Martial's fading dream - French star struggling to save his Man Utd career

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Neville XI Anthony Martial
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The forward has struggled in his second season at Old Trafford, and while the club have been sympathetic to his troubles it is time to start producing


In many sports there are clubs who compile DVDs for potential signings in which they show future scenarios with the player involved having a vital say in a major triumph. Whether throwing the winning pitch in the World Series, sinking the decisive three-pointer in the NBA Finals or scoring the last-minute winner in a Champions League final, the point is to get the player visualising what they might be able to achieve.

If Manchester United had done something similar with Anthony Martial the footage might have foreshadowed some of his achievements of 2015-16, a season in which he hit a crucial goal on his Old Trafford debut, netted an injury-time winner in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley and went on to play for France in their home Euro 2016 campaign in the summer.

Mourinho fires warning to Martial

But instead of kicking on to become a star, Martial has become a bit-part player for both club and country and looks increasingly beleaguered at the way his career is beginning to develop. This is not quite the dream scenario he will have had in mind.

Martial arrived in Manchester at the age of 19 in a deal worth an initial £37 million, with three further instalments worth more than £8m each taking the potential overall fee up beyond £60m. If the fee involved put extra pressure on the player’s shoulders he didn’t immediately show it, but his form during his second season has suggested not everything is right with the attacker.

Having scored most of his 17 goals in his first campaign from the left side of the attack, claims that his return of seven so far this season are as a result of a reassignment are simply not accurate. But his inability to adapt to a different style of football under Jose Mourinho compared to the one employed by Louis van Gaal has undoubtedly had an effect.

Anthony Martial Louis van Gaal Manchester United

In truth, though, this is something every player has to come to terms with at some point in their career. Different managers will always ask for players to provide a slight variation on any role, and Martial has, for the most part, been the personification of the chasm between Van Gaal’s approach and Mourinho’s.

“The teams are very different. The way the team played last season was probably more adaptive to Anthony,” Mourinho said earlier this term. “He was probably more comfortable playing that way, at that intensity, at that rate of ball possession and ball circulation.”

However, the Portuguese insisted he was unwilling to wait forever for Martial to come to terms with the alterations needed.

“You have one opportunity, you have two, you have three – if you don’t bite then somebody comes and takes the bait.”

While Marcus Rashford has also found things a little difficult in his second term, the young England front man has shown greater signs of progression than Martial. And the inability to react better has led to the French forward playing an ever-decreasing role with his country too.

“His club coach expects more from him and so do I. It’s up to him to rediscover his form,” said Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps after dropping Martial last Autumn. The former midfielder went on to expand on his player’s issues when speaking to L’Equipe recently.

“Last season he played a lot. Certainly too much. He arrived burned out at the Euros.

“Jose Mourinho expects certain things of him that he was not seeing at one time. Nevertheless, Anthony is playing... not all the time but that is no bad thing. He knows that when he is on the pitch, he has to be full on.”

Didier Deschamps

Anthony Martial Manchester United

But Martial has not been full on this season. However much United fans might be willing him on to succeed, the clear truth of the matter is that he has not been able to step up.

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Moreover, he has not been anywhere near as clinical this term. Last season Martial scored 11 times from 44 attempts in the Premier League. This year he has netted three out of 22.

It is a noticeable downturn, and although it is perhaps natural for a player to suffer from the changing scenarios that come with a second season in the spotlight, Martial must start to look within himself for answers.

"We have been together for almost 10 months," Mourinho stressed on Wednesday. "The same way I know the players so much better now, the players should know me also much better now."

The Portuguese added: "Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes, I think. But he needs to give me things that I like very much."

Deschamps rightly stated that the amount of football Martial played last season was a huge burden. Perhaps it is normal that this has not been the most convincing of campaigns, even looking beyond troubles in his personal life.

But people have been making these excuses for him for a long time now, and if he is to begin to fulfil his potential then he needs to respond in the right way.

At a club which has multiple options in the forward line and is likely to add more in the summer, Martial would do well to find a way to adapt to his new reality sooner rather than later. 

The former Monaco starlet could still go on to achieve the dream with Manchester United. He might yet score the winning goal in the Champions League final. He may also get to lift a Premier League title. There’s also the possibility of adding a World Cup to his list of achievements.

But if any of those visions are to come true, he has to begin to deliver before Mourinho and Deschamps run out of patience.