There seemed an air of unease around Old Trafford. Christian Benteke had just crashed Liverpool back into contention at Old Trafford with a superb bicycle kick. With the score at 2-1, United manager Louis van Gaal brought on new signing Anthony Martial, whom the English media had welcomed with their usual cynicism.
A few moments after his introduction, Martial rolled back the years and slotted home beautifully. A finish his footballing hero would have been proud of. All twinkling toes, Martial slalomed into the box. He got a lucky deflection back into his path off Martin Skrtel, opened up the cutest of angles and with unnerving precision, Martial finessed his curling shot past Simon Mignolet, announcing himself to his new adoring fans. A finish they would go on to see again and again. Each time as accurate and silky. This is the story of Anthony Martial, Manchester United’s most exciting talent in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Martial’s journey to the top was modeled on following the trail left by his idol, Thierry Henry. Also mentored closely by former United full-back Patrice Evra, Martial had fantastic role models to grow under. Like his mentors, Martial started his career at CO Les Ulis, a club based in the fifth tier of French football. He then spent nine years there. In 2009, Lyon came calling. Martial matured into a stronger, professional level footballer over a span of three years. Debuts in the Europa League and Ligue 1 followed suit. Despite just 3 appearances for the first team, Martial was showing plenty of signs of a player who was destined for great things.
When Monaco arrived with a $5.6 million bid, Martial rose another step up the footballing pyramid. 49 appearances, 11 goals and an under 21 Golden boy award later, Martial was making waves. Amid swirling rumors linking him to PSG, Chelsea, and Manchester City, Martial moved to United for a whopping 36 million pounds, growing to 58 million in add-ons. Unconfirmed rumors suggested that Louis van Gaal had been given the go-ahead by Ryan Giggs, who had allegedly scouted Martial for a full 12 months. In an interview with Goal in 2015, Lyon’s head of youth recruitment Gerard Bonneau offered a fascinating insight into the kind of player and man Martial is.
“He was player with a lot of strength and quality. To start off with, he did not like doing the defensive work but he quickly understood that it was needed in a successful football team.
You had to be behind him, to push him to make the effort. He was a very quiet boy, very much like now. He rarely felt under pressure but he knew how to prepare properly for matches. Martial was taught at our training centre to become an athlete.
Early on, we saw that he was not only skilful in front of goal but he linked up well with his teammates. At the time, I said he will be in French national team by the time he’s 21, he’s done it at 19, so I was almost right!”
Bonneau’s comments make for a fascinating insight. Martial is very reserved and has been the subject of many amusing memes showing his resting dour face. A bugbear at times for United’s current manager Jose Mourinho and some portions of the club’s fanbase seems to be a perceived lack of effort in games from the player in games that do not go his way. Martial, until very recently, has found life mixed under Jose Mourinho.
He has been the victim aplenty of Mourinho’s ‘tough-love’ treatment; being dropped for long spells due to his lack of graft in defensive zones, undergone public rinsing like fellow squad member Luke Shaw and even been fined for attending the birth of his child. While the criticism that he has the odd game that slips him by is justified, few United fans would argue that he has gone on to become the club’s hottest prospect in their new era post-Sir Alex.
Martial’s journey at United, like the club’s fortunes post-Fergie, has been mixed. After his wonderful start against Liverpool, Martial did not look back. He went on to net 17 times in all competition over the course of his first season, with a thrilling last-gasp winner against Everton in the FA Cup Semi-final to send United on their way to silverware. A poor league finish spelled the end for van Gaal, and in came Jose Mourinho at the start of the 2016-17 campaign. Martial found the first season under Mourinho hard, often being left out and being perceived as having a poor attitude.
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Personal problems off the pitch did not help the Frenchman’s case either. While the Frenchman had a troubled year, United won two trophies – the League Cup and the Europa League, sealing their return to the UEFA Champions League. Players with flair have found the going hard under Mourinho. Having said that there have been examples of Mourinho getting a tune out of them as well, as is evidenced in the cases of Eden Hazard and Mesut Ozil. And it seemed to have worked. In Mourinho’s second campaign, he looked much better.
He was on a great run of form approaching January and scored a superb winner in the club’s 1-0 win over Burnley as United kept fighting for the second spot behind Manchester City. After this game, in came Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal. While many expected the Chilean to bolster United’s attack from the right, Mourinho displaced Martial from his favored left wing position. The move saw Alexis struggle to find his form, while Martial sat and watched in frustration from the sidelines.
Nearly 8 months later, Mourinho, though never likely to admit this in public, knew he had committed an error of judgment. Back came Martial into the fray, over the course of the October November spell of the 2018-19 campaign. For the first time in his career, he netted in 4 consecutive league games, including an inspired brace at Stamford Bridge. As he stands on the cusp of a new contract, things are looking a lot brighter for him.
Jose Mourinho has openly stated that Martial is approaching the levels of a ‘top player’, and that seems to reflect a much healthier relationship between the pair. United fans will be left to ponder what could have been, had he not lost his spot for Alexis. One has to only look at the likes of Raheem Sterling at City under Pep Guardiola, and even Kylian Mbappe who has stolen a march on Martial in a much shorter span of time. There is still time, and the United faithful will hope Martial can grow into a World Class player.
Thierry Henry has gone on to state that he perceives Martial to be a far better player than he was at the age of 21. They have a lot of similarities in their play style, and Martial has signs he can find the polish to become a player of that quality on a consistent basis. Sir Alex Ferguson’s vision at Manchester United was always to fill their massive 76,000 capacity stadium, but also get people off those seats watching footballers play with skill and passion. And while he does have games that do not go to plan, he is slowly starting to iron out those chinks in the armor and become a player of that mould. Manchester United have a player on their hands and Anthony Martial could finally be the man, at some point in the future, to take them back to the top of the pile.
🎵 Tony Martial came from France
English press said he had no chance
50 million down the drain
As Tony martial scores again! 🎵
Martial goal vs Liverpool image via The Busby Babe
Monaco Image via The Set Pieces
Martial vs Bournemouth Image via MEN
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