This time last year, Anthony Martial would’ve been known by a select group of people. French football journalists, fans of Lyon or Monaco and anyone who’d signed him in the FIFA and Football Manager computer games because he was sensational in them. He even brought my Leeds side to the Champions League final!
Snap back to reality and Martial signed for Man United on the 1st of September, causing many of their rival supporters to laugh and christen him a ‘panic signing‘. A hefty price tag which rose to close to £60,000,000 gave them plenty of ammunition. Nine months later and he’s proved them all wrong by becoming arguably United’s most important player.
Now he heads to Euro 2016 on the crest of a wave.
Martial got 11 league goals for the Red Devils last year including four in his first four games. That earned him a handful of caps for the French starting in August. As they didn’t have to qualify for the Euros because they’re hosting them, France played friendlies all throughout the winter and spring.
Hosting the tournament is probably the closest Scotland will get to being in it in the near future. What might count against the 20 year old is that in the 4 friendlies that Martial played in, he didn’t score once The best he could muster were a couple of assists to Olivier Giroud.
It’s been 16 years since France lifted a major trophy and they’re to win Euro 2016 on home soil. On paper, they have possibly the strongest squad they’ve ever had. Pogba, Kante, Payet, Matuidi and Cabaye are now comfortable in the midfield.
Up front, even without Karim Benzema, the four strikers that Didier Deschamps has available to him will worry any defence. Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, André-Pierre Gignac and Martial.
From those four it’s safe to say that Martial is probably third choice. That is unless Deschamps elects to play him on the wing, a position that he’s comfortable with from playing under Louis Van Gaal.
Giroud is under a bit of pressure from French media and supporters – he was booed on the field by his own fans during Monday’s win over Cameroon. The boo boys were slightly silenced after the Arsenal star netted twice in the victory over Scotland on Saturday but you can bet if he’s off form in the Euros, it won’t take long for the doubters to make their voices heard.
This could put a bit of pressure on Deschamps to make a change – and maybe throw Martial in for one of the final two group games. We’re presuming that he’ll come off the bench against Romania to open the tournament. At to score anytime in the opening game, Martial’s a bit of value
Longer term, it could get better for France if they put their faith in youth. Martial was incredibly clinical in the 2015-16 season.
All of his 11 league goals came from inside the box, with five of them being with his first touch. Add to that the equalizer in the FA Cup quarter final against West Ham followed up by a stunning semi final performance against Everton where he set one up and then got the winner.
In Europe he was just as hot, scoring three times in nine games in both Champions and Europa League.
When you put it all together it seems folly for Deschamps not to start Martial at least once in the group stage. He’s the quickest of the four French strikers and has the abililty to shine. Back in Euro 2000, three of France’s key players were 23 or under – Theirry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and David Trezeguet, the latter of which got the golden goal in the final.
If given his chance, Martial will take it. He’s to be France’s top goalscorer at the tournament, with longer odds of to be overall top scorer.
France will have an easy route to the semis if they top the group, playing a third placed team in the last 16 then the winner of two runners up in the quarters. A French tournament win with Martial as top scorer is – which could be worth keeping an eye on.