Anthony Martial is back at Manchester United sporting a new look. The striker’s shaved bald head is reminiscent of a player he was compared to as a teenager, Thierry Henry.
Like Henry, Martial came through the Monaco youth system and even won the Golden Boy Award for Europe’s best teenager in 2013.
When he arrived at United the comparisons were easy to understand, with his re-watchable debut goal against Liverpool like Henry in his pomp.
Since then, Martial has flattered to deceive. Last season was a disaster in context of the one that came before, underlined by the raw numbers.
Martial scored only seven goals, the same as Scott McTominay. What was worse was that his clinical streak in front of goal deserted him. It became frequent that Martial missed simple chances, one on ones that he usually would have buried.
Now he has a fresh start and a chance to rediscover himself. The new look is part of his reinvention.
Martial scored 23 goals for United in 2019/20 to finish as the club’s top scorer. Of his 17 Premier League goals, all 17 came from open play. If he had been put on penalty duty then he would have won the Golden Boot.
Last season Martial looked beaten before the season began. He seemed tired and off the pace as the season kicked off against Crystal Palace and rarely did he show the spark of the previous year. Edinson Cavani’s arrival seemed to knock his confidence too.
Martial played on the left at times, which has been part of his development. But his best performances last season all came when he was a central striker.
Former United forward Dwight Yorke told Talksport in 2020 that he was convinced Martial would get better in the years to come. Yorke said: “Anthony Martial is like myself, Thierry Henry, maybe Wayne Rooney and even Cristiano Ronaldo – starting on the wing, developing and improving their skills and then get to that number nine position. That’s what Martial is doing now.”
Edinson Cavani struck 17 goals last season. If United can get Martial playing to his peak of a year prior, then United’s attack will be transformed.
Playing for his future
From 2022 there will be an overhaul up front. Edinson Cavani will leave when his contract expires and United will look for a replacement.
Martial has to prove he deserves to stay too. Another seven goal season will not be good enough, and it will underline that he should be moved on as they club bring in one or even two strikers.
So the question remains, is the seven goal season the aberration, or was the 23 goal campaign a fluke?
Martial should have plenty of motivation should prove he can match his 20+ goal return. While heartbreaking to miss out on Euro 2020 with France, the 2022 World Cup is less than 18 months away and both Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud are questionable to feature as they are in the latter stages of their careers. The path is there for Martial to kick on.
At United he will want to bounce back from a disappointing campaign and Martial is likely to benefit from the movement and creativity of new signing Jadon Sancho.
Several United fans have written Martial off, and would not shed a tear if the inconsistent striker was traded away as part of a deal to bring in a proven world class star. It is up to Martial to show his doubters what they have been missing.
Martial will never match the prolific records of Thierry Henry, but he can get a lot closer than his contribution from last season. Henry’s quality was his consistency, scoring 17 Premier League goals or more every season from 1999/2000 to 2005/06, with the peak a 30 goal campaign. Martial’s record of four league goals last year looks embarrassing by comparison.
Now he has got the Henry look with the bald head, Martial can have another crack at getting the goals. He needs to be lethal and consistent, not just from week to week, but from season to season.
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