News Live Scores
Bayern München

What has happened to Renato Sanches? Euro 2016 wonderkid suffering third year of misery

10:00 SAST 2019/04/03
Renato Sanches FC Bayern
The 21-year-old was once the best young player in Europe but his career has stagnated since moving from Benfica to the Bundesliga

With Bayern Munich needing a goal with less than 20 minutes remaining against Freiburg on Saturday, Niko Kovac decided to make two substitutions. First of all, Franck Ribery came on for Kingsley Coman, who has yet to play 90 minutes since returning from injury.

The change was an understandable one with veteran Ribery well capable of unlocking Freiburg's defence and helping secure the goal that would keep Bayern Munich on top of the Bundesliga.

However, Kovac's final substitution was a puzzling one. Former European Golden Boy Renato Sanches was left on the bench as Bayern swapped two centre-backs, with Niklas Sule replacing Jerome Boateng.

Once again, Sanches was left watching from the bench, failing to add to his 50 minutes of football in 2019. Since the winter break, he has featured just three times in the Bundesliga - cameos of 11, 10 and 16 minutes - the second and third of which were in games that Bayern had already convincingly won.

He bumped that figure up with two substitute appearances against Liverpool in the Champions League, the first of which was a two-minute introduction to wind down the clock at Anfield. He was sent on in the second leg in Munich and put in an industrious performance despite playing just 11 minutes, but was not trusted to do the same against Freiburg.

Unsurprisingly, he has been frustrated in recent weeks, even expressing his unhappiness to the media despite a previous insistence that he would battle to be a success in Munich. "I'm not happy here, I work a lot, but I'm not allowed to play," Sanches told kicker last week. "I want to play more, maybe at a different club, I have to worry about that."

That honest interview came on the back of a personal diary on the Players' Tribune where he reflected on what people said about him during his first season at Bayern: “Flop. Bust. S**t. Sell him while we can."

He also revealed the hardship he endured at Swansea, where injuries and poor form led to a hugely disappointing loan spell. "I was out for months, sitting alone in an apartment in Swansea watching it rain all day."

Now he is back at his parent club in Munich, but the midfielder is back sitting and watching. The rain has been replaced by gloomy football that he believes he could change, if only he was given that opportunity.

At the start of the season, Kovac decided not to allow him to leave on loan again, believing that he could re-energise his career, much like how he turned things around for Kevin-Prince Boateng at Eintracht Frankfurt.

"It's not easy for young players from abroad, you have to take that into consideration," Kovac said at the start of the season. "He certainly hasn't forgotten how to play football. He's not a difficult lad, but he needs affection and support from all sides. Footballers need recognition and to be given confidence just like the rest of us."

That affection and recognition arrived early in the season when Kovac started Sanches against former club Benfica. The 21-year-old shone on home soil, scoring an excellent individual goal in a 2-0 win to get Bayern off to the perfect start in the Champions League.

After that, Sanches was heavily involved in the Bayern squad, starting four games and playing in every league match from the end of September to the end of November as Kovac tried to keep his full panel of players happy with rotation.

At the time, it looked like Sanches was back to being a regular player for his club, having played just 17 league games in his first season in Munich and then just 12 times in the Premier League at Swansea.

However, a substitute appearance in December saw Sanches disappoint his manager. Sent on with half an hour remaining against RB Leipzig, the midfielder showed a lack of maturity in stoppage time, getting himself sent off for pushing Stefan Ilsanker to the ground. He was suspended for the last game before the winter break and has not started since.

Wednesday's DFB Pokal clash with second-tier side Heidenheim could be his first start of 2019 and a chance for Sanches to live up to his own billing. He told the Players' Tribune that his immediate dream was no longer to win the Ballon d'Or.

Instead, he now has smaller aims: "I want to be in great shape. I want to play more minutes. I want to keep hearing people around Munich say, 'That’s the Renato we signed, that’s why we got him'."

Sanches will have to prove himself worthy of starting for Bayern Munich if he is to have a future at the club. Unfortunately for him, time is running out this season. Bayern's Champions League campaign is over, so that leaves a maximum of 10 matches in the league and cup for Sanches to make his mark.

To make things more difficult for Sanches, Corentin Tolisso has returned to training following a knee injury, meaning the midfield in Munich will be even more crowded with Kovac trying to keep everyone happy. Barring a sudden and unexpected turnaround, the Euro 2016 star's Munich misery looks set to continue until the summer at least.