Anthony Martial could have been playing his football away from Manchester United this season.
There was no shortage of interest in the French forward, who looked like he would be traded in for Inter Milan’s Croatian winger Ivan Perisic over the summer. The 21-year-old was believed to have been offered as part of the deal to bring Perisic to Old Trafford, but Inter refused to budge on their £48million asking price on Perisic and the deal never materialised.
Whether or not Jose Mourinho really pondered offloading Martial we will never know, but his decision to keep hold of the player looks like being a shrewd one.
“I have faith in Anthony,” Mourinho said in August. “Probably the player I was looking at was not a pure winger because I have pure wingers.
“Probably the player that I was looking for is a player that allows me to play with three at the back and play wing backs.
“Because – as a pure attacking player – Anthony is a good player. He is one of the players I believe is going to have a better season this season than the previous season.
“I look at some of my players and I am sure that some players are going to be better. Anthony is that for sure.”
The Portuguese boss in fact blocked a loan move for Martial to Sevilla in the January loan window after a disappointing first season for Mourinho. The United boss claimed off-field problems had affected his focus and an acrimonious break-up from his former partner Samantha Jacquelinet last year may have contributed to his poor form, but Mourinho also accused the player of listening to bad advice.
Mourinho publicly criticised Martial and advised him to follow the example set by the previously out-of-favour midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan in order to force his way back into the starting line-up.
Martial was definitely not one of Mourinho’s trusted generals. He made just 18 Premier League starts last season, played just six minutes of the Europa League final win over Ajax and he would probably have been delighted to see the back of the season, especially considering his impressive form in his debut season under Louis van Gaal.
Martial joined the Red Devils from Monaco back in 2015 for an initial fee of around £36million, which has the potential to reach £58.8million with add-ons. United have already had to pay Monaco an extra £8.3m after he scored 25 goals for the club in the win over Burnley last season.
United will pay out an extra £8.5million if Martial reaches 25 appearances for France, but that seems a while away with the powerful forward on 15 and having not featured this year. However, if he maintains his current form the Ballon d’Or shortlist may be in his sights, although he missed out on this week’s 2017 list. A coveted place at that top table will cost United a further £10million.
Martial has been electric this season and after a moment of brilliance in Manchester United’s friendly win against Real Madrid in pre-season, Mourinho called for consistency; the Frenchman has delivered. Martial has scored five goals and grabbed six assists in nine games this season.
And Thierry Henry claimed last week there could be big things around the corner for Martial: “Anthony Martial is a far better player than I was at that age,” Henry said. “Martial can be world class.”
Martial is likely to get a start against Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday lunchtime and after remaining in Manchester over the international break he should be rested and raring to go, unlike the majority of other players who will line up at Anfield on Saturday lunchtime with plenty of miles on the clock.
Named the club’s September’s Player of the Month Martial is a man in form and, according to Man Utd’s official website “has history against Liverpool, following his sensational debut goal”.
He scored again against Liverpool in 2015/16 – in the 1-1 Europa League draw at Old Trafford in March and he will surely benefit from not having to play and travel over the recent, hectic international fixtures.
His recent performances have also got Mourinho back on side and he will no doubt be tasked with getting on top of Liverpool’s full-backs at the weekend.
“I see a great improvement in the person, in the mood, in the face, in the body language,” Mourinho said of Martial last month. “If you want just a word, in the happiness. He’s a happy guy, he’s working extremely well. He starts matches, he tries to do well.
“He goes from the bench, even if it is for 10 minutes like in the last match at home, he tries to enjoy and try to give something in these extra minutes. I am very pleased with his attitude overall and then it’s easier to play well.”
Martial has dusted himself down and grabbed hold of his career by the scruff of the neck. With less than two years remaining on his United contract, he needs to deliver this season if he is to continue his development at Old Trafford and all the early signs are that he is hell bent on doing exactly that…continuing at Anfield on Saturday.