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Alexis Sanchez in action for United at Yeovil Town.

Opinion: United is the greatest stage for Alexis

With so much focus given to the finances behind Alexis Sanchez’s transfer to Manchester United, the key to the move was reflected in a different set of numbers.

In purely arithmetical terms, the signing of Alexis Sanchez was, frankly, stupefying. Even in the age of bigness, and given only the most cursory scrutiny, the numbers are nothing short of eye-watering.

Within 24 hours, over 20 million people had witnessed his piano tinkling video, #Alexis7 had become the world's most-used Twitter hashtag, a new record for 'likes' of a single post was set on the club's Instagram post and had its most-read article of the season so far. For greater context, across all social media outlets, the announcement was comfortably and convincingly bigger than Neymar's 2017 move to Paris Saint-Germain - the most expensive transfer in football history.

When it became clear earlier this month that Alexis was more likely to leave Arsenal for United than long-time predicted destination Manchester City, there emerged a flimsy, but widely flaunted, concept that avarice had beaten football puritanism, and that the Chilean was moving to Old Trafford to bolster his bank balance, rather than his medal collection.

Time will tell on the latter, but the suggestion that this club can only trade on its financial clout is nonsense. The eyes of the world dart this way more than any other, and not because United sit atop Deloitte’s rich list. When the club discusses sponsorship deals with prospective partners and sponsors, the selling point is not confined to the terms on offer; association with Manchester United offers an intangible recompense. Every Premier League club has money these days - Leicester City, West Ham, Southampton and Everton are in the top 20 richest clubs in the world - but none have the prestige of United’s level.

While frothing speculation over the transfer’s total cost dominated headlines for days in advance, it’s the deal’s unfathomably vast audience which puts forward a compelling counter-argument: maybe, just maybe, Alexis wanted to join the biggest club in the country. And perhaps – again, just a thought – the kind of showman who once won the Copa America with a Panenka penalty, wanted to play to the largest audience on the grandest stage.

'The best announcement video ever!'Video

Plainly, Alexis won’t be earning a pittance during his time at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho termed it
“a fantastic contract.”
As a world star penning what could be the final major long-term agreement of his career, arriving without a transfer fee, that was to be expected and, frankly, it seems unlikely that chickenfeed was being offered by his other suitors, or that his income at Arsenal was paltry enough to prompt him to seek out greater coin. The motives to play for United are many and varied, but it is a fair assumption that money is seldom even close to being primary.

“Since I was a young lad I’ve always said that my dream was to play for Manchester United, and I’m not just saying that because I’m here now and today it’s come true,”
Alexis said in his unveiling interview.
“It really is a massive club, very powerful, and so now, when I got the opportunity to come here, I looked at the badge and my hairs just stood up on end because it’s a powerful club and the biggest in England.”

He’s right. We like to celebrate our history and traditions here. The badge is emblematic of a story unlike any other in football, played out by a stellar cast. When Alexis arrived at Old Trafford, he was greeted by Sir Alex Ferguson in a theatre that has starred Ryan Giggs, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson and Wayne Rooney, among other greats past and present. Knights of the Realm, Ballon d’Or winners and serial champions have all taken to that stage.
This is not a world which has much time for yesterday, with such onus on the future, but United are also in good shape today and well set for tomorrow. As well as walking in the footsteps of history’s greats, Sanchez now shares the same facilities as a squad which has won three major honours in the last 20 months. Yes, the history of Manchester United is cherished, but it is not in stasis. It is being updated all the time. When Sir Alex retired, Liverpool had won the most major honours in England. United now top that chart, and are also now the only club from these shores to win every available major honour. The ability of an obviously transitional team to keep stacking up the trophies is much maligned and deserving of greater recognition.

In the last four full post-Ferguson seasons, in spite of seismic upheaval throughout the club, United have won the same number of major trophies as City, Arsenal and Chelsea. Liverpool and Tottenham have been empty-handed during that period. Of course, only the foolhardy would bet against Manchester's Blues bolstering their total this season, but the Reds are also in the hunt for honours. This is a club which is competing and, with Sanchez on board, hopes of gaining more silverware this season have grown in the last week. Four months of the campaign remain and, given the Chilean’s instant uplifting impact on training sessions and involvement in two goals on his debut, there is further cause for short-term optimism.

Alexis is a world-class forward who has signed up to work under one of the game’s great managers in a squad replete with some of the most exciting and varied young attacking talent around. The Premier League is an extremely long shot this term, but the Champions League and FA Cup remain cautiously realistic ambitions for the remainder of this term. Next season, those aims are refreshed, and once again United will hold the collective gaze.

No team in England is more televised or scrutinised. Hated, adored, never ignored and all that. Not because of what the club is worth, but because of what it is. This is a special place. There is an opportunity for every player on the club’s books to keep adding to that history, to write their name into a story without equal, while the world watches. You can’t put a price on that.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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