It’s been a long time since September 14, 2015. Just 17 days shy of eight years, and in football terms, 299 appearances since Anthony Martial made his first appearance in a Manchester United shirt.
According to a club statement, Martial’s appearance against Nottingham Forest was his 300th for the Red Devils.
The Frenchman was signed by Louis Van Gaal in a surprise Ligue 1 raid. At the time, he was a 19-year-old prodigy who had scored 11 goals in 52 appearances for the Monaco senior team.
The fact that Man United were willing to part with £36 million, rising to £58 million for an unproven teenager, sparked a heated debate in the press and across social media. Adding to the drama was the idea that Monaco had insisted on inserting add-on clauses to be triggered if the teenager would go on to win a Ballon d’Or.
Was he really worth the hype? Eight years on, and 88 Man United goals later, the answer has been a somewhat mixed bag.
For Martial, there have been impressive highs and disconcerting lows. There’s certainly been no Ballon d’Or. His first season saw him finish with a decent 11 goals from 31 appearances followed by a dramatic fall-off to just four in 25 appearances.
He would make a partial comeback with nine goals from 30 appearances in the 2017/2018 season, before then having his all-time best season in the 2019/2020 season, where he contributed 17 goals in 32 appearances.
Since then, his performances have, more frequently than not, ranged between below-par and average, with a few above-average games in between, even failing to impress when sent out on loan. To make matters worse, he’s been a perennial sicknote.
It’s hard to argue that Martial should be considered an Old Trafford success story. His impressive form in the 2019/2020 season will always be remembered fondly, but that may be too little in the big picture.
Since then, his best contribution has been his 6 goals in the 2022/2023 season. Still, he is United’s 25th all-time highest goal scorer, which is respectable in its own right.
With Erik ten Hag now seeking to challenge the dominance of Manchester City, there are lots of changes going on around Old Trafford and the departure of Martial seems to be in the cards.
His is one of several names that are viewed as being dispensable as the club looks to raise funds to finance fresh acquisitions. He appears to have survived the cull for now, but there is a sense that he won’t be making too many more appearances at United.
Marcus Rashford has more or less nailed down the left flank where he once competed with Martial. The Frenchman, when available, has focused on playing the role of a number 9 – however ineffectively.
This season, however, Erik ten Hag has brought in Rasmus Hojlund after pursuing a major striker all summer. This means Martial’s spot at number 9 – his by virtue of a lack of competition, will have a new owner.
As The Peoples Person has reported, United have offered the 27-year-old to Real Madrid on a loan, which would not necessarily be a bad move for Martial, were it to materialise. However, it does underscore just how much of an outsider he currently is with respect to Erik ten Hag’s plans.
Where did it all go wrong for Martial? The most immediate answer would be his terrible injury record in recent seasons. However, there have been signs of a potentially fragile mentality from as far back as his second season.
At the time, the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic meant the loss of the number 9 shirt for Martial and this coincided with a dramatic loss in form.
With his stay at United nearing a logical conclusion, there is the sense that Martial could have been so much more. But at least, unlike many others who toe the path of unfulfilled talent, Anthony Martial did briefly take flight – most memorably on the afternoon of September 14, 2015, when he came on and scored with a brilliant solo effort.
In the words of Gary Neville:
“Manchester United fans, I’ve not heard them cheer as loud as that.”