Who Is Renato Sanches and What Would He Bring to Manchester United?

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2016

Sanches in Champions League action against Zenit.
Sanches in Champions League action against Zenit.KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

Renato Sanches is an 18-year old midfielder, currently playing a staring role for Portuguese Liga table-topping Benfica.

He has just been called up to the senior Portugal international squad for the first time ahead of their friendlies with Bulgaria and Belgium. This, of course, has raised the prospect of the highly rated youngster's potential inclusion in the squad for Euro 2016.

Renato Sanches in action for Benfica against Sporting.
Renato Sanches in action for Benfica against Sporting.Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

Fernando Santos, the national team coach of the Seleccao, has made it clear, per Reuters' Brian Homewood (via MailOnline), that the selection for the forthcoming friendlies "is definitely not the final list for the Euros." He said of Sanches' inclusion, "We are going to have a chance to look at him closely, in the day-to-day work, which involves much more than what happens on the pitch.”

Sanches has been linked with Manchester United, with Simon Jones of MailOnline reporting:

Talks are ongoing with Benfica over a proposed £46million summer transfer for the 18-year-old who has made just 20 first team appearances since his debut in October.

United opened discussions in January for the talented teenager and are willing to structure a deal similar to the one they struck with Monaco for Anthony Martial with staggered payments but Benfica are pushing for £31million up front with £15m in add-ons.

As for what he would bring to United, Tom Kundert of PortuGOAL, writing for the Mirror in January, describes Sanches as "a true box-to-box midfielder." Ander Herrera is probably the only midfielder at United who fits that description, and he leans towards attacking midfield.

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Kundert writes: 

The transformation in [Benfica's] results [they endured a difficult start to the season before Sanches made his breakthrough] has been as remarkable as the ease with which teenager Sanches has taken to top-level football. For someone so inexperienced, Sanches plays with a disconcerting swagger and self-assurance, demanding the ball and driving his team forward from his central midfield position in a manner you would expect of a seasoned veteran.

Sky Sports write: 

He's a player who likes to try and help dictate the tempo in the Benfica midfield, with his influence earning him a regular starting role.

The 18-year-old has been a standout on the pitch, with his braided hair also drawing comparisons to legendary Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids. His profile may suit Manchester United and Arsenal if they wish to add a greater layer of physicality to their midfield.

Bleacher Report's world football tactics lead writer Sam Tighe is torn on Sanches, expressing admiration for his qualities, but expressing some concern around his mentality in games when things are not going for him.

Sam Tighe @stighefootball

[Sanches] but he has already played games where he has strutted, sulked a little and ignored tracking responsibilities. Not perfect. 2/2.

Of course, Sanches is young, and those rough edges can be improved through coaching and endeavour. He would fit the profile of the squad United are building—a young group capable of growing together. Whether he is ready for the pressure that would come along with the kind of figures being discussed remains to be seen.

There is also the issue of the step up in quality from the Portuguese Liga to the Premier League. Memphis Depay has faced obvious difficulties adapting to the Premier League style where he is afforded less time on the ball. The same could certainly be the case for Sanches.

From a United perspective it would be helpful to see him in action in Euro 2016. Portugal have been drawn in Group F with Austria, Iceland and Hungary, which should offer them progression to the latter stages, wherein they—and Sanches—will come up against tough competition.

Benfica are still in the Champions League, and Sanches played every minute of their home and away victories against Zenit Saint Petersburg. Assuming he is fit, he will get the opportunity to test himself against the highest-level opposition in Bayern Munich against whom Benfica have drawn in the quarter-finals.

So, if United did acquire the youngster he would bring presence, box-to-box energy, a powerful shot and plenty of endeavour. However, he is not yet the finished product, so he would bring some inconsistency too.

It would be a gamble, but the last time the Red Devils bet big on buying a teenage star from a European club it was Anthony Martial, and that has worked out pretty well so far. Sanches has shown plenty of promise, and if he did arrive at Old Trafford, all eyes would be on the Portuguese starlet as he looked to fulfil that promise on the big stage.

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