Following several weeks of conflicting reports, the latest news on Anthony Martial’s position at Manchester United is that Jose Mourinho is prepared to allow the forward to leave the club, as long as he moves abroad.
Martial started the summer by confirming through his agent that he wanted a transfer. Any bitterness he felt then over Mourinho’s role in him missing out on a place in France’s squad will have only intensified following his country’s World Cup win.
Had the 22-year-old had more regular playing time at United in the season just gone, chances are he would have made Didier Deschamps’ final cut and would now be able to call himself a world champion, like club teammate Paul Pogba.
The France manager has sung Martial’s praises in the past, but a year ago was alert to the impact that a lack of minutes on the pitch has on him.
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed the final month of the season with injury, Martial was given the opportunity to show what he was capable of, but struggled to leave an impression. From the turn of the year until the end of the season he played in 24 games, 15 as one of the starting XI, yet he scored just three goals.
“He’s been doing some good things, but he’s not as decisive as he was before,” Deschamps said at the time. “If you’re playing less, when you do play then you have to be decisive, you’re not allowed to make any mistakes. It’s a difficult climate for any player, whether he’s 20 or 30. If he’s playing and he’s full of confidence, he won’t have the same impact as if he’s lacking a bit of confidence.”
The season that followed was largely even more disappointing but your opinion on the root cause of that will differ depending on which camp you’re in. If you’re pro-Mourinho, you will look to all the lacklustre performances that Martial put in over the course of the season and claim he rightly deserved to be dropped after failing to show the consistency required in front of goal.
If you’re pro-Martial, you’ll question why the player was dropped even when he was playing brilliantly and point to the bags of raw potential that Mourinho is struggling to unleash.
After the opening eight games of the season, when Martial scored five goals, Mourinho would start him for some games and use him as a sub in others. This came with varied success.
He would start several games on the bounce and fail to score, only to claim the winner when brought on against Tottenham Hotspur.
At the start of December, United were just five points behind rivals Manchester City and still in the title race, but the month that followed was disastrous. Of the eight games they played, they won only half, and were knocked out of the League Cup in the semi-finals by Championship side Bristol City. Martial started most of these games, but failed to find the back of the net even once.
Yet when the New Year came, Martial found his creative boots once more, scoring three and assisting two in the five games United played in January. Yet in the months than followed, he was in and out of the team again, sometimes not even included in match days squads, with Mourinho telling the press that the player had claimed he was “not ready” to play.
Was he really injured? Or was Mourinho making excuses? It’s hard to tell with this manager.
In the 20 games that were left between his brilliant period in January until the end of the season, Martial failed to score any goals and started just five matches.
In the closing weeks of the season, Mourinho claimed he was playing the likes of Jones, Smalling, Rojo and Lindelof instead of Eric Bailly because they were fighting for their places in their World Cup teams. Yet he didn’t apply that same logic to Martial, when playing Alexis Sanchez ahead of him, despite Chile not qualifying for the tournament.
Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard were all fairly safe players too, yet they were all ahead of Martial in pecking order.
If this behaviour and reports from today are to be believed, Mourinho just doesn’t really fancy Martial. While the faults of the likes Lukaku, Lingard and Marouane Fellaini were always ignored by Mourinho, Martial was in the select group of players who he was happy to single out for criticism.
Martial and Rashford played in United’s defeat against Brighton, in Lukaku’s absence, and Mourinho almost bragged about it, believing his decision to overlook the Frenchman had been vindicated.
With United’s spot in second in jeopardy after the result, Mourinho was quick to lay the blame at the feet of the two young forwards.
“I wouldn’t say disappointed, because I know them,” Mourinho said after the final whistle, when asked about the two players. “I thought for some the possibility to start a game, to give reason to the ones who criticise my choices. ‘Why always Lukaku?’ Now you have your answer. We are not as good as individually as people think we are.”
Despite this, Mourinho had still been keen to keep Martial in the squad and following United’s recent pre-season game against the San Jose Earthquakes, looked as though he was going to stick with that stance, despite Martial’s apparent wishes.
“I would like to be in Los Angeles now and I am in San Jose,” Mourinho said. “You cannot do whatever you want in life. I would like to play against Leicester on Sunday but I have to play on Friday, so you don’t get always in life what you want.”
However, reports since have claimed Mourinho is ready to cut his losses and not cling on to a player who is keen to leave.
From a United perspective, even if you don’t agree with the supporters who believe the Frenchman is the best thing since sliced bread, it makes little sense to allow a player to move now without a replacement already on their way.
Mourinho has bemoaned the lack of transfer activity this summer, after giving a list of targets to Ed Woodward and only landing two of them so far, so the chances of the club being able to snap up an adequate replacement in the next three weeks seems unlikely.
But beyond the practicalities of the potential sale, there’s no denying what huge potential Martial has and what a mistake it would be to allow him to leave now.
Both the player and manager have to accept responsibility for him not reaching the heights he should have done last season, but both should be doing everything they can to remedy that.
Instead, it appears as though both are ready to throw in the towel, which will be desperately disappointing to many supporters.