September 12, 2015. Anthony Martial makes the first of his 283 appearances for Manchester United, the former Monaco wonderkid marking the occasion by scoring a stunning solo goal to seal a 3-1 home victory over arch-rivals Liverpool.
It was a breathtaking moment - one that got a capacity Old Trafford crowd out of their seats and singled Martial out as the club’s next generational talent.
Over seven years on, though, it remains the pinnacle of his career in Manchester.
Martial has scored another 84 goals for United since then, but he hasn’t really come close to fulfilling his seemingly limitless potential. Now 27, the striker is supposed to be at the peak of the powers, but instead he continues to be held back by niggling fitness problems.
United have seen Martial sit out a grand total of 73 games across all competitions during his time at the club, including 18 in the current campaign. He equalled David Beckham in the club’s all-time scorers’ list after finding the net in the Carabao Cup semi-finals last Wednesday, but was unable to recover physically in time to face Crystal Palace in the Premier League three days later.Getty
"He had a set back from the game when he returned [against Nottingham Forest], He dropped a little bit back. We have to wait, we have to be patient,” manager Erik ten Hag told reporters when explaining Martial’s absence before his side’s 2-1 win over the Eagles.
The France international hasn’t played a full 90 minutes in the Premier League since United’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield United at Old Trafford on January 27, 2021. Every time he appears ready to contribute again, a new injury pops up.
“There is a reason [Martial has been substituted in his last seven games],” Ten Hag said after taking the forward off after 71 minutes in their FA Cup third-round win over Everton last month. “It is because he cannot manage the load.
"His physical load is not, at this moment, so high that he can play every third day a game of 90 minutes. So I have to manage that together with him.”
It is now being reported that Martial will be put on the transfer list in the summer window, with United eager to cash in before his contract expires in 2024. He has blown his chance at a fresh start since being welcomed back after a dismal loan spell at Sevilla, and it's time for a clean break.
Martial’s attitude has also been the subject of much debate during his time in Manchester, with it reported that United have had private concerns with his level of application over the years. The fact he has failed to roll up his sleeves in 2022-23 speaks volumes, especially when you compare his season to Marcus Rashford’s.Getty Images
Heading into Ten Hag’s debut campaign at the helm, Rashford’s future was in just as much doubt as Martial’s. He managed just five goals and two assists last term (his worst numbers since breaking into the senior squad), dropped out of the England squad and appeared to be struggling mentally.
"Too often last season, I wasn't in the right headspace for games. I wasn't surprised by some of the stuff that was happening,” he admitted to Sky Sports in October.
However, Rashford is made of stronger stuff than Martial. Instead of continuing down the same path and getting the same results, he went back to the drawing board, taking a trip to the United States to link up with the best strength and conditioning coaches in the business.
During his time in Portland and New Jersey, Rashford posted videos of his sessions to his followers on social media as he worked on improving certain aspects of his game, including his speed from a standing start. By the time he returned to Manchester to link up with his new manager for pre-season, Rashford was ready to turn over a new leaf and prove that he deserves a place in his starting XI.
The 25-year-old has done exactly that, recording 19 goals and eight assists in 32 appearances - the same number of games he played in 2021-22. He has also adopted a new celebration after scoring, pointing his index finger to his temple in a clear expression of how important your mindset is when it comes to performing to your maximum.Getty Images
One of Rashford’s efforts came from the bench to give United a crucial win at Wolves on New Year’s Eve, after he had been dropped from Ten Hag’s lineup for oversleeping and reporting late to a team meeting. Rashford took full responsibility for his mistake and bounced back in the best possible way. He has matured under Ten Hag’s guidance and is now blossoming into one of the best players in Europe.
United’s midfield enforcer Casemiro, a man who won five Champions League titles at Real Madrid, said as much when discussing his new team-mate’s impact in an interview with ESPN Brazil. "I'm gonna be very honest with you. I was really surprised with the player Rashford is,” he said.
“In my opinion, especially knowing the player off the pitch, I can tell you that if he's doing well, he can be one of the top five players in the world.”
Ten Hag has played down his role in Rashford’s resurgence, insisting it is up to his players to dig deep and demand the highest standards from themselves. “I'm not Harry Potter. It's just confidence. Every player has to get his own confidence,” he said before United’s FA Cup fourth-round win over Reading.
“You have to fight for this. Of course, me and my coaching staff bring structures, especially in the way of playing. We have given him some routines for what he needs to get into the right position but finally, it's up to him to play.”Getty
Martial hasn’t fought to better himself like Rashford has. He’s accepted his limitations and settled into a routine that doesn’t do him or United any good. Ten Hag gave him a lifeboat and he’s managed to sink it before getting close to the shore.
Rashford, meanwhile, is spearheading United’s return to the elite stage, and will surely have a vital role to play in Ten Hag’s set-up for years to come. Martial won’t enjoy the same privilege, and he only has himself to blame as he edges towards an inevitable exit.