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Alexis Sanchez in the colours of Udinese, the Italian club that launched the Chilean
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One day after training, Alexis Sanchez drove into the centre of Udine to do some shopping.

Returning to his car, the Chilean realised to his horror that he’d somehow managed to lock both his keys and mobile phone inside.

Instead of panicking, Sanchez decided the only thing to do was to jog the 8km back to his house in the hills to retrieve a spare set of keys.

Alexis Sanchez in the colours of Udinese, the Italian club that launched the Chilean's career

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Alexis Sanchez in the colours of Udinese, the Italian club that launched the Chilean’s career

Sanchez played three seasons for the Serie A side and established his name around the world

Sanchez played three seasons for the Serie A side and established his name around the world

Sanchez played three seasons for the Serie A side and established his name around the world

By all accounts, the locals were somewhat bemused to see one of Udinese’s star players jogging through the streets in a club tracksuit. Some even called the local paper to report this strange news.

But turning this calamity into an opportunity to complete some additional fitness work was just typical of Sanchez and his prodigious work ethic at that time.

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It was this devotion to his craft that transformed a skinny 16-year-old discovered by Udinese’s scouts playing in Chile’s copper country into one of the world’s most exciting young prospects in the space of five years.

And it provides an insight into the kind of dedication and application that Sanchez, now 30, needs to rediscover to rescue his flagging career upon his return to Serie A with Inter Milan.

Sanchez could make his debut in their home match at Cagliari this Sunday but should Antonio Conte decide he needs time to build his fixtures, his career will resume in Italy with a more poignant fixture.

If not, by a quirk of the fixture list, he will begin life with the Nerazzurri at home to his former club Udinese after the international fortnight.

Sanchez waves to fans upon his arrival for medical checks in Milan on Wednesday

Sanchez waves to fans upon his arrival for medical checks in Milan on Wednesday

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Sanchez waves to fans upon his arrival for medical checks in Milan on Wednesday

It marks a fresh start for Sanchez and brings to an end a torrid 18 months at Man United

It marks a fresh start for Sanchez and brings to an end a torrid 18 months at Man United

It marks a fresh start for Sanchez and brings to an end a torrid 18 months at Man United

Sanchez poses in the Inter Milan shirt after joining on loan from Manchester United

Sanchez poses in the Inter Milan shirt after joining on loan from Manchester United

Sanchez poses in the Inter Milan shirt after joining on loan from Manchester United

Sanchez took part in his first training session since joining Inter Milan on loan on Friday
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Sanchez took part in his first training session since joining Inter Milan on loan on Friday

Sanchez took part in his first training session since joining Inter Milan on loan on Friday

Sanchez, 30, struggled for form and fitness during his time at Old Trafford

Sanchez, 30, struggled for form and fitness during his time at Old Trafford

Sanchez, 30, struggled for form and fitness during his time at Old Trafford 

It remains to be seen whether a return to Serie A will rekindle the kind of magic we saw from Sanchez during his time at Barcelona and Arsenal, but Italian football proved an excellent proving ground at the start of his journey.

SANCHEZ AT UDINESE 

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Udinese signed Sanchez aged 16 from the Chilean club Cobreloa in April 2006. The fee was £1.7million.

He spent time on loan with Colo Colo in Chile and River Plate in Argentina before moving to Udine in 2008.

2008-09 SEASON

43 games, 3 goals, 3 assists

2009-10 SEASON

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36 games, 6 goals, 6 assists

2010-11 SEASON

33 games, 12 goals, 11 assists 

Sanchez was sold to Barcelona for £23m in the summer of 2011. 

Sanchez may have grown up near Chuquicamata, the world’s largest copper mine, but Udinese realised they’d unearthed something far more precious when they began studying hours and hours of footage of him playing for first club Cobreloa.

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‘The first time I saw him I said he had no limits,’ said Nelson Acosta, the manager who drafted a raw 16-year-old Sanchez into the Cobreloa first team.

‘He has everything. Normally in young boys there is something missing, be it skill, or vision, or the ability to beat a man. Not in Alexis. That is very rare.’

