When you grabbed your morning coffee and began to browse through the transfer gossip, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking Anthony Martial’s time at Manchester United was coming to a close. Martial’s consistent use from the bench by United boss, Jose Mourinho, in the past season left the French forward with some thinking to do over his future. However, his time in Manchester began rather more spectacularly.
Anthony Martial made the move across the channel to Manchester, for a fee that could rise to over £50 million. A flood of media criticism ensued, with quotes from British press claiming the French u-21 International was a ‘Waste of Money’ before he’d even kicked a ball. Little did they know, the frenchman’s debut goal would spark the Old Trafford ensemble to include their claims in the forward’s chant, which can be heard still bellowing from the Stretford End today.Embed from Getty Images
Martial was named on the bench for United’s biggest game of the season. In the 65th minute the Old Trafford faithful rose to greet their new number 9. Martial began the match playing off the right hand side after replacing Juan Mata. The clear difference in pace and mobility proved that this was a tactical rather than sentimental decision by the then Manchester United manager, Louis Van Gaal.
Martial brought an element of dynamism to United’s frontline, applying pressure and not allowing the Liverpool back 5 any time on the ball. Some neat touches followed by showings of strength and technique against Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren was soon followed by one of the best debut goals in recent memory.
The now Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke had just opened up the scoring for Liverpool, making the score 2-1 with 6 minutes of regulation time to play. Before the fans of the Merseyside club had returned to their seats from their inspirited celebrations, Martial struck.Embed from Getty Images
The Frenchman drifted from the right side over to the left, received the ball into feet and faced up against Liverpool’s long serving centre back, Martin Skrtel. As if only on instinct Martial drove into the box, turning the experienced Slovakian inside out, before calmly side footing the ball past Simon Mignolet. What a way to endear yourself to your new club and it’s fans.
His first season at United followed a similar pattern, finishing as top goalscorer in the league with 11 goals and gaining 4 assists. His second season, however, fell much more into the ‘second season syndrome’ cliche than he would’ve liked.
After United’s FA Cup triumph, Manchester United manager Louis Van Goal was relieved of his duties. Jose Mourinho had been touted to replace the experienced Dutchman at the end of the season, regardless of the ex-Bayern Munich manager’s success or failing. However, it wasn’t expected to come as soon as it did.Embed from Getty Images
Despite his FA Cup success, the Dutchman was rumoured to have been dismissed before he even climbed the Wembley steps. Although there was no official club statement until two days after the final, murmurings suggested that Mourinho had already been prepared for the United job from as early as January.
A new era had begun at Manchester United. The fans felt like a real heavyweight of the management game was back in charge at Old Trafford. The appointment was greeted with much positive appraisal. However, suggestions of discontent arose when it came to Jose’s development of youth players. At previous clubs it seemed that the path from youth football to the first team was maybe not on the top of their priorities list; that was not the case at Old Trafford.
Manchester United have a rich heritage when it comes to developing young talent and bringing that through into the first team. Since October 1937, at the time of writing, there has been a youth graduate in Manchester United’s match day squad. A record of 3878 consecutive first team games which is about to hit it’s 80th birthday.Embed from Getty Images
Although Mourinho carried on this grand tradition, mainly with the inclusion of the much talked about youth graduate Marcus Rashford, many questions were asked of Mourinho over the 16/17 season. One of the biggest being, why isn’t Martial starting more games? A question which few could think of an answer to.
Martial started 18 times in the league for Mourinho, as well as 7 appearances from the bench. With the attacker only starting 4 times on the road to United lifting the Europa league title. Mourinho’s decision to almost tank the final Premier League games when it was clear United would not make the top 4, almost gave fuel to the fire when Martial found himself in the starting line up. Fans began to think, and even became resigned to the fact that Mourinho didn’t believe Martial was up to the task.
After another hectic summer of being linked with every player in world football, Manchester United were ready for the season to begin. Unlike most other Premier League clubs, United had got their business done early. Signings Victor Lindelof and Romelu Lukaku joined their new team mates for the pre season tour of the U.S, with Nemanja Matic putting pen to paper as the reds returned. Soon to follow was the re-singing of last season’s top goalscorer, the currently injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic.Embed from Getty Images
One of the transfer sagas of the summer was Mourinho’s pursuit of the Croatian winger, Ivan Perisic. It was described as Mourinho’s ‘missing piece’ of his otherwise fear inducing United team. A story was leaked suggesting that Inter Milan would be willing to accept a cash and player deal for the Croat. The player in question was – you guessed it – Anthony Martial. This sent United fans into a tailspin. Why would United pay over £50 million for one of the world’s rising stars and swap him for a 28 year old unknown quantity so soon?
Although the deal never materialised, it was a cause for concern for the supporters. Could this deal end up happening in January? Will Martial leave elsewhere so United have the £50 million that Inter were rumoured to be demanding for the winger?
Martial began the 17/18 Premier League season, as expected, on the bench. But this is where the story may have changed for the seemingly unhappy French forward. Martial replaced the electric Marcus Rashford on the left wing for United, and didn’t take long to make an impact. United’s number 11 left the field of play with a goal and an assist in 10 minutes. The tide had began to turn in favour of the forward.
Martial’s blistering start to the season didn’t stop there. He started his second game of the season in the league cup with United hammering Burton Albion 4-1. The in form wide man put in a Man of the Match performance, assisting Jesse Lingard for United’s third before scoring the fourth himself.Embed from Getty Images
He then set his sights on the Champions League, more specifically CSKA Moscow. Martial ran riot over the 6 time Russian Premier League champions, giving Mourinho his biggest selection headache to date. Two assists followed by a goal, as well as the 5 key passes and 7 successful dribbles demonstrated what sort of player United have on their hands.
The fan favourite seemed to leave the field of play with a slight knock, perhaps giving Mourinho the excuse he needed to start with Rashford against a struggling Crystal Palace side.
It is clear to everyone that important decisions will need to be made over the international break. United’s first big test of the season is fast approaching, Martial’s debut opponents Liverpool. Could the 21 year old repeat his debut heroics in front of the Kop and really make his mark on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United?
Josh Jones – Trigger the Press