"I might be the wrong person to judge," said Udinese Calcio president Giampaolo Pozzo a few weeks back as he pondered his club's prize asset, attacking midfielder Alexis Sánchez. "But for me he is in the same class as [Lionel] Messi."
The Chilean is now a team-mate of Messi's, having completed a high-profile switch to FC Barcelona, and if his performances in Serie A are anything to go by, the 22-year-old will be challenging for a first-team place from the off. He scored 12 times in Serie A last season, his link-up with veteran Antonio Di Natale causing mayhem in Italian defences and helping Udinese to finish fourth in the table.
Sánchez initially joined Udinese in 2006, but the club chose to shepherd him into the limelight slowly; he was loaned back to CDS Colo Colo in his native Chile and then to Argentinian side CA River Plate, where his performances earned him the nickname 'El Niño Maravilla' (the Boy Wonder).
His talent smouldered alluringly as he returned to the Stadio Friuli in 2008. His first two campaigns brought plenty of flashes of brilliance but a relatively modest return of eight goals. That minor sensation was transformed into a major talent last season, though; a first-team regular, he laid on plenty of goals for his team-mates and was a regular scorer himself. US Città di Palermo fans will be happy to see the back of him; Sánchez scored four times in Udinese's 7-0 win in Sicily on 27 February.
The 2010/11 Serie A player of the year will now look to create a similarly lasting impression in Spain, where the 40-times capped international is hoping to take a step up to world-class status. "My focus is getting better and better as a player," he said in June. "
At the moment I'm a really long way from Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but I'm still at the beginning of my career and I can improve."
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