The carefully-scripted Twitter video message went out on Monday afternoon.
The social media department had outdone themselves.
The video featured Alexis Sanchez, wearing his new Sunday best, a Manchester United strip with the famous #7 on the back, sitting in front of a piano, playing "Glory Glory Man United," before showing him stepping onto the field and the screen fading out with just one word, "Alexis," visible before it went black. The signing and that Twitter video may prove United's best moment in a season where the awards will be taken by their rivals.
United second-best in Manchester
In the last two seasons, United have won three major trophies (the FA Cup, the Europa League, and the League Cup) without every playing particularly good football. The silverware, particularly since they are the only major trophies won since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, is nothing to scoff at. Yet, Manchester United have not stopped talking about themselves as the biggest club in the world even as they have ceded that mantle over the last five years. In the post-Ferguson world, they haven't even been the best team in their own city.
Since Sir Alex retired, Manchester United have finished 22, nine, level on points but behind on goal difference, and nine points behind Manchester City in 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, and 2016/17 respectively. In the nearly five-year period, the major trophy count between the two is level at three apiece, but no one could possibly argue that United have ever once been the better team in these last five years.
This season, City are head and shoulders above every other English club. Along with Paris Saint-Germain, they look the team to beat in the UEFA Champions League. They've qualified for the League Cup Final, are 12 points ahead of United at the top of the table, and look set to bring in no shortage of silverware this spring. The intra-city superiority will soon be reflected in the trophy-count.
Alexis Sanchez signing illustrates the gulf in class
Winning the FA Cup, Europa League, and League Cup is nothing to sneer at. However, the esteem with which United hold themselves, and their own expectation to be competing for and winning the Premier League and Champions League makes it look like winning any other competition is little more than a booby prize. When it becomes impossible to win a major trophy, like the Premier League, teams have to try and make fans happy in other areas. This brings us to Alexis Sanchez.
While United may not be able to catch Manchester City in the league, they could at least pip them to Sanchez's signature. United may have been knocked out of the League Cup by Championship opposition, but they could still sign Arsenal's best player who Pep Guardiola wanted to sign last summer. Just as United did with Paul Pogba 18 months ago, a well-coordinated social media release with exciting hashtags and unique video content looks set to prove the highlight of the season.
Welcome to Manchester
Alexis Sanchez is undoubtedly a phenomenal footballer, and this deal makes sense for all parties involved. Sanchez gets to make more money at a bigger and better football team, United get a good player who will help their attack and get to troll Manchester City, Henrikh Mkhitaryan gets a fresh start at a club more suited to his playing style, and Arsenal get a good player in return for Sanchez, who could have left for free this summer.
That the deal makes sense for those reasons is indicative of how far United have fallen. While they are a deserved second-place in the table this season, can still compete for silverware this year and have certainly made progress under manager Jose Mourinho, this signing feels as much about making a statement as it does about improving the team. Signing Sanchez and lording it over Manchester City on Twitter is the social media version of City signing Carlos Tevez and erecting the infamous "Welcome to Manchester" banner.
In less than a decade, United and City have completely reversed roles. City have established themselves as the top team in Manchester, and have the manager and squad to be at or nor the top of Europe for quite some time to come. Guardiola's side are not without their flaws -- the central defence still leaves something to be desired -- but the football they play is incredible. The thought of their title challenge slipping this season is almost inconceivable, and it's hard to imagine how United could improve enough to challenge them for the title next year.
United are left hoping that Sanchez will do for them what Tevez did for City: help to change the culture of the team, score important goals, and show that they are serious about getting back to the top of English and European football. Sanchez is a fine player and a good signing for United. But, he can't disguise the fact that United have become the noisy neighbours.