“No one deserves to be on the bench,” explained José Mourinho in September when discussing his forwards, “but I cannot play with six”. Despite Mourinho’s insistence then that he sees a “great improvement in the person, in the mood, in the body language”, Anthony Martial has become frustrated at Old Trafford and as far as the French media are concerned, having adopted a largely peripheral role in recent weeks, Martial is intent on leaving Manchester United at the end of the campaign.
RMC, a major French news and sport radio station, reported in early April that Martial had, as was then reported in the UK, refused a new contract offer and had made the decision to leave Manchester in the summer. Sports daily L’Équipe later confirmed the story, citing Martial’s confusion at the signing of Alexis Sanchez as a determining factor in his “career choice”. Sanchez pushes an already marginalised Martial even further down José Mourinho’s hierarchy of forwards and has led to Martial’s displeasure at being used what he sees as out of position on the right-wing.
A strong-willed individual despite his quiet demeanour, Martial has seemingly decided that he has to leave Old Trafford in order to continue to develop his career despite, as L’Équipe reported, his “deep love for Manchester and the fans,” with reportedly frosty relations with Mourinho in recent months. After all, Anthony Martial signed for Manchester United in 2013 to continue his rapid rise to becoming one of France’s best central strikers and yet under both Louis van Gaal and now Mourinho, his playing time in a central role has been limited.
Although virtually every top tier club has been mentioned in the French press as a possible suitor, links with Tottenham, Atletico Madrid and, seemingly the favourite, Juventus remain persistent. A return to France, however, seems unlikely, with PSG the only feasible destination. Returning to Monaco would make little sense for both the player and club, Lyon of course would be interested but their resources would likely fall way short, as would Marseille’s.
Much of the discussion in France relates to how the 22-year-old’s position with the French national team will be affected by his lack of game time and any potential move ahead of the World Cup. Martial has been included in Didier Deschamps’ last two squads following a year’s absence from Les Bleus. Deschamps recently said “I do not give advice, I give my opinion,” when asked about aiding Martial’s career decision-making. It is clear that Deschamps and his staff fear a distracting summer transfer saga pre, during and post the Russia World Cup, but also that United might simply refuse to sell.
Although Deschamps has long picked players on other factors than simple merit and could yet include Martial in his party of 23, opinion seems to be shifting towards leaving United’s number 11 at home with competitors, Florian Thauvin, Dimitri Payet and Nabil Fékir all finding their best form of late. Christophe Dugarry, former Birmingham striker turned TV pundit, this week said he would take Payet and “especially not Martial”. A poor display against Russia in the latest friendly may have sealed Martial’s fate regardless, with a recent poll by France Football having only 46% of fans predicting his selection for the World Cup, while more than 70% said he is worth less now than the fee United paid for him.
There is an overriding sense that Martial feels undervalued by United and even a little disrespected. Having performed well on the whole when given the chance, despite being forced wide and out of his natural centre forward role, having been the club’s top scorer in his first season, he has slowly found himself edged towards the fringes of the eleven. RMC reported his surprise at the lack of contact over the new contract throughout the winter after initial discussions with his agent in December, coupled with a “lack of recognition” of his worth to the team. His downbeat mood over his United future was such that he hit pause on buying a house in Manchester recently.
The Frenchman’s lack of game time has been the central theme of the discussion surrounding Martial in France this season. He is seen as a supreme talent, in the Thierry Henry mould, but without the chance to realise his potential there is a growing sense that he should move on. Unfortunately, despite his love for the club, it is one that the player seems to share.
by Adam White