It was not supposed to go like this. Renato Sanches was fresh off a strong performance for his country's senior team in one of the biggest tournaments in the world. He had broken Cristiano Ronaldo's 12-year-old record for the youngest player to be selected for a major competition for Portugal.
Not only was he the youngest player ever to suit up for Portugal at this level, he was also named the Young Player of The Tournament. This string of strong performances all came on the heels of his much ballyhooed transfer from Benfica to Bayern Munich.
To say his star was on the rise would be a massive understatement. Bayern legend Philipp Lahm even went so far as to say that he believed Renato would be an asset to Bayern in the future and that he was a "very, very good player." But after 25 total appearances, it was apparent that Sanches needed seasoning. A different league perhaps, where he could get much needed playing time. Enter Swansea FC.
It should have been a perfect match. Former Bayern assistant manager Paul Clement had been appointed as the new Swansea boss and was very familiar with the Portuguese youngster. “Bayern really supported it,” Clement told The Times. “They thought he was going to a club who played football, and to a coach who would care and give him the attention he needs.”
The loan was not what Sanches expected. According to Clement,
He (Sanches) wasn’t so keen initially. He thought he was going to go to Manchester United, Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain. Bayern were saying, “You’re not going there, it would be the same situation, you’re not going to play.”
But nothing went according to plan in Swansea. Sanches played well in practice without pressure, but wilted in the spotlight of actual games, making poor choices and mistakes—like an ordinary 20-year old, not the reigning UEFA Golden Boy award winner.
Clement felt sorry for Sanches, who seemed overwhelmed by his status as a Bayern prspect and the most expensive player ever transferred from the Portuguese Primeira Liga.
When he came, he was far more damaged than I thought. It was really sad. He was a boy who had almost got the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Sanches’s lack of confidence led to a vicious cycle of poor play, culminating in the humiliating scene in which he passed the ball out of bounds to an advertisement on the sidelines in open play. Clement found it difficult to justify playing him.
In games, I looked at the choices he was making, shooting from 45 yards on the angle, and he kept making those mistakes. He got in a vicious cycle of poor choices. The other players were saying, “He’s playing like that and you’re not picking me,” so it became difficult to pick him.
Carlos Carvahal, a fellow Portugal native, seemed to take Sanches under his wing when he took over for Clement at Swansea, but the results have been mixed. Sanches has shown he is capable of strong performances, but he still lacks consistency. Injuries have also played their part, but even when fit, Sanches seems unable to assert himself as he once had.
Restoring a young player’s confidence is a far harder task than making simple tactical adjustments.
Meanwhile Sanches’s future with Bayern may be in serious jeopardy. With the signing of Leon Goretzka, there is an ever greater logjam at his position at Säbener Straße. But it is also important to remember that Sanches is still an incredibly gifted athlete who doesn't turn 21 until August.
When Philipp Lahm was 20, he was in the midst of a lengthy loan spell with VfB Stuttgart. Manuel Neuer was still on Schalke's reserve team and even the great Robert Lewandowski was playing in the Polish 3rd division after being rejected by Ekstraklasa giants Legia Warsaw and La Liga side Sporting Gijon.
Renato Sanches’s career is far from over, but one thing is absolutely for certain: he needs a fresh start.