Pep may rue missing Sanchez

EVEN before he counted his latest casualty (Leroy Sane out for a month after a Cardiff hatchet job), you couldn't help wondering if Pep Guardiola had made a fatal mistake in allowing Alexis Sanchez to join the enemy.

We have heard the arguments about wage structure and dressing room harmony; that Gabriel Jesus is expected back sooner rather than later; and that more than Sergio Aguero's nose may have been put out of joint if the Chilean had arrived.

We know that big money is being diverted to the eminently sensible signing of Aymeric Laporte, just the kind of classy, young, left-footed defender that City need. And that Shakhtar's Fred is being sought to relieve the workload on Fernandinho.

We also know that Sanchez, 30 next on his birthday, and who has played non-stop football for the last seven years, may only have another couple of seasons left in him. And yet …

The mere sight of Sanchez in red, the noticeable new spring in Jose Mourinho's step and the sudden surge of optimism coursing through United veins at this unexpected and massive boost does make you think.

City seemed to have been waiting for him for so long that Godot could have come, played a full season and gone on loan in the meantime. They were prepared to pay £60 million (RM328.8 million) in the summer yet backed out when Arsenal would have accepted less than half that.

Martin Keown believes City took the moral high ground once Sanchez, whom he calls "the biggest mercenary in football" had suggested he might go elsewhere. The UK Sun was in no doubt, dubbing the player "a treacherous turncoat" after, they claimed, he'd already agreed a deal with Pep. Jurgen Klopp said he "couldn't imagine it was because of money" that City pulled out.

The high moral ground, wherever it is located, has never been a natural habitat for either Sanchez or Mourinho, but while the player may have been driven by money, the manager's surprise that he became available appears genuine. Now he can hardly believe his luck.

After playing second fiddle – and a mournful tune at that – since August, he has put one over Pep, stolen a star from under his nose, and breathed new life into a season that looked destined to be about making the most of being runners-up. The title is still out of reach but United's odds have shortened in both FA Cup and Champions League.

No more will we see them unable to break down the likes of Huddersfield and Stoke, battering teams but lacking the spark to prise open their defences and having to settle for those frustrating draws.

If Mourinho had dreamed of a streetwise superstar capable of the unexpected and versatile enough to play anywhere up front, he couldn't have come up with anyone better than the fella who has landed in his lap.

And now Sane has joined Jesus on the injured list, it is that versatility that makes you think Pep has missed out. The Catalan may be a genius at juggling his resources and finding solutions, but even he cannot win the Quad with Raheem Sterling leading the line.

For a couple of months now, City have not been getting the goals their dominance deserves. Cardiff was another example where to ensure against an upset and keep the dream of winning everything alive they had to play a strong side thereby risking – and duly incurring – injury to a key player.

Pep can moan about a lack of protection from referees but even if the hatchet man Joe Bennett had been sent off before he committed another horrendous foul and was belatedly dispatched, it would not have protected Sane – only his second victim, Brahim Diaz.

The Quad has never been achieved: injuries and what Pep calls an "insane" fixture pile-up are the main reasons why. Late next month, City face four games in 11 days including the League Cup final, the Champions League home tie with Basel, Arsenal away and Chelsea at home.

Just imagine how much more confident they would be with Sanchez slotting in for Sane. Or Sterling. Or Aguero. Or in any combo Pep cares to use. And the notion that he would damage team spirit also has to be questioned.

His best pal is Claudio Bravo, who had been giving updates on his impending arrival. Kevin de Bruyne was licking his lips at the thought of all those extra assists when the Chilean got on the end of his defence-splitting passes. The Belgian spoke of "when he comes" rather than "if", and everyone knew he would be earning more than the living wage.

For a club with City's ambitions to suddenly become sensitive about such matters when they've blown their old wage structure many times during their rise from mediocrity is strange. Nope, when they bought Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva among others, they weren't too fussed about what existing players thought.

There may be more to it than money. Maybe Sanchez did 'a Danny Alves' and broke his word to Pep. Whatever, it cannot be that Sheikh Mansour is cutting costs just as they are on the cusp of achieving all they set out to do.

But whatever it is and however Pep copes with the injuries, it cannot be denied that they have conceded ground to their arch rivals when they were looking at a nothing season.

And as he now says the lack of protection from referees could cost them the Quad, he should remember that he rejected an insurance policy that had a low premium and would have left him fully covered.

GOOD, BAD, UGLY & STUPID

GOODWest Brom

Unlikely winners, the Baggies caused the biggest upset of the FA Cup fourth round by knocking out Liverpool at Anfield. After a slow start, Alan Pardew seems to be getting a reaction and if this form continues, WBA could avoid relegation after all.

BADVAR

What a shambles! The first real test for VAR (Video Assistant Referee) may have got the decisions correct in the Liverpool-WBA game but at what cost! All of 8 minutes of delays inc one of almost 4 mins that upset the momentum of the game and caused confusion. If continued, VAR could threaten the simplicity and continuity of the game – the very essence of football.

UGLYArthur Masuaku

West Ham's left-back was sent off for spitting at Wigan's Nick Powell after a late tackle. His manager David Moyes described it as "despicable". After a dressing down, the 24-year-old apologised but faces a six-match ban.

STUPIDLeeds badge

What were they thinking? Leeds claimed to have consulted 10,000 people on the redesign of their badge. Well, judging by the reaction, they must all have been members of Nazi parties as it looked like halfway to a Hitler salute. Such was the furore they withdrew it within hours.

Bob's latest book, Living the Dream, is available at Borders, MPH, Kinokuniya and Popular bookstores. Also at Gerakbudaya bookstore (No. 2, Jalan Bukit 11/2, Petaling Jaya) where Bob will be signing copies on Saturday, Feb 3 from 2.30 to 4.30pm. He will be giving a talk about Malaysia's fascination with English football.