When Manchester United swapped Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Arsenal ace Alexis Sanchez in January 2018, it looked one of the best pieces of business done at Old Trafford in years.
Alexis arrived having scored 80 goals and provided 45 assists in 168 games at the Emirates, while Mkhitaryan departed having failed to hit the heights expected after his transfer from Borussia Dortmund two years previously.
"He was cheap, wasn't he? Free transfer! He was free," then manager Jose Mourinho even said after the signing, treating the press room to a wry smile.
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But just over 18 months on, the deal couldn’t look much worse.
Alexis is a shadow of his former self and yet the highest-paid player in the Premier League.
In Der Spiegel's book ‘Football Leaks: Uncovering the Dirty Deals Behind the Beautiful Game’, it was revealed that the 30-year-old earns a basic salary of £391,000 ($478,000) a week, while also picking up £75,000 ($92,000) per game started and an annual £1.1 million fee.
That’s on top of his £20m ($24m) signing-on fee, while, according to the Daily Mail, the club are also still paying out £5m ($6.1m) in agent fees – the same figure Alexis would receive if making 30 starts in a single season.
Fortunately for the Glazers, the 30-year-old only started 13 times last season, but the player still pocketed £975,000 ($1.2m) each time his name appeared in a first 11.
As of August 19, 2019, Alexis has cost United around £55m ($67m) on his basic contract alone, without including performance-related bonuses and add-ons, with at least a further £96.8m to come if he stays at Old Trafford.
The depressing thing for the owners is that, with just five goals and nine assists from his 45 games as a Red Devil, he’s not even been worth the outrageous outlay.
He's essentially delivered £11m ($13.4m) per goal, £6.1m ($7.5m) per assist, plus £2.5m ($3.1m) per shot on target, £1.7m ($2.1m) per start, £1.2m ($1.5m) per game played, £764,000 ($933,000) per chance created and £19,800 ($24,200) per minute played.
Der Spiegel revealed that Alexis also has bonus payments of £500,000 ($610,000) and £1m ($1.2m) for United winning the Premier League and Champions League, respectively – but he’s helped them get nowhere near lifting either trophy.
Worse still – he will earn at least £93.5m ($114m) before his contract at Old Trafford expires in the summer of 2022. "Free transfer", Jose, really?
Mourinho wasn’t the only one raving about Alexis' signing, however.
Ray Parlour’s comments at the time show that the Champions League-winning clause isn’t as ridiculous as it looks in hindsight, with the Arsenal legend saying Sanchez “could be the difference in getting [United] to the semi-final or final”.
Very few, if any, saw this transfer as a potential flop – which is perhaps why United themselves went in so hard financially. Of course, the fact that they were competing with Manchester City for Alexis' services was also a contributing factor.
Now, though, it’s no wonder that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Co. are struggling to sell the former Udinese and Barcelona star, with interested parties strongly put off by his large wages.
Inter have led the race for his signature for some time, but the latest reports suggest the Nerazzurri are not even prepared to cover half of his weekly wage.
It’s no surprise either.
Alexis has shone in Serie A before, totting up 12 goals and 10 assists in the final season of a three-year stay with Udinese in 2010-11, and proven himself a world-class talent, both at Arsenal and with Chile, before moving to the north west of England.
However, Alexis has performed dismally since joining United. It’s an incredible scenario, especially given Mkhitaryan’s fortunes since moving in the other direction.
The Armenian midfielder has not established himself as a starter at Arsenal but he has been involved in more goals (nine goals and 12 assists) at a fraction of the cost of Alexis to United.
Furthermore, while his time in Manchester was underwhelming, Mkhitaryan was involved in almost twice the amount of goals as Sanchez has been during his time at Old Trafford so far, with nine goals and 13 assists – all while making less than a third of his salary.
“It’s been a disaster,” Gary Neville said of Alexis' time with United.
“I have no idea what's happened. There must be two of him. The one that played for Arsenal and Barcelona and then the one that's turned up in Manchester. They need to get him out of the club.”
For Chile, however, he remains a popular presence – and his national team head coach, Reinaldo Rueda, believes that is why he continues to perform for La Roja.
"He has the motivation, affection and some relationships that he has in the national team and maybe he didn't have them in Manchester,” he said during the summer’s Copa America, at which Sanchez scored twice as Chile finished fourth.
Whatever it is he needs to rediscover his past form, Antonio Conte believes he can deliver it at Inter, where he will also be tasked with getting the best out of another United reject, Romelu Lukaku.
That in itself is a gamble from a sporting perspective, so it’s no surprise Inter aren’t prepared to take a financial risk as well.