Considering the controversy surrounding his £36million deadline day arrival, the start to Anthony Martial’s Manchester United career has been nothing short of emphatic.
It began with a clinical side-footed finish against Liverpool – in which the ‘new Thierry Henry’ exploded Martin Tyler’s head by making Thierry Henry look like the old Anthony Martial – and has since continued with four goals in seven appearances across all competitions. That includes three strikes in the Premier League – all the more impressively from just six efforts at goal.
Yet the Premier League has chewed up and spat out countless prodigies tipped for greatness before. It wasn’t long ago Adnan Januzaj’s brace against Sunderland provoked reports of a shock England call-up and earned him a new contract at Old Trafford with a world-record signing on bonus for a teenager. 18 months later, he’s now on loan at Borussia Dortmund and largely forgotten as the Red Devils anoint Martial and Mempis Depay their new prodigal sons.
[ffc-gal cat=”manchester-united” no=”5″]
So every promising youngster in the Premier League deserves a health warning, especially those employed by its top clubs, and here is mine to Martial – quite simply, don’t get caught up in your own hype.
That’s no swipe at the France international who is clearly a very talented player and an incredibly promising prospect. But the impact he’s had on United’s fortunes this season is as much to do with the squad’s limits as it is the teenager’s prodigious ability.
Before the 19-year-old arrived at Old Trafford, United’s attack lacked two key elements – penetrative speed and clinical finishing. The Frenchman has provided both but in my opinion the latter is largely a consequence of the former, having vastly improved the Red Devils’ functionality in the final third when compared to the more static styles of Wayne Rooney who, took make matters worse, is hopelessly short of form this season.
That’s not to suggest Martial is simply in the right place at the right time and will therefore eventually amount to very little. Yet Louis van Gaal dubbed him a ‘signing for the next Manchester United manager’ and clearly his early form has surprised everybody. It’s not necessarily an indicator that he’s ready to be the Red Devils’ first choice front-man long-term; more that he’s doing a considerably better job and offering considerably more than Rooney right now. That could soon change.
Plenty have praised Martial’s seeming ability to avoid the media. He doesn’t know much English yet and apparently lives in bubble of blissful French ignorance, shielding the teenager from the relentless hyperbole going on around him.
I can only hope that continues as much as not speaking a native language will allow, because the tabloid chatter is getting more outlandish by the day. The ‘new Thierry Henry’ was an audacious enough moniker, yet that bold implication of guaranteed greatness has since been accompanied by the sheer mentioning of the Ballon d’Or as a potential add-on in the £58million package accepted by Monaco, alongside copious reports of another mystery club – believed to be either Real Madrid or Chelsea – being prepared to pay even more than United’s initial £36million fee during the summer.
Perhaps that’s true, perhaps it’s not. It’s my speculation that much of this information is being driven by United, desperate to prove they haven’t simply taken a seismic punt on a teenager after missing out on more established strike targets. Either way, the reports could cause far more harm than good if it all goes to Martial’s head.
Once again, I’m not attempting to discredit or take anything away from a youngster who has made the best start possible to his hopefully long and successful Manchester United career. It seems young players can’t really win today – they’re either criticised for inevitable inconsistency or in articles such as this one, warned of becoming too good too soon.
But nothing saddens me more than watching a young player turn from hero to villain overnight. Who remembers when Tom Cleverley was the flavour of the month at Old Trafford? Or even Federico Macheda? And the fact of the matter is that Martial’s current form can’t be expected to be sustained over the course of the season; his first in the Premier League and only the second of his career in which he’ll be expected to make at least 30 appearances across all competitions.
What comes up must come down, but that blow can be softened by an ego within the realms of reality. In other words Mr Martial, falling for your own hype now could prove very costly a few months down the line.