The Mysterious case of Anthony Martial

On 1st September 2015, Manchester United completed the signing of Anthony Martial from Monaco for £38 million. It was just a week later that The Mirror ran the headline “What a waste of money,” referencing a report that suggested United paid at least three times over the price of the young forward. With such a large price tag and being seemingly unknown, the nineteen-year-old Martial had a lot of pressure on his shoulders. However, nobody (other than Louis van Gaal and his coaching staff) would have foreseen the instant impact Martial would have made on his debut against rivals Liverpool.

Entering the fray and putting the game away with a wonderful solo effort, Martial would go on to score seventeen goals in forty-nine appearances in his debut season. Frankly, he was putting the world on notice that another fantastic young talent was ready to make a name for himself at United. Fast forward to 2018 and Martial has started the season on the bench (albeit after one game only) and is reportedly out of favour with manager Jose Mourinho. It is clear to see that Martial has promise and talent but is United the best place to fulfil this talent?

Following a successful first season under Louis van Gaal, Martial had to adjust to having a new manager and understanding new ideas. Firstly, he was no longer Manchester United’s number 9, that was given to Zlatan Ibrahimovic with Martial taking number 11. Although the number carries the same weight of expectation if not more due to the Great Ryan Giggs being the longest owning predecessor. Martial still had a right to feel aggrieved at the loss of number, it was as if Mourinho showed an initial distrust in Martial’s ability to lead United to the next level.

Every Manager is different and has different demands, the 2016/17 season saw Martial struggling to adapt to these demands. This was evident by the fact that he only made eighteen starts under Mourinho in the Premier League. The lack of consistency can be attributed to his poor return of four League goals. In addition to this, there was the added pressure when public criticism was directed at Martial by Mourinho, this was magnified in the media and led fans to believe that the fan favourite was growing disgruntled at Old Trafford. Before United’s quarter-final against Anderlecht, Jose Mourinho said:

“Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes. But he needs to give me things that I like.”

This was in reference to a lack of aggression and intensity from Martial especially on the defensive end in games. Inconsistency on the pitch in results and performances magnified the view that Martial was struggling. His work-rate and tactical discipline was not of the level Mourinho required and he was making that clear. When watching Martial during the 2016/17 season you were treated to a microcosm of his United career. A moment of brilliance was oft followed by one of frustration or absent-mindedness.

It was once unthinkable but rumours of Martial being shipped on loan to Sevilla were rife midway through the season. It was only once these were quashed that Mourinho felt he could trust Martial more. Whether that was out of genuine appreciation for his talents or necessity (United were preparing for the business end of their UEFA Europa League campaign), fans were beginning to see the Martial that took the world by storm when he joined United. A UEFA Europa League and the EFL Cup accompanied a somewhat disappointing season for United and Martial.

The summer departures of Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney alongside the arrival or Lukaku meant renewed hope for Martial. Having been kept at Old Trafford by Mourinho, Martial once again set out to prove the potential that his manager had shown in him. An upturn in his form was evident through his early goals at the beginning of the 2017/18 season. His dribbling skills and end product were highlighted long before the first competitive ball was kicked 2017.

A great example was when he twisted Dani Carvajal inside out before teeing up Jesse Lingard for an easy tap-in during United’s pre-season tour of America. Martial possesses talents that no other United attacker has when it comes to his dribbling and ability to work his way out of tight spaces. His stellar season was reaping benefits for United but the arrival of Alexis Sanchez on a free transfer from Arsenal seemed to be a turning point. The stats will support this notion as his minutes, assists, and minutes per goal all fell after the Chilean’s arrival.

Of his 21 involvements in goals (11 goals and 10 assists) last campaign, only one involvement came post-Alexis Sanchez (an assist for Romelu Lukaku). His margin for error that allowed him to flourish before January was no longer there and what would follow would be a longer period on the sidelines. By the Summer Martial had lost his place in the French squad which would go onto win the World Cup and this left his agent publicly stating that his client would like to leave United.

Having seen the likes of; Adnan Januzaj, Memphis Depay, and Paul Pogba leave at such a young age to only rebuild their careers, United were not prepared to let Martial go knowing the promise he still has. There had to be a middle ground that they could find. Martial began pre-season playing as a sole striker whilst the World Cup travellers were away and Mourinho made do with what he had. The birth of his second child derailed his preparation for the new season but he is now back and seemingly raring to go if his social media is anything to go by.  

Still only 22, and still with the world at his feet, Martial has all the right tools to succeed at Manchester United. A fan base that adores him, a manager that (whatever anyone says) is willing to give him a chance, the ability to beat a man and score goals; which is surprisingly rare in modern football, and most importantly, time on his side. Should he stay at United and fight for his place, there is no doubt amongst the footballing world that he will become a world-class asset to United.

Once he gets a chance, will he have the killer instinct to grasp it and never let it go? The world is at his feet, what he chooses to do with it is about to be seen.

Written by Oscar Quaye

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