Eric Devin breaks down the repercussions of French teenager Anthony Martial’s move to Manchester United.
Anthony Martial has become potentially the world’s fifth-most expensive player ever, completing a move from Monaco to Manchester United for a fee that has been estimated at anywhere between €50m and €80m.
While British and French journalists differ on the price of the move, there is certainly a consensus from both sides of the channel as to the youngster’s immense potential.
Having received his first ever call-up to France’s senior squad just last weekend, and given a second opportunity to play in the Champions’ League with Manchester United, on a very superficial level, it seems that the move could not be better for the former Lyon player.
But is that really the case? No matter a player’s talent or potential, no transfer is a sure thing, as even the world’s best players sometimes struggle to acclimatise to a new set of surroundings.
Edinson Cavani, Roberto Soldado and Robert Lewandowski are three prime examples of players who failed to meet expectations after high-profile moves, and this after consistently excellent performances at a high level.
Martial, as opposed to these “veterans”, is even less proven, not even becoming a starter until the second half of the Ligue 1 season.
Despite its potential pitfalls, the move certainly has massive potential for dividends for Manchester United, whose sale of Javier Hernandez to Bayer Leverkusen should be read as statement of intent as to their belief in Martial’s prospects, not for the future, but for the present.
With that in mind, today we will take you through how the move could potentially affect all five parties involved.
Will this move affect his chances for Les Bleus?
As previously mentioned, Martial is relatively unproven, and this deal is built solely on potential. He is obviously talented, but much of what he has achieved comes with some caveats.
Yes, he recently received his first senior call-up, but had both of Alexandre Lacazette and Paul-Georges Ntep been fit, that likely would not have been the case.
An accomplished goal-scorer at youth international levels, Martial had not even been a regular starter for the U-21 team, competing with the likes of Sebastian Haller and Yassine Benzia.
He even, due to lack of game time at Monaco, failed to be called up for a pair of friendlies against England and Italy in November. Despite promising performances at U-19 and U-17 level, Didier Deschamps still firmly sees Martial as one for the future – not necessarily as a player that France could use now, despite earning a call-up to the latest squad.
Martial received his first call up for Les Bleus last week, but as mentioned earlier, that was really more down to the combination of these next matches being friendlies and to Lacazette and Ntep being misses through injury.
Martial at this point is not really a factor in Didier Deschamps’ plans, and barring an amazing season with United, that looks unlikely to change. However, if both of the above two struggle to find form, or should another striker suffer a serious injury, Martial may just have his chance, and the team will be all the better for this move.
Playing on a weekly basis against tough, physical defences, Martial will be forced to learn to adapt his game, developing new facets to allow him to succeed via technique and guile rather than relying on instinct and pace.
If France continue to use the 4-3-3 formation, Martial makes the perfect impact substitute; after being bullied by Giroud or chasing Benzema, the sight of a young, quick player coming on with 15-20 minutes left will surely send shivers down the spine of many a potential opponent.
Too, given Giroud’s more static style, the team would also be forced to make less of an adjustment in introducing Martial for Benzema, rather than the Arsenal player.
Even if Martial is not a rousing success immediately at his new club, the higher level of competition will improve his play, and give Deschamps a formidable weapon off the bench come next summer.
What should the Premier League expect from Anthony Martial?
He did after all go on a tremendous scoring run in the latter stages of last season, scoring eight goals in nine matches as Monaco caught up with, and then flew past, Marseille for third place and its attendant Champions’ League berth. But what was the calibre of opposition that he was facing during this goal-glut?
In that run, Martial scored against Lens, Toulouse, Bastia, Caen, Evian, Reims and Saint-Etienne, not exactly a murderers’ row of opponents, perhaps Les Verts being the exception here.
This is not to say that Martial is solely a flat-track bully, but that against the likes of Lyon, Marseille, and Paris Saint-Germain, as well as against Juventus in the Champions’ League, Martial has been somewhat less than impressive, his equaliser against the champions early in the season his sole goal against those four sides.
Particularly against Juventus, it was apparent how Martial, his first touch deserting him, could struggle to have any joy against a physical, well-organized back line.
With most Premier League sides being physically imposing at the back, the worry here is that Martial, despite it being likely that he will be given opportunities to start, will struggle against the better defenders in the English top flight. This could sap his confidence, and be detrimental to his overall development.
That said, Martial’s early career numbers are eerily similar to those of another certain Frenchman, one who was also converted from a wide player to a striker during the season in which he turned 19: Thierry Henry.
Much has been made of the comparison, especially given the staggering goal totals that Henry recorded during his time at Arsenal, despite its hyperbolic nature, there is admittedly something to it.
Henry is a bit more physical and a few inches taller than Martial, and was never the type of speed merchant that the younger player is, but both have displayed similar creative abilities and instinctive finishing.
Whatever Martial’s potential, he has up until this point displayed a remarkable maturity during his admittedly short career, even in the face of adversity.
If he can show the intelligence to adapt his game to the Premier League, and it looks as if he will be given every chance, he has the ability to become one of the very best, playing week in and week out against tough competition.
It will be a strong test, but if Martial can come good under these circumstances, that Henry comparison may not seem so far-fetched in two or three years’ time.
Part 1 of 4.