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'£50m down the drain' or a victim of Man Utd culture -where did it all go wrong for Martial?

16:00 EAT 26/01/2022
Anthony Martial Manchester United 2021-22
The France international has joined Sevilla on loan for the rest of the season after six-and-a-half inconsistent seasons at Old Trafford

As Manchester United's fans streamed out of Wembley Stadium on April 23, 2016, there was only one player’s name being chanted. 

Anthony Martial had just scored a last-gasp winner against Everton to send United into the FA Cup final, and his catchy song, which had been debuted a few months earlier, reverbated down Wembley Way. 

"£50 million down the drain. Tony Martial scores again” is the ironic ending to the chant, playing off the reaction many in the British media gave to previously little-known teenager Martial joining United from Monaco in the summer of 2015.

But less than six relatively underwhelming years on from that dramatic goal, and with Martial having left Old Trafford to join Sevilla on loan until the end of the season, there are now those who may feel they were right in their analysis of the deal.

That strike at the naitonal stadium has been, along with his debut goal against Liverpool, the standout moment of Martial's United career, which for a player who signed to such fanfare at such a young age is troubling.

There have been flashes of promise, moments of brilliance, but on the whole inconsistency. In only one of his six completed campaigns did he manage to score more than 20 goals, with a run of managers having failed to find a regular place for him in their line-up. 

So what went wrong?

The tag of being the world’s most expensive teenager brings with it a certain level of hype and expectation, and as such it was always likely to prove difficult to live up to the hype.

Martial arrived at United so highly regarded that a clause was inserted into his contract that United would have to pay Monaco an extra €10m (£8m/$12m) if he was ever named on the Ballon d’Or shortlist.

Needless to say, he has never come close to being in the running for world football's most prestigious individual award.

The France international could also argue that he has fallen victim to the inconsistency and lack of direction that has been shown at United since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.

Ralf Rangnick is the fourth manager he has played under, while he has had his position and role in the team alterered on multiple occasions. It is somewhat telling that during the one season where he was played consistently as a central striker, in 2019-20, he returned 17 league goals - the best tally of his career to date.

In truth, though, nothing has been quite right with Martial since Jose Mourinho's appointment in the summer of 2016, just months after Martial's strike at Wembley.

Their fractured relationship first became a problem because Martial did not agree with Mourinho’s management style, or the public criticism he gave his players.

Martial had already been angered that summer after the No.9 shirt had been taken off him so that it could be worn by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his relationship with Mourinho continued to sour during the Portuguese's two-and-a-half years in charge.

By the summer of 2018, Mourinho was lobbying the United board to sell Martial, with sources telling GOAL that the ex-Chelsea boss was never fully convinced by the forward's mentality, something that was exacerbated when Martial requested to leave pre-season training that summer to be with his partner for the birth of their son, Swan.

A return of just 13 league goals in Mourinho's two full seasons in charge did little to ease tensions between the two, and Mourinho pushed for the club sign Inter winger Ivan Perisic as a replacement.

United, though, held firm in their belief that Martial would fulfill his potential, though there was a suggestion that they were also reluctant to sell as owner Joel Glazer had previously declared Martial as being his favourite United player.

Either way, in hindsight, listening to Mourinho might have been the right call, even if he did receive a new lease of life during the first year of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign.

A text from the Norwegian offering Martial his No.9 shirt back was warmly received, and he went onto have his best season at the club in front of goal, but even that did not fully convince Solskjaer to keep him at the club if the right offer came in.

There were concerns over Martial's tendency to 'turn it on and off again' in some training sessions, as well as his inability to rise to the challenge of increased competition when new signings arrived at the club.

Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Edinson Cavani have all been signed during Martial's time at the club and overtaken him in the pecking order, leaving him a frustrated figure on the sidelines for long periods when there was a hope he would increase his own performance level.

That could again be seen in the summer of 2021, when Martial arrived for pre-season in jovial mood, only for Cristiano Ronaldo's surprise signing late in the transfer window to again leave him on the outside looking in on the starting line-up, and there have been few signs of him being keen to change that.

He has made just 11 appearances in all competitions, and even those on the outside of the club looking in have begun to question his application.

Former Red Devils midfielder Paul Scholes claimed that fans had been "conned" that Martial could be a key player for United by one good season in front of goal, though there are those who feel that in the right system and with the right coach he can still reach the heights expected of him at the age of 26.

It seems that we will never know if Rangnick would have provided that system or been that coach, with the current interim boss having decided to omit Martial from his team once it became clear that he wanted to leave in January.

The episode that led to Martial missing the away game against Aston Villa has been labelled 'a misunderstanding', but it is understood that Rangnick is still under the impression the player refused to be involved.

They ‘moved on’ from the situation, and Martial played a key role in the winning goal against West Ham on Saturday after coming off the bench, but he was still not assured of the playing time he will need to force himself into the France squad for the 2022 World Cup. 

Joining Sevilla should, on the other hand, allow him to do that while still playing at a high level. Julen Lopetegui's sit second in La Liga, just four points behind leaders Real Madrid, while they are among the favourites to win yet another Europa League title after dropping out of the Champions League in the group stages.

There is no option to buy in the deal, which means that if Martial can thrive in Spain, there is a chance that his United career is not yet over.

But if this is the beginning of the end, then his time at Old Trafford might not have been '£50 million down the drain', but it has not gone the way many of those singing at Wembley back in 2016 would have wanted, or expected.