When asked about his role model, Davinson Sanchez named two legends. "From the past, I like Franco Baresi. From the present, it's Sergio Ramos," the Colombian youngster revealed.
Baresi had always been the symbol of elegance and tactical brilliance, the greatest artist of catching opponents offside and a phenomenal ball distributor. Ramos stands for unbreakable character, sheer force, robustness, aerial prowess and the ability to score dramatic and vital goals.
If Tottenham do somehow get a mix of this duo in the 21-year-old prodigy, acquired from Ajax for £42m, they will be delighted. But will that be the case?
The fee might look a bit steep, but there’s a big positive from the start: Moussa Sissoko is no longer Spurs' record signing, which should take a lot of weight off the Frenchman’s shoulders. As for Sanchez, he's unlikely to be worried about the price tag. The Colombian is incredibly self-confident, as he proved by snubbing Barcelona.
In May 2016, the Catalan newspaper Sport reported: "The first new face of Barcelona B for the new season will be Davinson Sanchez." There were clearly no doubts whatsoever at the club, where a €4m deal with Atletico Nacional had apparently been agreed. And yet all parties involved forgot to ask the player himself – and his decision was unexpected.
"I don't want to play for the reserve team," the defender said. A couple of weeks later Ajax got their man, and even his Colombian club were happy, since they received an increased fee of €5 million.
Making the tough choices
Davinson's decision proved to be bold and correct, and it’s not the first unorthodox choice he'd made in his life. During his childhood, Sanchez played at the academy of America de Cali, the club of his dreams. He was never rated highly enough, though, and didn't feel comfortable in his midfield role.
That's why he chose to move to Medellin and join Atletico Nacional at the age of 16. The youngster joined the club he didn't support, but the one where he believed he would get the best chance to progress.
It took longer than expected at Atletico Nacional as well, but at least he found his ideal position thanks to Juan Carlos Osorio. The coach decided that Davinson's speed should be used in central defence, but it was only after he left that the youngster got an opportunity to prove himself. New manager Reinaldo Rueda gambled on the unproven prodigy at the beginning of 2016 and was rewarded with terrific performances in Copa Libertadores, all the way to his side lifting the trophy for only the second time in their history.
It was especially symbolic because the first trophy, in 1989, was won by arguably the best Colombian team ever. Francisco Maturana was the coach, while the defensive partnership of Andres Escobar – the man who met such a tragic fate after USA '94 – and Luis Carlos Perea worked wonders for the national team as well. It was a huge honor for a young player like Sanchez to follow in their footsteps, but some of his statistics were even better than those of the legends.
His partnership with Alexis Henriquez, the captain and yet another role model for Davinson, was so good that Atletico Nacional kept clean sheets throughout all six games of the group stage. Four more were added in the knockout rounds, including in the 1-0 win over Independiente del Valle in the second leg of the final.
By that time, in late July, Sanchez had already signed for Ajax, but the Dutch club allowed him to finish the tournament and win the trophy. The Colombian immediately started his European adventure without rest, which is probably why coach Peter Bosz chose to give him a breather in the second leg of the Champions League play-offs at Rostov. It turned out to be a bad idea: Davinson watched from the bench as the Amsterdam side were thrashed 4-1.
From then, Bosz always used Sanchez whenever he could in the Europa League. Ajax went all the way to the final, only to be stopped by Manchester United.
Sanchez, imperious more often than not, was linked to various clubs throughout the season. Barcelona were interested once again, this time for their first-team squad, while Real Madrid and Chelsea were rumoured to be in the race for his signature. It’s quite a coup for Tottenham to have won it, and the club hope to have signed one of the best centre-backs of his generation.
His former coach Rueda would certainly agree with such a description. "Davinson has been a revelation, and he has a great future ahead of him,” Rueda, who now works at Flamengo, said of his former protege. "During his first season at Ajax, he demonstrated his character and ability. He is extraordinary, and I know his conviction.”
The player himself also has designs to go to the very top. "I have achieved a lot thanks to my ambition. I know that I can achieve a lot. This is not my roof, not my limit,” the Colombian told AS at the beginning of his Ajax experience.
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However, among such optimism it’s important to not to lose perspective. Sanchez is talented, but has only been playing at the top level for under two years. He’s still inexperienced, and has just two international caps for Colombia, with his debut coming in a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Argentina.
Sanchez is a ball-playing defender who likes to start attacks from the back, but still has a lot to learn before getting anywhere near Baresi's level. He’s fast and extremely strong, but his positioning when defending set-pieces isn't yet perfect. He scored six league goals for Ajax last season, which is a brilliant return for a defender, but Ramos is still light years ahead of him.
In short, it’s too early to judge Davinson Sanchez, and Tottenham fans shouldn't expect him to become a leader in his first months in London. He might be a great defender in the making, but he'll need some time.
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