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In loving memory of the Renato Sanches era at Bayern Munich

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Renato Sanches’ time with Bayern Munich has ended with his sale to Lille. The French club reportedly coughed up €20 million plus add-ons for his services.

Energie Cottbus v FC Bayern Muenchen - DFB Cup Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Renato Sanches is gone. Therefore, it’s only right that we revisit his tenure in Munich.

The then 18-year-old Sanches joined Bayern from Benfica for €35 million having just won Europe’s Golden Boy award. After the deal was agreed upon, he went on to win the Young Player of the Tournament award as he helped Portugal win the 2016 Euros.

After acquiring Sanches, Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said this when speaking of him:

Renato is a dynamic, combative, and technically gifted midfielder who will strengthen our team. We are delighted to have signed him despite notable interest from other big-name clubs.

Fussball Europameisterschaft 2016 Finale: Portugal - Frankreich Photo by Pressefoto Ulmer\ullstein bild via Getty Images

The signing excited Bayern fans. At the time, the deal received universal approval. And that’s exactly why it’s been painful to witness what has unfolded ever since he came to Munich in 2016.

Sanches’ first season at Bayern was inconsistent in more ways than one. He didn’t live up to expectations and was deprived of the opportunity to prove himself. He appeared in 25 games and played a grand total of 903 minutes in his first season in Munich.

He did not register a single goal or assist.

His inconsistency was understandable, considering the fact that he was a 19-year-old with less than a full season of experience as a pro. However, things didn't get any better after his debut season.


The loan spell from hell

After an uninspiring first season, Bayern sent Sanches out on loan to Swansea City for the 2017-18 season. That loan spell can be succinctly summarized using this video:

Long story short, it was a catastrophe.

The circumstances were unfortunate. Sanches suffered from untimely injuries, played for a club that was mired in a relegation battle for much of the season, and played under three different managers. He was also absent from the squad sheet on several occasions even when he was healthy.

He didn’t help his cause by playing poorly whenever he was on the field. His season essentially ended in January, when a hamstring injury sidelined him for more than three months. By the time he came back, it was the end of April. He was benched in the first three games following his recovery and was scratched from the squad for Swansea’s final game of the season.

His 2017-2018 season featured 16 appearances and 943 minutes of game time. Once again, he didn’t register a goal or an assist.


The return

Renato Sanches returned to Bayern after the loan deal expired. His first start of the 2018-2019 season came in his homecoming to Benfica, where Bayern took a 2-0 win against his boyhood club. Sanches made a triumphant return home and scored a nice goal in that game.

Overall, Sanches made 16 appearances and played 667 minutes in the first half of the 2018-2019 season. He showed signs of improvement, registering a goal and three assists. Maybe it meant things were looking up for Sanches. Maybe he was about to get consistent playing time.

But alas, the second half of the season was hell on earth for Renato. He didn't play much, if at all, and he constantly reiterated his desire to leave.

When speaking to kicker in March, he made it clear that he was not happy at Bayern. He also said: “I’d like to play more, perhaps at another club. I have to give it some thought.”

His desire to leave intensified as the season wore on. Here’s what he said when speaking to Florian Plettenberg after Bayern’s 1-0 win against Werder Bremen in April:

Renato Sanches just said, “I wanna play more. 5 minutes are not enough,” Does a loan make sense? Sanches responds: “Yes, I think so.” @SPORT1 #FCBayern

He appeared in eight games and only played for 115 minutes in the second half, with 52 of said 115 minutes coming in the final game of the Bundesliga season against Eintracht Frankfurt. He came on for Leon Goretzka, who got hurt during the game. He went on to score in the 58th minute, giving Bayern a 3-1 lead en route to a 5-1 win.

In an interview with Sport1 after the game, Sanches said:

I wanna play more. I’m a young player. When you’re young and don’t play much, you feel bad. I love football and I want to be used more. I don’t have to talk about my situation with him [Kovac] every day. He knows how I feel. But he makes the decisions and I respect that. It’s too late to get more playing time though. Nonetheless, I’m concentrating on my job. Today I had the chance to play, and that worked out really well.

11 days later, before a friendly against SpVgg Lindau, he said, “Thank God! Just 45 minutes of FC Bayern left!” Unsurprisingly, he started the game on the bench.


A false dawn, an outburst, and the end

In spite of what had unfolded over the last few months, Sanches felt as if he had an important role to play for Bayern.

Sanches revealed that he had spoken with Kovac often. He came to the understanding that Kovac did not want him to leave. Kovac told him he was going to get another chance to prove himself.

In an interview captured by Bundesliga.com last month, he told reporters before the start of the United States tour that “I just want what’s best for me. If the best for me is to stay here, I’ll stay. I want to play.”

Sanches played well during the preseason, which inspired confidence, but he only played 20 minutes against Borussia Dortmund in the DFL Supercup. He still started in the game against Energie Cottbus in the DFB-Pokal. Overall, it was a solid performance from Sanches.

Energie Cottbus v FC Bayern Muenchen - DFB Cup Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

So far so good, eh?

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. Things boiled over after stating his desire to leave after Bayern’s 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin. He also got a 10,000 euro fine for skipping the post-game training session.

Bayern finally realized they had no choice but to sell him. They couldn't provide him what he needed most and therefore it was only logical for both sides to move on. The development of Renato Sanches would’ve been further stunted if things had dragged on any longer.

Today, they went through with it. Bayern agreed to sell Renato Sanches to Lille. With that came the end of a tragically disappointing “era” in Munich.


My thoughts

Being the staunchly pro-Sanches guy I am, I can’t help but wonder how things would’ve turned out if he actually got consistent playing time. It’s saddening to think about what has happened over the last three years. Seeing him go in such an unceremonious way hurts me, especially when you consider how naturally talented he is.

It was evident from the start that he had the tools and the talent to succeed. Unfortunately, things didn’t go his way in spite of the fact that he was often recognized by his teammates and Kovac for his ability and hard work, especially during practice sessions.

It’s worth noting that during his time in Munich, Bayern have employed (at different points in time) Thiago Alcantara, Arturo Vidal, Javi Martinez, Thomas Müller, James Rodriguez, Corentin Tolisso, Sebastian Rudy, Philippe Coutinho, Leon Goretzka, and most recently Michaël Cuisance. There was always a massive logjam at midfield and that limited his opportunities.

And while I wanted Sanches to succeed at Bayern more than anything in the world, I understand that it just wasn’t meant to be. With that in mind, I am happy for him. Now that he has moved to Lille, he’ll be getting significant playing time on a pretty good team. He’ll also get to genuinely experience Champions League football this season. This is a move that could help him win back his spot with the Portuguese national team and revitalize his career.

I would like to end this by saying that I wish Renato Sanches nothing but the best in his future endeavors. Hopefully he sets the world on fire.