitude and commitment could never be questioned, but whose calibre is several rungs beneath Herrera’s.

The United midfield is painfully thin, especially considering that Fred has been frozen out just a year after his arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk and Nemanja Matic’s days look to be numbered too.

How was a high-class player in his prime like Herrera ever permitted to leave for a European superheavyweight without a replacement coming in his place? That is gross mismanagement; it speaks volumes of the issues United have been having behind the scenes.

Romelu Lukaku was nobody’s favourite United player but he has been incredibly hard done by nonetheless. He was United’s top-scoring forward last season, netting more goals than both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who are now expected to carry the goalscoring burden between the pair of them all season long.

Lukaku was signed for £75 million ($91m) from Everton in 2017 and – despite at the time of his sale being one of only three currently-active Premier League players to have hit 100 goals or more in the division – was moved on to Inter.

He is 26 years old, he is his country’s all-time top goal scorer, he has been prolific since his teens until now. And, yet, United saw fit to offload him for a €65m (£59m/$72m) fee to be paid over five years.

That is a steal for the Italians, who have already seen Lukaku get off the mark in his first Serie A game under Conte. Players of Lukaku’s goalscoring class are rare; it’s hard to go out and buy one, harder still to find one for the price he was let go for. And who have United bought in his place? Nobody.

After the 4-0 Everton defeat in April, Solskjaer said: “There are some players who won't be part of [my] successful team but there are some who will.”

Of the starters that day, only Lukaku is gone. From the substitutes' bench, all remain other than Sanchez. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic and Fred have been expelled from the first-team picture but remain on the books, although the first named does look set to join Roma on loan.

Not many people would have guessed that, of that abject line-up, only the top scorer would be gone by the time the new season rolled around. It gets to the heart of the issues that United have encountered when it comes to getting rid of their deadwood.

There was also talk of Marcos Rojo moving on over the summer but none of those kind of United players are in demand.

While players of value like Herrera and Lukaku have been picked off, it’s another thing altogether shifting players on big wages who are getting on in years. They might well be stuck with them for another while yet.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Manchester United have been in freefall for most of 2019, save for Solskjaer’s honeymoon period which cleared the air after Mourinho’s departure.

They have won only one of their last nine matches, that being the opening day victory against Chelsea at Old Trafford which is looking increasingly like a false dawn.

In that run, they have scored eight and conceded 16.

Go back further.

Since beating PSG in the Champions League last 16 second leg, Solskjaer has presided over 15 matches and won only three of them. That run includes a draw away at relegated Huddersfield, a home loss to relegated Cardiff and that aforementioned 4-0 trouncing at Everton.

Counting back to last season, United are third from bottom in the Premier League form table over the last 12 games. That run started with a defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates in March.

The club are in a sorry state, on and off the field, with the latest humiliation coming at the weekend courtesy of a 2-1 defeat to lowly Crystal Palace, who have since been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by League Two’s Colchester United.

If, as Solskjaer predicted, this era is going to be successful, then things are going to have to turn around soon and in the most dramatic way possible.