It seems like a good day to share stories about Alexis Sanchez, what with today being the Chilean international and Arsenal goal machine’s twenty-eighth birthday. As Kristan Heneage shared on Twitter from a post on r/Soccer from a post on the Romanzo Calcistico Facebook page (man, that’s a lot of hat tips), here’s a great story from Alexis’ former Udinese teammate Antonio Di Natale. The retired Italian international and prolific Udinese goalscorer had this to say about Arsenal’s energizer bunny (with gratitude for translation to the original poster on r/Soccer):
"I knew that Udinese had bought a promising Chilean called "Niño Maravilla". It's true tho that in South America are pretty generous with their nicknames, and here in Udine we are used to hearing this kind of thing: after all, the club's strategy is to choose unknown players, follow them, analyze them and then eventually buy them.
His impact, however, was immediately impressive. I was obviously surprised by his technical abilities, but what really struck me was the approach that he had toward working everyday. In my career, I have seen a lot of talented players to squander their skills with the wrong attitude, with a sort of indolence. Alexis was the opposite: I've never seen him distracted, he was always attentive and focused, always ready to work harder than others to improve. He was also interested in those aspects of the game that often talented players hate: the tactical aspects, physical condition, how to help the midfielders and even fullbacks. And this is probably the thing that allowed him to become one of the greatest players in the world. He combines individual quality to an amazing willingness to sacrifice.
Yes, it is the best partner I ever had in my football life. I played with a lot of great strikers, but he is the best. Alexis is able to do everything, it is one of the most complete strikers in the world, he could play as a winger, as a striker, as trequartista. In Udine in emergencies he has also played as a midfielder.
I re-embraced him in Watford last summer and, although he is now an international star, he has not changed at all; there is not a drop of arrogance in his attitude. He's the same guy who was in Udine. For me, this is perhaps the most significant thing. That day I asked him his jersey for my son: instead of giving me that he went to get the one worn in his first game for Arsenal. He could had kept it as a souvenir, but he preferred to make a gift to my son ... So, gestures like that make person unique. "
[Totò Di Natale on Alexis Sanchez]
Honestly, when a truly great player is a little bit of an arrogant butthead, you can accept it. There are villains in sports, and sometimes it’s fun to have one on your team. At the same time, though, there’s something really special about knowing one of your favorite players is also a genuinely good guy, which it sounds like Di Natale at least believes he is. That’s cool.
Happy birthday, Alexis!