Udinese agreed and dispatched scouts to Chile to confirm if the promise of the video tapes was borne out in reality. It was.

They moved to sign Sanchez for £1.7million in April 2006 but were smart in realising that his development would be better served in South America as opposed to immediately importing him to Italy.

‘You need to let players develop in a comfortable environment,’ said Udinese’s technical director at the time, Fabrizio Larini.

Sanchez celebrates scoring for Udinese in a league match against Catania in October 2008
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Sanchez celebrates scoring for Udinese in a league match against Catania in October 2008

Sanchez celebrates scoring for Udinese in a league match against Catania in October 2008

Udinese took on Tottenham in the UEFA Europa League during his first season with the club

Udinese took on Tottenham in the UEFA Europa League during his first season with the club

Udinese took on Tottenham in the UEFA Europa League during his first season with the club

‘That is why we did not bring him across immediately. Instead, we sent him to Colo Colo for a year in Chile, then River Plate in Argentina, another step up.

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‘Only when he was ready did we bring him here. That is crucial if you are to let players fulfil their talent.’

His time elsewhere in South America ensured Udinese welcomed a player more mature both in terms of physique and talent in the summer of 2008.

There were great expectations but Sanchez took a little time to settle and his first season in Serie A was inconsistent.

Stationed mainly on the right wing, with instructions to provide ammunition for forwards Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella, he also scored three goals, but his form mainly attracted criticism.

However, the amount of effort Sanchez put in on the training field and the obvious pleasure the youngster took in his football were positive signs.

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And, with the Chilean enjoying the relaxed nature of his new home city, his second season at Udinese, 2009-10, was much better as he became acclimatised to Italian football.

With six goals, Sanchez was a stand-out performer in a team that finished in a disappointing 15th place but reached the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, where he was man of the match in a defeat by Roma.

Sanchez gets the better of AC Milan's Mark Van Bommel during a league game in 2011

Sanchez gets the better of AC Milan's Mark Van Bommel during a league game in 2011

Sanchez gets the better of AC Milan’s Mark Van Bommel during a league game in 2011

The lure of Barcelona proved too strong to resist for Sanchez and he moved in 2011 for £23m

The lure of Barcelona proved too strong to resist for Sanchez and he moved in 2011 for £23m

The lure of Barcelona proved too strong to resist for Sanchez and he moved in 2011 for £23m

One key factor was that Sanchez bulked up by spending two hours a day in the gym after training sessions and the extra muscle helped him make more of an impact inside the penalty area.

But it was the following season that would announce Sanchez to a wider audience and earn him a £23m move to Barcelona.

Some good performances for Chile at the 2010 World Cup gave him momentum entering the season and Sanchez made good on his promise to add more goals to his game.

He formed a strong partnership with Di Natale that would deliver 40 goals in Serie A and help Udinese qualify for the Champions League.

The highlight came when he scored four times in a 7-0 away win at Palermo, with one goal a length-of-the-pitch run.

Suddenly, through talent and tenacity, Sanchez had become recognised as one of the best young players in the world alongside the likes of Neymar and Gareth Bale.

Indeed, in a FIFA poll, Sanchez finished above both of those to be named the world’s most promising youngsters. Chile coach Claudio Borghi said he would be ‘better than Lionel Messi.’

Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte believes he can get the best out of Sanchez once again

Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte believes he can get the best out of Sanchez once again

Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte believes he can get the best out of Sanchez once again

His task will be to supply the ammunition for former United team-mate Romelu Lukaku to score

His task will be to supply the ammunition for former United team-mate Romelu Lukaku to score

His task will be to supply the ammunition for former United team-mate Romelu Lukaku to score

When Barcelona came calling, it was an offer Sanchez simply couldn’t refuse but he never forgot the education he received in Udine.

As he returns to Italy with Inter, Sanchez is likely to reprise a similar role out wide in a 3-5-2 system and this time supply balls for his former United team-mate Romelu Lukaku.

Inter manager Antonio Conte believes Sanchez can supply 15-20 goals this season and that he was mismanaged tactically during his time in England.

Time will tell if he can produce anything near the kind of form that lit up Italian football a decade ago.