There were actually only 20 meters to the team bus, for the strong sprinter Renato Sanches this is nothing, but at this moment the 21-year-old young professional of FC Bayern Munich looked quite tired anyway. It had already begun on the field, where he embraced old acquaintances with naked upper body, then the interview marathon. Player Mats Hummels had told before that Sanches only came into the cabin when all the others had already finished showering.

It happens again and again that a professional soccer player travels back home to his old club. The fact that he scored a goal against this old club and was celebrated by its fans was something special. And the moment that made an ordinary, expectable 2-0 Champions League victory for FC Bayern at Benfica Lisbon something special. Everything was “very emotional”, Sanches said in English, “it was very important for me to make this game”. Then he shuffled to the bus.

Thiago’s retirement brought Sanches’ chance

The night before, coach Niko Kovac had made a secret of whether Sanches would play. The midfielder had not yet played in the current season. But: “If not now, when then,” Kovac said after the game. He admitted, however, that it was only after midfielder Thiago suffered a toe injury that he made that decision.

The coach called Sanches’ performance “unique”, Mats Hummel’s “fantastic”. But Sanches did not succeed in everything in the domestic spotlight for a long time. In the middle of the first half he even had a lot of ball losses. He constantly waved his arms and challenged the ball, but also seemed simply hectic. But already the early 1:0 by Robert Lewandowski (10.) had shown his strengths: Sanches had introduced it with one of his fast appearances. “He has an enormous speed, he can drag the balls over 40, 50 meters,” enthused Hummels.

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Niko Kovac Honours

Player
Bayer Leverkusen

  • Bundesliga Runner-up: 1996–97, 1998–99

Bayern Munich

  • Intercontinental Cup: 2001
  • Bundesliga: 2002–03
  • DFB-Pokal: 2002–03

Red Bull Salzburg

  • Austrian Bundesliga: 2006–07; Runner-Up: 2007–08

Manager
Eintracht Frankfurt

  • DFB-Pokal: 2017–18

Bayern Munich

  • DFL-Supercup: 2018

A sprint, an offshoot, a dusting device – and applause

The 54th minute was then painted for this special homecoming: A heel by Arjen Robben, a sprint by Sanches over half the field, an offshoot to the side, and then the dusting man to the decisive 2:0. Sanches immediately pressed his hands together over his head, it simply meant: sorry. Then thousands stood up and applauded. Without singing or cheering, just pure, respectful applause. “I said to him: “Enjoy this moment”, Arjen Robben told later.

He will have done it, after the “many neck blows” (Kovac) that had happened to him. He had joined the Bavarians in 2016, but only played over 90 minutes twice during the season: The young European champion was flopped. “When he arrived here, he was even more destroyed than I thought,” said Swansea coach Paul Clement half a year ago when the Bavarians lent him to England.

Over the past few weeks, the Bayern officials suddenly told me that Sanches had worked very hard on himself after his return. Things went really well for him at the end of August, when Benfica was drawn for the Bayern in Group E. Who knows how long it would have taken otherwise with the starting eleven. Suddenly, he’s the model player for the fact that most of the new players integrate quite well with the Bavarians.

Kovac, Neuer – There were other winners this evening as well

The little Sanches tale concealed a little that there were other winners that evening. Coach Niko Kovac, for example, who certainly did not have a perfect debut as a Champions League coach, but a good one. “The victory was very, very important for our coaching team,” said sports director Hasan Salihamidzic. In ComeOn Casino the new players are privilege to received a bonus without deposit.

Or Manuel Neuer, who in the few moments when he was in demand, gave parades like in the old days before his protracted injuries. “I was looking forward to the game. That was also a good start for me,” said the 32-year-old, whose last Champions League match on Wednesday was 372 days behind.

Neuer seemed more relaxed after the game than seldom. And he already dared to take cover for the next match: Together with Leon Goretzka he travels, as this time Renato Sanches, to his former club, Schalke 04. He himself had already made his experiences there (“The more hate you get, the more you know how much you were loved”). Regarding the recently changed Goretzka, he still said: “I am curious whether the Schalker can keep up with the fans of Benfica”.