It has been a difficult season for Anthony Martial. After enjoying a fairytale start to his career at Old Trafford, the Frenchman has had to go through some hardships this term under Jose Mourinho. Martial has struggled for regular first-team action under the Portuguese and hence has attracted interests from clubs for a loan move, with West Ham United and Sevilla the primary suitors.
Having been signed for a whopping £36 million from French side AS Monaco, the world’s most expensive teenager had a debut that was the stuff of dreams. Coming on as a late substitute against United’s fiercest rivals Liverpool, the then 19-year old made a jinking run past the Reds’ defenders into the box, to slot home with a nice finish that reminded of a certain Thierry Henry. Within minutes of his first appearance, he had managed to silence the detractors who had been criticizing the Red Devils for the money they had paid for him.
Things just kept getting better for Martial over the course of the season, and he was the silver lining for United in a season filled with gloomy dark clouds. In what turned out to be a disappointing campaign for the Mancunians, the Frenchman emerged as the top scorer for the club in his debut season, with 17 strikes in all competitions.
However, Martial had to endure a tough Euro 2016 campaign where he struggled to have the desired impact with the French national team. But things were expected to get better for the youngster once he returned to Old Trafford under new manager Jose Mourinho. However, things haven’t gone the way that he might have envisaged, as he has struggled to reproduce the form that saw him become an indispensable figure last term.
With Mourinho bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimović in the summer, chances for Martial to play as a centre-forward were going to reduced big time. The Frenchman has had to be content with playing out on the flanks this term, but has struggled to have an impact from the wider roles as well. Martial, halfway into the season, has just scored two goals in the Premier League till now. His struggles have meant he has had to share game time with the likes of Jesse Lingard, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford.
The French Speed Merchant came out earlier and expressed his frustrations over the lack of chances he had been afforded, but at the same time acknowledged that there is plenty of room for improvement in his game for him to be re-established as a regular in Jose’s team. And there has been a rise in his performance levels in recent games. He put on one of his best displays of the season in the 4-1 win over West Ham in the EFL Cup quarter-finals.
Jose Mourinho, for his part, has been honest in his assessment that there is a need for Martial to step up his game. “I think Anthony is very very young, people forget, and last season Manchester United played completely differently to how we do today. This season is more difficult, he needs a little bit of time to improve,” he said about the performances of the 21-year old.
United’s summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan went through somewhat of a similar phase earlier this season, and for close to three months wasn’t even involved in the first-team picture. But the Armenian put his head down, worked hard and remained patient and now the rewards are showing. Having forced his way back into Jose’s plans, Mkhitaryan has soon become a vital part of the team.
There is a lesson to be learnt for Martial there. He can derive inspiration from the rapid rise in form the former Dortmund player he has shown despite being frozen out of the squad.
United have plenty of options in the wide areas, but they are not willing to let Martial leave in January especially since Memphis Depay seems to be departing certainly in the winter transfer window. And it is well-known how Mourinho loves players who are willing to tough it out in the squad for a regular place. Martial has two options in front of him now, either he can take the easy way out and move to a different club on loan, or he can stay and fight for his place alongside Rooney and the likes.
While a loan move seems prudent for now, the 21-year old should also consider the amount of knowledge and experience he might gain by staying at United, playing alongside someone like Zlatan, who is an institution in himself. And with Ibrahimović’s age and Rooney’s stuttering form, Martial needs to realize soon enough he is going to be the man leading the line for United. Game time may be hard to come by at present, but Martial needs to stay and work hard for his place and as Mkhitaryan has shown, it will not be long before his efforts reap the rewards.