Coming on as a substitute for Juan Mata with Manchester United 2-1 up and after being written off by many, it took Anthony Martial just 21 minutes to get his first United goal as the Frenchman glided past Martin Skrtel, before calmly slotting the ball past Simon Mignolet and into the bottom corner. At this point, United fans believed they had found their newest star, Anthony Martial had arrived.
Anthony Martial Is Thrust Into Limelight
After what was a very successful debut season for the French youngster, he finished the season with 29 goal contributions: 18 goals and 11 assists in 4,663 minutes and often served as the bright spark in Louis Van Gaal’s team. Anthony Martial also won the Premier League Player of the Month and his performances were rightfully rewarded with the Frenchman going on to win the Golden Boy award as Europe’s best u-21 player, and it seemed at that point that the Red Devils had a real gem on their hands.
First Question Marks about Martial’s Mentality
After being stripped of his No.9 shirt at the start of the 2016/17 season, with United handing the more illustrious Zlatan Ibrahimovic his shirt. There were talks about the Frenchman being unhappy with how Man United carried out their actions and with his agent Philippe Lamboley revealing this in an interview with French Radio station RMC:
“I’m not going to lie to you. Yes, it got to him,”
“Yes, it surprised him. Yes, he was disappointed for two days. But he’s professional.
“He knew how to get back into things straight away.
“Personally, I find that decision out of order and disrespectful to my player.
“I told Manchester United’s board that. You just don’t do it.
“So we accepted it, we turned the page, but we didn’t rip it up.”
Problems off the pitch
Things were not looking rosy off the pitch for Anthony Martial with issues with his wife Samantha Jacqueline leading to the couple breaking things off, and this seemed to affect his form on the pitch. The Frenchman was unable to replicate anything remotely close to his form in the previous season and this led to manager Jose Mourinho dropping the 25-year old. Jose Mourinho repeatedly made several calls during press conferences to try and spark the Frenchman to reproduce the same form he had shown the previous season.
Struggles under Jose Mourinho
For all of Mourinho’s complaints about Martial, the Frenchman turned up when he was called upon or given a chance to impress, but it was clear to see that the Frenchman was struggling to deal with the defensive work the Portuguese manager usually asks of his wingers. The 57-year old showed a reluctance to deploy the Frenchman down the middle (a position he regularly played under LVG) with Ibrahimovic being preferred upfront. In United’s 3-1 loss to Watford that season Anthony Martial was bundled over and lost the ball in the build-up to Watford’s second goal with Jose calling out the referee after the game for not spotting the foul on the United man.
Anthony Martial ended the 2016/17 season with 16 goal contributions (eight goals and eight assists) in just 2,517 minutes which were decent numbers for a player who was struggling to cope with the manager’s demands, there was also a nagging feeling that the Frenchman massively overachieved in his first season at the club and this left fans with unrealistic expectations.
The Final Straw
The 2017/18 season started poorly again for Anthony Martial on a personal note with the Frenchman struggling to get into the starting lineup for a United side playing some of their best football under Jose Mourinho. In the early parts of the season, the Frenchman was largely restricted to substitute appearances off the bench with Mourinho favouring the likes of Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the flanks.
The New Year saw Martial finally start to get an extended run in the starting lineup and with those appearances came goals against Everton, Stoke and Burnley. The arrival of Alexis Sanchez put Martial’s position under threat once again and Jose Mourinho quickly replaced the Frenchman with the Chilean forward in what would have been a huge blow to a player who was playing some of his finest football since his first season at the club and he seemed to regress after that with a failure to get on the scoresheet for the rest of the season. It saw him linked with a move away from the club, with Jose Mourinho reportedly declaring him dispensable and the likes of Tottenham chasing his signature.
Anthony Martial ended the season with 20 goal contributions (11 goals and nine assists) in 2,337 minutes which was slightly better than his numbers in the previous season. It is unclear how much the arrival of Alexis Sanchez affected Martial with the Frenchman’s poor form ensuring he missed out on a spot in the French squad for the World Cup (a tournament they went on to win).
A New Beginning
United parted ways with Jose Mourinho midway through the 2018/2019 season with Anthony Martial ironically playing some of his best football under the Portuguese manager before his departure. Martial had scored eight goals with goals against Chelsea, Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City during that run. Anthony Martial was on the scoresheet in a routine 5-1 win in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first game in charge.
On the 31st of January 2019, Martial signed a new five-year contract with Manchester United with the club triggering a one-year extension clause in his contract before that. Anthony Martial ended the season with 15 goal contributions (12 goals and three assists) in 2,327 minutes.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Show of Faith
United parted ways with Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku before the start of the 2019/20 season with the Norweigan manager entrusting Martial with the No.9 role and the Frenchman also getting the No.9 shirt back. United got their season off to the right start with a 4-0 win over Chelsea on the first matchday of the season with the 25-year old getting on the scoresheet and putting in an encouraging display. The Frenchman’s link-up play proved invaluable over the course of the season as United rallied to finish third in the league but also had to deal with semi-final exits in both the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.
There remained a frustration amongst sections of the United fanbase over whether or not Martial was the No.9 to lead them to glory with question marks over his work rate, movement and a lack of a killer instinct in the box usually found in the world’s best forwards. For all the noises around Martial’s suitability to the No.9 role, he ended the season with 35 goal contributions (23 goals and 12 assists) in 3,566 minutes and there were genuine hopes that Martial would build on a very decent campaign and hopefully equal or even better his numbers.
What has gone wrong for Anthony Martial?
There was a look of incredulity as Martial stared up to the heavens almost as befuddled as the viewers at home and his teammates who looked on puzzled by how Martial had missed such a chance. The cameras panned to Ole Gunnar Solskjær on the bench who could barely only hide his disgust after seeing Martial sky his effort after Rashford squared the ball to him. For a player often referred to as ice-cold and one of the most clinical finishers at the club, Anthony Martial has struggled of late in front of goal and there have been numerous theories going around amongst the United fanbase concerning his struggles.
There was a bizarre theory online about Martial possibly being downbeat due to the loss of his Nike sponsorship deal(a deal he has had since his youth days at Lyon), there were also talks about the arrival of Edinson Cavani possibly affecting Martial mentally with history showing that the United forward always seems to struggle in the face of competition.
The arrival of Cavani could well be an explanation for Martial’s poor form with his body language especially being disturbing, but for the most parts, Martial’s overall game has been quite solid with games against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc Des Princes where he won a penalty and even against Everton where his movement between the lines proved crucial as United exploited the gaps Everton left in midfield. The red card against Tottenham has proved rather damaging with Martial looking bright in that game before the sending off. The Frenchman is struggling to deal with the high standards he set last season and it is only a matter of time before he’s in amongst the goals again.
As Anthony Martial turned 25, he’s no longer a youth prodigy and fans are well within their rights to demand more consistent performances from the Frenchman. Anthony Martial has developed a bit of a cult following amongst the United fanbase perhaps due to his performances in his first season at the club and even even though many fans have grown frustrated with his recent showings and are calling for the Frenchman to be dropped, it seems highly unlikely that Solksjaer will go down that route with Martial probably needing a goal to kickstart his season.
Martial has consistently outperformed his goals per season since joining the club five years ago but he’s currently underperforming this current season and it seems only a matter of time before the United man gets in amongst the goals again. Anthony Martial’s case has never been about ability but more about mentality and he faces another test in turning doubters into believers.
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