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'A caged lion' - Should Inter set Alexis Sanchez free?

5:30 PM MYT 16/01/2022
Alexis Sanchez Inter Juventus Supercoppa Italiana 2021-22
The Chilean scored a late winner in Wednesday's Supercoppa Italiana against Juventus but his massive salary is a strain on the Nerazzurri's resources

On Wednesday evening, Alexis Sanchez scored the latest goal in Supercoppa Italiana history, with the Inter attacker sparking wild celebrations at San Siro with a 121st-minute winner against Juventus.

The Chilean hadn't just made history with his close-range finish, though. As far as he was concerned, he'd also made a point.

"The more a champion plays, the better he is," Sanchez told Sport Mediaset. "He does things nobody else can.

“I played against Lazio [on Sunday], so I thought I would have [started tonight] because I was in good shape, but the coach made his decision."

Sanchez has long had an issue with his coach's decisions at Inter.

It was former boss Antonio Conte who had offered him a way out of his Manchester United nightmare but Sanchez quickly grew frustrated with being asked to play the role of super-sub.

"Conte used to say to me that there was nobody else like me and that I had to make the difference in the final 15 minutes," he explained.

"I told him that by doing that, he was making me suffer. I said, 'Put me on earlier, I can make the difference then too!'"

Sanchez initially found minutes even harder to come by under Conte's successor, Simone Inzaghi, and after being left on the bench for the entirety of a 2-1 win over Sassuolo on October 2, he snapped.

The former Arsenal ace took to Instagram shortly after the game and posted a picture of a sand-covered Lamborghini deserted at the side of a road.

"You can be worth a lot," Sanchez wrote, "but if you're not in the right place, you cannot shine."

The message was clear: Sanchez wasn't happy at Inter and wanted out.

A January exit looked inevitable at that point, given Nerazzurri CEO Beppe Marotta was more than happy to let him leave.

After all, cash-strapped Inter were effectively paying Sanchez €10.5 million (£8.8m/$12m) to sit on the bench every week.

The situation has now changed slightly, though.

Marotta remains open to Sanchez's exit, either before the close of the January transfer window or at the end of the season, when Inter have the option to buy out the final year of the player's contract for €4m (£3.3m/$4.6m).

Inzaghi would now favour the latter scenario, as he believes that Sanchez has shown that he can play a pivotal role in the second half of the 2021-22 campaign.

Back in October, Sanchez was playing more regularly for his country than his club.

However, Inzaghi has been impressed with the 33-year-old's application since the Instagram outburst.

Sanchez has featured in Inter's last six Serie A outings, starting three of them and scoring twice.

"He's been very good," the Inter boss told DAZN after last month's win over Cagliari. "He's a great professional.

"He works well during the week and he tries to show me in every training session that he wants more game time.

"When I've called him in the past, he's always given great responses.

"Everyone knows Alexis' value. He can win a game for you from one moment to the next."

He did exactly that against Juve, pouncing on a loose ball in the Juve area to earn Inter a first Supercoppa success since 2010.

In the grand scheme of things, it's not a very meaningful trophy.

Wednesday night felt different, though. The Gazzetta dello Sport felt that the result proved that "Inter's cycle [of success] had truly begun".

The Nerazzurri dethroned Juventus as the champions of Italy last summer and now they've taken their Supercoppa trophy too.

Defeat certainly hit the Old Lady hard. Juventus centre-back Leonardo Bonucci even got into a touchline row with Inter secretary Cristiano Mozzillo.

Inter, meanwhile, were ecstatic, with Marotta making his way down to the pitch at full-time to share a warm embrace with Inzaghi, whom he shrewdly hired to replace Conte last summer.

The victory, though, meant even more to Sanchez, who stood bare-chested before the Inter fans during the post-match celebrations.

"I've been a caged lion," he claimed. "If they let me play, I'll become a monster."

The return of the Alexis Sanchez of old would certainly represent a terrifying proposition for Inter's rivals, given the league leaders already boast Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko in attack.

The key question, though, is whether he can stay fit. He's suffered numerous injuries over the past two-and-a-half years, which has severely hindered his ability to build up any momentum and partially explains why he has started just 35 of the 88 games he's featured in for Inter.

As Inzaghi has noted, his work-rate certainly can't be questioned. Sanchez has always looked after himself, in terms of training and diet.

Even back in his Udinese days, he would often leave his car at the club's training ground and make the 8-kilometre walk home on foot, and even when he goes on holiday, he never goes more than two days without hitting the gym.

All of this explains why Sanchez, at the age of 33, remains in impressive physical condition, as he was so keen to underline on Wednesday night.

He took off his jersey after scoring the winner out of pure joy. But he then removed his performance shirt to show that he is as strong as he's ever been.

If he is to usurp Lautaro or Dzeko up front, the onus is now on Sanchez to prove that he can deliver this kind of decisive display on a consistent basis.

After his Supercoppa strike, he declared, "This is the roar of the lion", making it clear that he wants to be set free.

Inter may well grant him his wish. It's just not yet certain whether that means letting him loose on Serie A defences on a weekly basis – or finding a new home for him elsewhere.