Former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov has revealed that he helped Anthony Martial improve his confidence ahead of the youngster’s move to Old Trafford in 2015.
Louis van Gaal signed Martial, largely unknown to the English public at the time, for £36m on deadline day and the Frenchman immediately asserted himself with a scintillating debut goal against Liverpool and a brace against Southampton, setting the tone for a superb individual campaign.
He suffered something of a dip last season following a summer marred by a poor Euro 2016 and issues off the pitch, but has enjoyed a devastating start to the new campaign, claiming five goals and five assists.
And Berbatov, in an interview with ESPN‘s Andy Mitten, revealed that he told the youngster to not be afraid of going past any player on the ball.
“These young players were flying around me and I was thinking: ‘What the f***? I am too old or are these guys too good.’
“Martial had something special and he’s developed. He’ll develop even more. You could see how fast and strong he was. The only thing lacking was to be more confident.”
“I liked playing in defence in training; it helped me understand the defenders well.
“Martial would come towards with me the ball. Sometimes he hesitated; he didn’t want to take me on because he thought I was going to take his ball. The self belief was not there.
“I would say: ‘Anto, you are so quick, you can go past me. Don’t be afraid to do that to every player because you are so quick.’ He’s a top guy.”
Berbatov’s comments fall perfectly in line with how United fans have experienced Martial in his two and a bit year stint at the club so far: prone to losing self-belief, growing agitated, and drifting out of a game, and yet also capable of setting contests alight with one swift moment of breathtaking brilliance.
The potential for either extreme is integral to Martial’s character and partly explains his quiet, contemplative demeanour: a boy aware of his extreme genius but just as privy to the fact that he can occasionally end up as its primary victim.
Talent, after all, comes at a cost, but the maturing process under Mourinho will see him develop even further and, as Berba himself did at Old Trafford, progressively isolate the aspect of his game – and indeed very persona – that can change games in an instant.