On deadline day of the 2015 summer transfer window, Manchester United brought in what Louis van Gaal called a “surprise” signing in 19-year-old French forward Anthony Martial for a projected £58.8 million fee, taking three clauses into consideration. The recruitment of an unknown youth from French side AS Monaco attracted a lot of criticism, the most infamous one being The Mirror calling Martial a ‘waste of money’.
When Martial debuted in the Premier League game against Liverpool at home, just after the international break, despite coming on as a substitute, the Frenchman had enough time to prove his doubters wrong and ended up scoring a very impressive solo goal to seal the game 3-1 for United.
Fast-forward to a year and three months later: new season, new players, new manager, new competitions and a new role, Anthony Martial is one of the Manchester United players, who is yet to display a convincing performance for the team. Since the campaign’s beginning, Anthony Martial has contributed to only three Premier League goals; one goal and two assists, against Stoke City and Bournemouth respectively. The youngster, along with Matteo Darmian, were the only players who looked unconvincing in what was a confident performance by the team in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal at Old Trafford on Saturday. Club legend and now analyst for Sky Sports, Gary Neville, was the first one to slam Martial’s poor form in recent games, voicing concern over the youngster’s mentality. He said;
“To be honest in the last six, seven, eight months Martial’s not delivered. Jose Mourinho said he’s trained well these past few weeks — but he needs to start performing on the pitch. When you think about the scrutiny players come under at this club, Martial has gone under the radar and needs to start delivering. Some performances have been nowhere near good enough. His work rate is not good enough either. He’ll be grateful the spotlight is on Wayne Rooney. He’s got to produce a lot more. He does not look happy at times, he needs more energy and dynamism in his game.”
There were high expectations for Martial when news came in that Arsenal’s first choice right back, Hector Bellerin would not be featuring the game at Old Trafford, and it would be 2nd fiddle Carl Jenkinson instead who would take the Spaniard’s place. Personally, I considered this to be ta confidence booster Martial needed to kick-start his better form for the current season, however that wasn’t the case. Despite Jenkinson’s composure in defending, Martial could have still taken his best chances, by going past the Englishman or even cutting in. In contrast to his performance, Martial also managed to create a couple of decent chances for himself, first one being a direct shot at the keeper and forcing a save from his for the second. Eventually, he got replaced by Wayne Rooney, during the hour-mark, who got a different dynamic to the game when going forward.
In my opinion, one of the main reasons Martial hasn’t been performing well is due to the change in position. It has been a tricky situation for the player as well as the manager on realizing Martial’s best position: as a Striker or a Left Winger? Under Louis van Gaal, Martial started out as an out-and-out number nine for the team with Memphis and Lingard/Mata at either side of him. However with Memphis’ inconsistent performances and the emergence of Marcus Rashford, Van Gaal deployed Martial at the left-wing position for a large period of the second half of the season. Like Gary Neville said, it’s not just this season, but for the last seven to eight months since Martial has shown a bit of consistency in his form. His last impressive performance came when he scored a brilliant 90th minute winner in the FA Cup semi-final clash against Everton.
With Marcus Rashford’s rise to glory and betterment in performances, along with Mourinho getting Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the squad, the chances of Martial going back to the striker position looked slimmer. Despite Zlatan’s suspension for the Arsenal game, the manager chose to deploy Rashford as the main striker, over Martial.
Another more empathetic explanation for this decline in form would be Martial’s issues in his personal life. While, it is the player’s responsibility to make sure that their personal life does not affect their performance professionally, we can’t help to as much as consider that as one of the factors for his recent performance. Especially in the fact the media are playing a big part in this by broadcasting the various stories from his former partner, which will affect the player considerably, despite him saying nothing.
A rather simplistic solution to solving this common yet an impacting problem would be to play Martial where he first stood out the most, at the centre forward role. Despite the lack of aerial ability and physicality, he will add agility to the team’s counter attacks.
So what do you think is the reason behind Martial’s drop in form? Is it the change of preferred role, personal problems or is it just the pressure of the new squad number that has taken its toll on him?