It is four years to the day that Anthony Martial scored on his debut against Liverpool and became an immediate Old Trafford favourite. It’s been a rollercoaster journey ever since, and now hopefully the Frenchman is finally ready to become Manchester United’s main man.
Lets go back to 2015. United were leading Liverpool 2-1, and Louis van Gaal called to the bench for Martial. In the 86th minute he received a pass out on the left hand side and charged towards Nathaniel Clyne and Martin Skrtel.
He slalomed past the pair and slotted a composed finish past the helpless Simon Mignolet in a goal which resembled the trademark strike his compatriot Thierry Henry made a blueprint of in the Premier League. In the words of Martin Tyler in his infamous commentary “Welcome to Manchester Anthony Martial”.
Van Gaal trusted Martial with the number nine shirt and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has highlighted his own belief in the 23-year-old by re-assigning him the number nine jersey after Jose Mourinho had given it to Zlatan, and then to Romelu Lukaku.
Martial signed for United from Monaco on 1st September 2015 for a £36m fee, which could potentially rise to £50m depending on a number of clauses. The fee at that time was the highest ever paid for a teenager.
The add-ons included Martial winning the Ballon d’Or by June 2019, scoring 25 goals for the club and gaining 25 caps for France. The only one achieved thus far is the 25 goals scored for United.
Martial got off to the dream start under Van Gaal and followed up his memorable goal against Liverpool, with a double at Southampton and a goal against Ipswich Town.
Martial finished his debut campaign with 18 goals and 11 assists in 56 games, which also included him being crowned FIFA’s Golden Boy, the award given to Europe’s best player under the age of 21.
Since his impressive first season in Manchester, Martial has struggled to replicate the same consistency. He scored as few as four league goals in his second season, with his 10 league goals last year being the the best he has achieved since his debut term.
Under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho, Martial endured a turbulent relationship with the Portuguese coach.
Mourinho’s pursuit of Alexis Sanchez highlighted the lack of trust he had in Martial and in particular his inability to carry out his defensive duties. Even in barren spells, Mourinho would stick by his number one striker Lukaku instead of giving Martial or Marcus Rashford an extended run leading the Red Devils frontline.
Injuries and inconsistent form have hindered Martial’s time at United and under the management of Mourinho it seemed that one of Europe’s most talented prospects was destined to be moved on.
However, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now permanent manager and Lukaku and Sanchez departing to Inter Milan, this could be the year that Martial reaps the rewards from having a manager that believes in him once again.
It was only in February after a stunning solo effort away at Fulham, which drew comparisons with a former United great, that Solskjaer claimed that Martial had the talent to emulate the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo.
Can he score 20 to 30 goals a season?
The French forward has two goals and one assist in three matches so far this season and seems to be revelling in the responsibility of spearheading United’s youthful attack alongside Daniel James and Marcus Rashford.
Martial became the 53rd player to score 50 goals for the club after his goal in the 1-1 draw against Wolves. Martial took 176 appearances to reach the half century landmark, and no United player has scored more goals since he joined the club.
There is no denying his composure in front of goal, he loves opening his body up and passing the ball into the bottom corner.
This was apparent when United beat Everton in the 2016 FA Cup semi-final, Martial was calmness personified as he stroked the ball into the back of the net in the final minutes.
What will be pleasing for Solskjaer is that neither of Martial’s goals this season have been his trademark one-on-one finish or his long-range curlers.
Martial showed great desire and movement to get in front of César Azpilicueta in the 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea and his goal at Molineux was a clinical left foot rocket, which came from a willingness to run in behind and a burgeoning partnership with Rashford.
If Martial can maintain a hunger to not only score great goals but the tap in poacher efforts that his manager made a living from, the Frenchman could become United’s undisputed number nine for many years ahead.
Now returning from injury, he needs to stay healthy and keep the trust of Solskjaer, and reach the level United fans believe he is capable of.
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