May 14 was an eventful day for Renato Sanches. The former Golden Boy announced the launch of his own range of emojis before finding out that he was left out of Portugal’s preliminary squad for the World Cup.
“RS35Moji by Renato Sanches” contains almost 100 custom-made animations of the midfielder, including some of Sanches celebrating goals and achievements. Unfortunately for the 20-year-old, life has not imitated art since the European Championships.
A month before Euro 2016, Sanches had sealed a €35 million move to Bayern Munich following a breakthrough season with Benfica. At the time, Manchester United were also interested, with Portugal team-mate Nani pointing out that the Red Devils had missed out on signing a star.
“Renato would have been a great signing for Man United, I have no doubts,” Nani said. “But he had a choice, and the choice he made was Bayern Munich. I hope that he has made a good choice and that he is happy in his career but I think United will now know what a big player they have missed.”
A year later, Sanches actually arrived in the Premier League. But on loan. To Swansea City.
He had been immense at Euro 2016, helping Portugal win the trophy after breaking Cristiano Ronaldo’s record as their youngest player in a major tournament. His debut for Bayern Munich a month later was poor, but that was blamed on first game nerves as his new team-mates backed him to improve. Unfortunately, that never happened over the course of a season as he failed to make any sort of positive impact for the Bavarians.
Sanches finished his first season at the Allianz Arena with no goals and no assists.
Having completed just four full matches during his debut campaign in Munich, he was allowed leave on loan to hopefully resurrect his career. Swansea fans had thought they had secured a major coup, adding the previous year’s European Championship Young Player of the Year.
Swans boss Paul Clement was also enamoured with the deal, but was cautious not to put too much pressure on the Portuguese wonderkid as he looked to returned to form.
“Bayern wanted him to play more regularly, I want him to play regularly and he wants to play regularly,” Clement said. “He’s still a young player so we have to be careful we don’t put loads of pressure and expectation on him.
“At the same time, if anyone saw during Euro 2016 for Portugal you could see what kind of a talent he is, technical ability, his personality, his physical quality and he was good enough to play in that team that went on to win the Euros.”
Again, he was afforded chances to impress, with Clement hoping he could help Swansea achieve a comfortable mid-table position. Like in Munich, he had an inauspicious start, with errors on and off the ball, including an infamous moment against Chelsea where he passed the ball into the advertising hoarding, believing it to be one of his team-mates. For that unforgivable error, Clement hooked him at half-time.
He played just five minutes for the next month before returning to the team during the busy Christmas period. However, just when he looked to be getting a chance to rebound under new boss Carlos Carvalhal, Sanches suffered a hamstring injury which meant he would not play for Swansea again as they were relegated from the Premier League.
For the second year in a row, Sanches finished the season with no goals and no assists.
With no World Cup to distract him from his club situation this summer, Sanches is at a crossroads. Bayern Munich have a new head coach, Niko Kovac, who is a man manager known to be firm but fair and get the best out of players, having helped former wild-child Kevin-Prince Boateng flourish at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Bayern are unlikely to sell Sanches, having made him their fourth-most-expensive signing in 2016, and may look to loan him again, although chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge would like to offer him a second chance in Munich as the club looks to build for the future under their new coach.
“He comes back,” Rummenigge told the Munchner Merkur. “Niko Kovac will try to bring him back to former strength. This is an exciting task.”
Another option could be a temporary return to Benfica which has been mooted in Portugal, with compatriot Carvalhal encouraging him to return to his homeland following his difficult time in Swansea.
“Renato knows he has had a very bad season. He is not at the level he was and when he had the injury in January, it finished him,” Carvalhal saod.
“He would agree this has been a really bad season for him. Someone told me he could go back to Benfica and if he can, it is the best step for him.
“It happens often with Portuguese players. Renato has a big talent, but he has much to learn. He stopped learning when he left Benfica and went to one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“I think by going back to Benfica and having his friends and mother and father around him, and a good club to support him, he can achieve the best level. He needs to go back to Portugal because he is a boy and he is not ready for Premier League level.”
Benfica are looking to return to the top of the Primeira Liga, having finished seven points behind Porto this season and Rui Vitoria may welcome Sanches back with open arms. It was under Vitoria that Sanches shone in Portugal, combining to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League and secure a domestic double of the league and league cup.
If anyone knows how to get the best out of Sanches, it is Vitoria. If neither him nor Kovac can get him back to form, maybe Sanches’ brand of emojis may need to be updated with two new icons: no goals and no assists.