If selected, Anthony Martial will make his 250th appearance for Manchester United against Everton tomorrow, yet fans and pundits remain divided as to whether he has what it takes to be a United player.
Martial made a scoring debut for United against Liverpool back in September 2015 following a controversial £50 million move from AS Monaco. It looked as if the Red Devils had found their next Ronaldo, but progress since has stuttered.
The 25-year-old comes from a footballing family. His 29-year-old brother Johan plays for French Ligue 2 side Sochaux and his 19-year-old cousin Alexis for Servette in the Swiss Superleague.
Both are centre-backs, in contrast to Anthony, and perhaps part of the confusion and debate over the United man is what his best role is: should he should operate as a left winger or as a centre forward?
The Frenchman has played 112 games as a centre-forward for United, scoring 43 goals and providing 24 assists. By contrast, he has played 117 games as a left winger, scoring 32 goals and providing 25 assists.
Comparing his figures to those of Marcus Rashford, who has scored 39 goals and provided 14 assists in 104 games as a centre-forward and 40 goals and 31 assists from 123 as a left winger, we have the following result:
|Goals PG||Assists PG||Goals PG||Assists PG|
The stats suggest that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has it right: that Martial is more effective (at least, than Rashford) in the centre-forward role and that Rashford tips it as a provider from the left wing.
But is Martial’s contribution as a centre-forward as inconsistent as he is accused of by many?
|Year||Games/Goals/Assists as CF||Manager|
The figures perhaps tell the tale of inconsistent use by different managers rather than the player’s own inconsistency. A centre-forward for Monaco when bought by Louis Van Gaal, during Martial’s first season at United he largely remained in that role and achieved a reasonable return for a 19-year-old thrown into the forward line of one of the world’s top clubs.
Jose Mourinho, however, had other plans for the Frenchman and moved him out wide, where he stayed, mostly for the next three seasons. It is inarguable that if he had remained a centre-forward during that time he would have had three more years’ experience in front of goal, to learn the skills of that role, rather than the skills of a left-winger. The fact that he managed 23 goals in his first full season as a centre-forward, therefore, in 2019/20 is a remarkable achievement.
Every striker goes through a goal drought now and again and Martial has endured one this season. And the danger is he will be moved back-and-forth from the left wing again this term as Edinson Cavani has been brought in to rotate in the forward position. This could affect Martial’s rhythm and also once again interrupt his development in his preferred role.
At 25, Martial is yet to reach the peak age for most strikers and there is a sense that he is still learning and developing in the role. With 250 appearances under his belt, there is still time for him to fulfill his potential and become the world-class striker everyone can see his is capable of becoming.