In Good Conscience

United deal sets Sanchez and agent apart as football mercenaries

Alan Hardaker, who ran English football half a century ago the way he ran his ship as a lieutenant-commander during World War ll, once said he would "not hang a dog on the word of an ex-professional footballer".

Those words come home to bite some 50 years later.

The drawn-out transfer of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal to Manchester appears to be in the final stages of negotiations. But it will be to United, not City.

Big-money transfers are clandestine affairs. For all the auditing that is supposed to go through the books, we end up guessing which clubs are telling the truth when top players change colours.

But if half of what we hear from across Manchester's blue-red divide is true, this proposed deal scrapes the barrel of what a player's word means. Or in this and most other cases, the players' representative.

What we know and have seen is that Sanchez was the best, the most committed of Arsenal players until Feb 15, 2017.

That was the night when he stopped believing the Gunners were good enough for him.

It appears that United will pay £30 million to Arsenal, a £20 million signing-on fee to Sanchez and a £14 million annual salary after tax. Oh, and £10 million to Felicevich.

It was the Champions League last-16, first-leg tie in Munich when Bayern thrashed Arsenal 5-1, and the demeanour that night of both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil was of complete surrender and demoralisation.

Sanchez has never been the same since. A player who would chase down any ball, turn many a lost cause into a triumph, has sought his big move ever since.

His agent Fernando Felicevich has guided Sanchez since he was 16, when his mother had to sign documents giving "Fe-Fe" full control over her son's career and investments.

Nobody can say in this case that the agent is a former professional football player.

Felicevich played rugby, not football in his youth, in a region somewhere between Diego Maradona's Buenos Aires and Rosario, where Lionel Messi is from.

Taking care of Sanchez was a golden ticket for Fe-Fe. His agency Twenty-two now acts for 141 players, including the core of the Chile national team who are the current Copa America champions.

From that small acorn of the young Sanchez 13 years ago, Felicevich now has the kind of bartering power that Jorge Mendes - through representing Cristiano Ronaldo - and Mino Raiola have.

Raiola is the agent who reportedly squeezed a personal £41.39 million (S$75.7 million) out of returning Paul Pogba to United, having previously taken Pogba out of Manchester when he was 18.

And Raiola was in business with United again this week, negotiating the release of his client, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (he also has Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Sergio Romero on his books).

The proposed Sanchez deal cannot go ahead without Mkhitaryan's agreement.

We are not supposed to interpret this as Mkhitaryan being the "makeweight" in the move for Sanchez. "Sanchez is part of Mkhi's deal - not the other way around," sniffed Raiola.

"Without him, Sanchez simply cannot go to United. Mkhi is going to do what is best for him."

Best in this case is to agree to play for Arsenal, whose manager Arsene Wenger appreciates the Armenian's vision and touch, rather than Jose Mourinho who, whatever Raiola says, didn't rate him.

Time will tell whether Arsenal will be a better fit for a player, if the swop deal goes ahead, who certainly shone at Borussia Dortmund.

And time will be the judge of Sanchez too.

The word in Manchester is that he, or his representative, reneged on the deal that City agreed for the Chilean last summer before Arsenal called off the transfer.

Everybody will tell you money was not the cause of the likely switch to United.

But while City's agreement with Sanchez was £275,000 per week; when wages, image rights and fees are added up, it appears that United will pay £30 million to Arsenal, plus a £20 million signing-on fee to Sanchez and a £14 million annual salary after tax.

Oh, and £10 million to Felicevich.

Can any player be worth that?

Sanchez has been described as "pulling Arsenal up by the bootstraps". But that was mostly pre-Munich. The 29-year-old has run marathons for both club and country with no proper summer break for years.

He now looks set to become the Premier League's top earner.

I've enjoyed watching Sanchez.

But the obscene hike his agent has likely pulled off now makes me think (even hope) that Arsenal are well rid of him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'United deal sets Sanchez and agent apart as football mercenaries'. Print Edition | Subscribe