River Plate whiz Alexis Sanchez refuses to change style

Diego Simone is worried about him. Marcelo Salas wants him to change his game.

Diego Simone is worried about him. Marcelo Salas wants him to change his game.

But for the player himself, Alexis Sanchez refuses to reign in his dazzling footwork - even if it means being kicked from pillar-to-post by Argentina's hatchet-men.

Aware that his Chilean starlet is becoming an ever bigger target for opposition defenders, River Plate coach Simone has withdrawn Sanchez from the firing line in recent games. But even coming off the bench, Sanchez's impact is being felt across Argentina - and South America.

"Alexis is going to be a great. But he needs time and support," River playmaker Ariel Ortega, who knows a thing or two about exciting crowds, said of his teenage teammate last week.

Sanchez is on-loan at River from Udinese, though may never actually play a game for the Serie A club. River management have already expressed interest in signing the 19 year-old permanently, while his form in the last 12 months is also attracting interest from bigger European clubs.

Udinese general manager Franco Soldati has already hinted that Sanchez could be cashed in over the summer: "If River Plate wants Alexi Sanchez, they must pay at least £17 million. But in any case, we do not want to lose the player."

Likened to Barcelona star Lionel Messi, there is a feeling in Italy that Sanchez's frame will be unable to withstand the physical nature of Serie A and Udinese should take advantage of his massive profile in Argentina - which has seen him top popularity polls ahead of Boca Juniors star Juan Roman Riquelme - and cash in now.

For his part, Sanchez is happy playing at River - though insists he sees his future in one of Europe's top leagues.

The attacking midfielder, who has also played as an out-and-out striker for Simeone this season, joined Udinese from Chile's Cobreloa, where he first became known as "El Nino Maravilla", or the Wonder Boy. By 18 and on-loan at Colo Colo, he had already struck his first senior hat-trick in the Copa Libertadores against Caracas. It was that performance which convinced River management to takeover his loan last season.

"I am hoping to stay, I want to continue for a long time here. Although, this does not depend only on me, I am comfortable at River. Very comfortable," said Sanchez.

"I am still getting used to how the fans in Argentina have welcomed me. It's something that fills me with pride. Hearing the chants of 'Chileeeno, Chileeeno' is very motivating, because until only recently it was something I'd see on television when Marcelo Salas was playing. It is very nice."

For his part, Chilean hero Salas sees the young Sanchez as his nation's great new hope - and admits he is concerned by the kicking he's received in Argentina and also across South America in Copa Libertadores action.

The former Juventus star says: "He must become accustomed to getting beaten up, because he moves very well with the ball and defenders will make every effort to stop him.

"He is a skillful player, he has youth, perhaps when he matures he might change into something that makes him less impetuous. But I think it is unlikely that he will change his way of playing."

Sanchez suffered a bad ankle injury last year and despite the rough attention, insists he isn't fazed.

"The tackles do not frighten me. I am getting used to it. I know the tackles are coming - but I do not understand the deliberate fouling. However, this isn't going to change the way I play. I will always play the same way," said Sanchez.

"But I am learning that there are times in Argentine football when you can't indulge yourself when on the ball. I haven't spoken to Simeone about it, it's a personal thing that I've learned. There's a time to run with the ball and a time when it needs to be protected.

"But I won't change my style."

Chile fans are convinced they are seeing a new global star developing to match modern-day greats Salas and Ivan Zamorano. But despite all the positive press in Argentina and back home, Sanchez remains level headed.

"I have not done anything near what players like Salas and Zamorano have achieved," he said. "It was only a short time ago I was playing barefoot back in Tocopilla, my hometown, and dribbling between rocks.

"I still have a lot to learn and I can do this in Argentina - for at least another six months."

Which is music to the ears of River Plate fans.

Have your say