Why Renato Sanches' return to Bayern Munich is cause for excitement
In an off-season dominated by the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Renato Sanches‘ impending return to Bayern Munich could easily fall under the radar, but if all goes to plan at the Allianz Arena, it could yet prove to be one of the shrewdest moves of the summer.
The Portugal international has become something of a forgotten man after struggling to find his feet at the record German champions following his high-profile move in June 2016. He was subsequently loaned to Premier League side Swansea City for the 2017/18 campaign, but, unable to recapture the form that led to him being named 2016’s Golden Boy thanks to his role in Portugal’s UEFA European Championship triumph, he will be back at Bayern for the new season.
Watch: From the archives – who is Renato Sanches?
“Renato’s coming back,” confirmed Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in May. “He’s had a couple of difficult years, which I believe are linked to him winning the Golden Boy award after the 2016 Euros. We were absolutely convinced of his qualities two years ago so we’re not going to give up on him now.”
Rummenigge succinctly summed up Sanches’ case. The central midfielder caught Bayern’s eye in his breakthrough 2015/16 season at Benfica, where a series of muscular displays helped them to the domestic league title and advance to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League – where they were knocked out by Bayern.
Pep Guardiola, who was Bayern coach at the time, described him as “one of the best young players by far in Europe. He’s dynamic, has a lot of quality and, above all, has character. He covers a lot of ground. He’s top, top quality and has got a big future ahead of him.”
The Bavarians secured the then 18-year-old’s signature before Euro 2016, which was just as well because he cemented his blossoming reputation at the continental showdown to help Portugal win the title, while he also went home with the Young Player of the Tournament award. That same year he also picked up the aforementioned Golden Boy award as the best young player in Europe.
Clearly, then, there is no issue with Sanches’ ability to perform at the highest level. Instead, he seems to be struggling with a lack of confidence, a factor equally important in elite sports. And this is precisely where new Bayern coach Niko Kovac can work his magic. “Niko will try and bring him back to his old strength,” said Rummenigge. “It’s an exciting project.”
Indeed it is. Sanches is still just 20 years old and has a contract at Bayern valid until 30 June 2021, so time is on his side. And Kovac has previous when it comes to getting the best out of promising but inconsistent youngsters.
Consider his achievements at Frankfurt. Marius Wolf, for example: the 23-year-old had shown hints of his gifts in Bundesliga 2 with Nuremberg and 1860 Munich, prompting Hannover to sign him, but the wide attacker failed to settle there and only made two first team appearances in 2016/17.
Kovac, however, recognised that with a bit of TLC, Wolf could become what he is today: an incisive and decisive winger. He played more minutes than any other outfield player at Frankfurt in 2017/18 (2,368), registering five goals and eight assists and earning himself a transfer to Borussia Dortmund.
That is no isolated case. Ante Rebic, Luka Jovic and Danny Da Costa, to name but three, are all players who moved around from club to club in their early years as professionals, struggling for consistency and the right guidance.
After just one season under Kovac, all three are now mainstays at the Eagles, with Rebic flourishing in particular. He scored in the DFB Cup final win over Bayern and also found the net against Argentina at the 2018 World Cup group stage as Croatia topped Group D with three wins from three.
Competition for places is notoriously fierce at Bayern, with Arturo Vidal, Javi Martinez, Thiago, Sebastian Rudy and Corentin Tolisso all vying for a central midfield spot. But after a summer off, Sanches will be refreshed and ready to grab his shot at redemption – and he couldn’t be in better hands.
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