Chelsea are trying hijack Manchester United’s bid to sign Alexis Sanchez in another dramatic twist to this extraordinary transfer saga after Manchester City pulled out of the race for the Arsenal striker, balking at the cost of the deal.
City had been the favourites to sign Sanchez but the Premier League leaders have chosen to walk away after it became apparent that the cost of completing the transfer this month would exceed the £60 million fee they agreed with Arsenal for the Chilean last summer before the deal collapsed on deadline day.
United have offered Armenia playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan as a makeweight in the deal as they seek to match Arsenal’s £35m valuation of Sanchez and are still in pole position to sign the striker, despite Chelsea’s late interest.
United remain the frontrunners but they face competition from Chelsea, who are thought to be undeterred at this stage by the huge costs involved in trying to sign Sanchez, even if that stands at odds with some of the prudent scaling back at the club. Arsenal were thought to have had no direct contact from Chelsea as of Monday night.
City were unwilling to go above the £20m they offered this month but they have left the door open for Sanchez in the event he has a change of heart and is prepared to accept the terms on offer last summer, when he stood to earn around £275,000 a week.
City are convinced Sanchez’s preference is to join them, primarily for footballing reasons and the prospect of playing under manager Pep Guardiola, but the club are opposed to entertaining the sums now involved.
It would have far outstripped the earnings of any of their existing players and there were concerns about disrupting the wage structure, as well as the harmony in the dressing room, as they hone in on the league title.
With Gabriel Jesus expected to return sooner than expected from a knee injury, City also felt there was a less pressing need to sign a striker this month.
Guardiola was part of a conference call with chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak, chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain on Monday morning and was said to be fully on board with the decision to withdraw from the race. City remain in the hunt for a centre-half and are in talks with West Bromwich Albion over Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans. They have also held discussions with Shakhtar Donetsk over defensive midfielder Fred, although a summer move would be more likely at this stage.
It would take another dramatic turn of events for United to now lose out on Sanchez. Mkhitaryan was left out of United’s squad against Stoke City on Monday night as Arsenal consider taking him in return for selling Sanchez. The Armenian joined United from Borussia Dortmund for £26.3m in 2016 but he has fallen out of favour under Jose Mourinho, who has already admitted he will listen to offers for the player.
Asked about Mkhitaryan’s omission, Mourinho said: “I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision. It was just a choice of the players that we know, in this moment, have 100 per cent their heads in Manchester United.
“No doubts about the future. I don’t think it’s easy for a player to play when there are doubts about his future. It’s added pressure that a player doesn’t need, so I think it’s the best for him and for us, while the doubt is in the air, to protect him.”
Former United player Ryan Giggs, newly installed as Wales coach, believes Sanchez would be a success at Old Trafford.
“He’d be a good signing whoever takes him and they will be a lucky team because Alexis Sanchez is a top, top player,” Giggs said. “His assists, his goals, he’s used to the Premier League so he’s a top player. Looking at it from the outside it looks like he isn’t going to stay at Arsenal. Whoever takes him will be taking a top player.
“It doesn’t happen very often where you’re running down your contract, you’ve only got six months to go and you’re able to get a player relatively cheap in this environment. But it is what it is, and like I said, whoever gets Alexis Sanchez will be extremely lucky.”