Renato Sanches must have truly felt on top of the world after Portugal lifted the Euro 2016 trophy.
The young midfielder was named the Young Player of the Tournament, becoming the youngest player to clinch the showpiece in the process, and earned himself a further shot at stardom with a move to Bayern Munich.
But an rapid ascent to the lofty heights of the game can often be followed by a chastening plummet to the bottom, with Sanches’ dramatic fall encompassing a horror switch to Swansea and exclusion on the international stage.
Renato Sanches impressed for Portugal at Euro 2016 but must battle back into the squad
The 22-year-old has slowly began to piece back together the tattered remains of a promising career, netting against Lyon in midweek and impressing from the base of Lille’s midfield.
The wonderkid, who broke free from a troubled Lisbon neigbourhood before emerging spectacularly into the limelight, more than caught the eye in the Champions League chasers’ Coupe de la Ligue defeat.
Lille coach Christophe Galtier lauded Sanches’ displays this campaign to the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS, saying: ‘He has a capacity to play. He has personality, his balance is excellent. He’s a high-level player who needs to apply his qualities in service of the team.’
Sanches has netted twice this season, and begun to justify his position as the club’s flagship addition from last summer.
And after penning a four-year contract in France, the former Benfica prodigy rapidly set about changing the perception that his career at the highest level had fizzled out almost as quickly as it began.
The wonderkid caught the eye against Lyon and is justifying becoming Lille’s flagship addition
The unstoppable forays forward that earned him a big-money transfer to Bavaria in 2016 have crept back into his repertoire, and the confidence worthy of the highest accolades at an international tournament also appears to have returned.
An example of Sanches’ restored audacity came against Montpellier in December, when the star drifted beyond Arnaud Souquet after feigning one direction before heading in the other.
Leaving his opponent flailing in his wake, Sanches’ delivery was poor and struck the first man, but the desire to entrance spectators once again is a clear indication the player has rediscovered his footing in the French top division.
His ability to dance his way into dangerous positions now is in stark contrast to his ill-fated spell with Swansea, when one of the world’s most promising talents was subjected to an overwhelming amount of mockery.
A clash against Chelsea in November 2017 resulted in Sanches being substituted at half-time, with the highly-coveted signing playing a pass towards the advertising hoardings after mistaking it for a team-mate.
That comical moment, coupled with a pair of dogged hamstring injuries a couple of months later, signalled Sanches’ drop into mediocrity, with Swans boss Carlos Carvalhal even claiming the midfielder ‘stopped learning’ after leaving his home nation.
Sanches endured a horror loan spell with Swansea before picking up two hamstring injuries
Fresh off the back of his Premier League humiliation, Sanches returned to his parent club. The starlet even came back to haunt his former side, Benfica, after netting his first Bayern Munich goal in the Champions League.
Sanches was soon then named Bayern’s Player of the Month for September, but his initially promising form crashed into the buffers once again.
The following season, Sanches openly expressed his desire for a new challenge in a post-match interview – drawing the ire of chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who said: ‘It’s not appropriate when one runs off in anger right after the first or second game. He would do well to keep calm. He’ll get his chances.’
The player was fined €10,000 after missing a training session, further souring his relationship with the club that had shelled out their fourth-highest transfer fee for him.
The midfielder returned to parent club Bayern Munich but soon requested a transfer away
Sanches, who joined Benfica for a reported €750, plus the promise of 25 footballs for his local club, earned his big break in Europe – only for his progression to be halted by frustrations on and off the field.
But after securing an escape to Lille, Sanches appears to have settled back into the mindset that allowed him to flourish for Portugal four years ago.
However, despite the rave reviews directed towards the domineering starlet, there is still plenty of work to do if the wonderkid is to force his way back into Portugal’s plans for the upcoming European Championships.
His last appearance under Fernando Santos came in 2018, with unrest at club level rendering hopes of starring again for his country at this summer’s showpiece a distant dream.
He faces fierce competition to battle back into contention, with the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Joao Moutinho and Pizzi typically favoured in the centre of midfield.
Sanches earned a surprise recall for Portugal last year and dreams of featuring at Euro 2020
But Sanches earned a surprise recall to the squad that faced Serbia and Lithuania last September.
‘How many players can say at his age that they are European champions?’ Santos had told a press conference.
‘Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been playing regularly. But he has made an enormous effort and shown an enormous desire to be here.’
Perhaps it will be a combination of having established himself as a key performer for Lille, and his newfound confidence, that finally restores Sanches’ place on the international scene for many years to come.
And if the sublime piece of skill that deceived Souquet is anything to go by, Sanches is firmly back on the route to stardom.