The last couple of years have been a roller-coaster ride for Renato Sanches, haven’t they?
Since breaking into Benfica’s first-team in 2015, the 21-year-old has experienced the terrifying lows, dizzying highs and creamy middles that the footballing world has to offer.
From winning Euro 2016 with Portugal and moving to Bayern Munich at the age of 18, to being left out to dry by Swansea last season – he’s certainly gone through it.
But thankfully, the young midfielder is seemingly back to his best after teetering on the edge of obscurity.
You see, he’s just been named Bayern’s Player of the Month for September.
The German giants are going through a few teething issues under new boss Niko Kovac at the moment, but Sanches’ place in the team following his disastrous loan spell with the Swans has been one of the few positives so far.
But to truly appreciate his return to the top, we need to go back to last season to fully understand how bad things really were.
In the summer of 2017, Sanches arrived at Swansea as one of the coups of the transfer window.
The youngster had heaps of potential and was widely considered one of the stars of the future, but had failed to hold down a regular place in Bayern’s starting line-up.
He simply needed to feel loved again, and at Swansea it looked like he’d be a big fish in a small pond. However, upon his debut for the Welsh side, it was clear something was very wrong.
In his first outing, he proceeded to give the ball away an incredible 23 times in 69 minutes during a 1-0 home defeat to Newcastle. This was followed by a combination of injuries and indifferent form over the next few games which further hampered his start to life at the club.
But his time in Wales reached a new low last November in a game against Chelsea.
In what many labelled ‘the worst 45 minutes in Premier League history’, Sanches infamously confused the advertising hoardings for one of his red-shirted team-mates and was subsequently hauled off the pitch at half-time by his bewildered manager Paul Clement.
He made his final league start for the side in their first match of 2018 – a home defeat to Spurs – and lasted just 36 minutes in an FA Cup clash with Wolves four days later.
Having been sacked by the relegation-doomed club, Clement would later describe Sanches as “far more damaged than I thought”.
He added: “It was really sad. He was a boy who had almost got the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“In training, when that pressure is not there, he was the best player. But then in games, I looked at the choices he was making, shooting from 45 yards on the angle, and he kept making those mistakes.”
In May, Sanches’ career was at a crossroads.
He’d missed out on going to the World Cup with Portugal and had returned to his parent club without a goal or an assist to his name in two full seasons of club football.
As always, there was plenty of speculation regarding his future – with some rumours linking him with a return to Benfica. But Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge still believed in the player they’d signed for €35 million two years before, and spoke openly about giving him a second chance at the club.
“He comes back,” he said to the press. “Niko Kovac will try to bring him back to former strength. This is an exciting task.”
While Kovac has struggled at Bayern so far this season – at the time of writing, he’s under real pressure after losing 3-0 to Borussia Monchengladbach in the league – he’s seemingly one of the best managers in the game to get Sanches back to his best.
After all, he famously helped the enigmatic Kevin-Prince Boateng flourish during their time together at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Rebuilding Sanches’ confidence started right away, in Bayern’s first pre-season friendly of the summer against Paris Saint-Germain.
Thrown into the starting line-up, Sanches showed off his once-heralded strength and agility to control the midfield – completing every single one of his passes – and he even scored a brilliant free-kick to put Bayern in the lead.
From there, he’s made his return to Portugal’s national team – making cameo appearances against Croatia and Italy last month – before starting and scoring in Bayern’s Champions League group clash against Benfica.
He’s now started two of their last four league games and is seemingly growing in confidence all the time, even if Bayern are currently struggling for form.
Since his return to the side, Kovac has spoken highly of the youngster – even likening him to club legend Lothar Matthaus.
He said: “It’s true that people fly off him left and right – just like they used to do with Lothar Matthaus.
“I’m delighted for Renato – I said all along that he was excellent in pre-season and it wouldn’t be long before he plays.”
There’s still a long way to go of course, and Sanches could see his game-time at Bayern limited if they sack Kovac mid-season.
But for a young player who was labelled damaged goods not too long ago, his return from the brink is certainly one of the more uplifting stories of the season so far.
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