Anthony Martial Saves Jose Mourinho’s Job.
A headline as unlikely as Phil Jones Wins Balloon D’or, considering the pair’s recent history. But a crucial goal against Newcastle, two against Chelsea, and the winner against Everton have seen Martial play a crucial role in United securing seven points from their last three Premier League games – and in the process save his arch-nemesis Mourinho from the Old Trafford exit door.
Has Martial’s burst of brilliance led to Jose lavishing praise on his unexpected saviour? If a certain Belgian with big hair had done this for him Mourinho would have been ripping his shirt off Ryan Giggs style and running round Old Trafford singing “Fellaini is my son!”
But Martial isn’t in the Jose favourites gang. So there was almost reluctant praise for Martial after the Everton game, with Jose typically taking personal praise for Martial’s form and hinting at “entourages” having a negative impact on Martial. In short, the typical Mourinho smoke and mirrors effect, where anything positive in life is down to him and anything bad is someone else’s fault.
The truth is far less opaque. Martial is a talent Mourinho has been wrongly suppressing. Four goals in his last three league games is a fantastic return in a side that is struggling to create chances, but this recent runs of goals isn’t a positive blip in Martial’s United career. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired Martial is in the top three for goals scored and assists provided, which demonstrates his consistency when he’s given game time.
Play Martial and he scores goals.
But playing time has been the problem for Martial over the last eight months. Nine goals and three player of the month awards in five evidences a very good start to any player’s season but it didn’t stop Mourinho going out and buying the world’s most expensive piano player in Alexis Sanchez last January.
So why doesn’t Mourinho trust Martial?
In fairness to Mourinho, he’s not the only one to have reservations about Martial. Like many things at United, the Frenchman divides opinion. There’s “Martial FC”, a set of United fans who back the player through thick and thin because they see he’s the sort of talent United should be championing. Then there are the Martial detractors, who promote the opinion that he’s moody, lazy and inconsistent.
Unsurprisingly, the pro Anthony Martial fans also tend to be Mourinho Out. Martial represents “The United Way” with his edge-of-the-seat flair and attacking intent. Mourinho represents toilet-seat-going-through-the-motions pragmatism.
That’s probably why Mourinho has such an issue with Martial. Mourinho wants his attackers to track back and be part of a defensive unit. Martial suits a side that lets its flair players run free. Which is why so many rival fans praise Martial because they can see how well he’d fit in to a Liverpool, City, Spurs, Chelsea attacking system.
So what’s the future for Martial and Mourinho? Talks of the former stalling on a new contract offer are concerning to many United fans – but should we be surprised? Martial was part of the French setup until Mourinho ousted him from the side to accommodate Sanchez. There’s little doubt Martial would have been holding a World Cup winner’s medal last July if it wasn’t for Mourinho’s faux pas. Instead he was on holiday in his speedos holding a pina colada.
Much will depend on how Mourinho and Martial move forward and whether they can heal those old wounds of frustration. Like Paul Pogba, Martial’s form is currently keeping him in the side and Mourinho in a job. But how long before Jose presses the self destruct button and kicks Martial to the bench to restore the overpaid piano player?
Time will tell. In the meantime Martial is on fire and Martial FC is winning.
Finally, I wanted to mention the tragic events after Leicester’s game with West Ham last week. Five people lost their lives including Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha when the helicopter they were flying in came down just outside the ground shortly after takeoff.
Incidents like this remind us of how precious life is and how football can unite so seamlessly when sad moments like this arise. The outpouring of genuine empathy and support from fans of all clubs has been truly amazing and hopefully Leicester City football club can find their way through these difficult times and build again.