Manchester United forward Anthony Martial was let down by the decision to remove his number nine shirt when Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived at the club in the summer of 2016 and it was something that dented his morale at the time. It was something that then manager Jose Mourinho was criticised for, but seemed to weather.
During his time at United, Ibrahimovic scored 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 matches before leaving for LA Galaxy in March 2018, ending his time at the Old Trafford club, which at the time of his arrival was heavily criticised because of the player’s age. He did well at the club and despite an injury, helped United to an EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League double.
Former United left-back Patrice Evra stated that the removal of the number nine shirt dented Martial’s confidence after a fine start at the club in which he scored 17 goals and nine assists in 43 appearances during there 2015/16 season, a season which also saw the end of Louis van Gaal, with United winning the Emirates FA Cup.
This season, Martial seems to have improved, scoring 19 goals in all competitions so far, adding six assists, making 38 appearances in total. Against Sheffield United, the Frenchman scored his first hat-trick for the club and United’s first since Ibrahimovic scored one against Saint-Etienne in February 2017. Martial was not seen as a central striker whilst Mourinho managed the club, also removing him of his favourite number. Evra said:
“I think he had a brilliant start when he played under [Louis] van Gaal. hen I remember one episode, unfortunately I think they let him really down when they swapped the shirt with Zlatan.
“I remember we were in the national team and he received a call from the club and they say you have to give your No. 9 shirt, and he was like, ‘no, absolutely not’.
“But after, Mourinho contacted him to say Zlatan is going to take the No. 9 and you’re going to take the No. 11. ‘It’s not like I’m going to say Martial’s been not playing well because of that number shirt, but it started from there.”
Mourinho was sacked in December 2018 and Solskjaer was brought in as the caretaker manager, then given the job permanently the following March. Also, with Ibrahimovic out of the picture, Martial was given his old shirt number back and seems to be heading in the right direction once again. Evra concluded by saying:
“I remember at the beginning of the season I went to Carrington and Martial was really upset and really frustrated because he was injured.
“And I was like, ‘wow, Anto, that’s really impressive because last time I saw you weren’t that enthusiastic, and now when you’re injured you want to come back really fast to help the team’.
“So, for me, from now I think United are going to get the best of Anthony Martial. Not only because he scored his hat-trick but his attitude is where you want to play for Man United. Martial can destroy any defender if he decides.
“That’s why it’s really frustrating. Many people know his talent, you can ask Wayne Rooney, he’s one of the best No.9s. But he needs that aggressiveness to score goals, that anger, it’s more about his personality.”