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Anthony Martial arrived at Manchester United with a bang, but now he is struggling under Jose Mourinho... so what has happened to the young star?

April 20, 2017 10:45 AM
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A fine first touch. A jink insde, then out, then back in to leave Martin Skrtel tripping over his own feet like a child who has just tried roller-skates for the first time. A calm composed finish past the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

After all the controversy about his enormous transfer fee, the debates over gambling on such a young player, it appeared that Martial had answered his critics just 21 minutes into his United career.

Perhaps that was an overly quick reaction - certainly, no player's career at a club will be defined by one goal, just minutes after coming off the bench for a debut. But Martial went from strength to strength.

In his first season, under Louis van Gaal, the Frenchman scored 17 goals, a decent return from 49 games at a new club, in a new league.

He led the line at times, operated from the wing at others with the emergence of Marcus Rashford. He helped United to their first piece of post-Sir Alex Ferguson silverware as they lifted the FA Cup last May.

By the time Euro 2016 came around, Martial was a certainty in the French squad. Though not a regular starter, he was the man they turned to in the final when they fell behind.

The original fee of £36m - once the subject of much mirth from opposing fans - now seemed reasonable, perhaps even value. Every extra add-on - for his 25th goal, his potential 25th cap, and a future place on the Ballon d'Or shortlist - appeared sensible. He would one day cost upward of £60m, but he deservedly so.

No-one, it seemed, was unconvinced by the Frenchman. No-one, that is, except Jose Mourinho.

That first Manchester United goal is now a little more than 19 months ago, and yet Martial is no closer to being established in the club's first team. If anything he is further away.

Mourinho launched a scathing attack on him this week, claiming the forward has failed to adapt to his management.

'Do I think Anthony is player with great potential?' he asked. 'Yes. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes. But he needs to give me things that I like.

'We are together for almost 10 months or something like that. The same way I know the players much better now, the players should also know me much better now.

'The same way I know what the players like, I think the players also know what I like. The same way I have to go with the direction of the players, the players have to come in my direction.

'That's the point. That's why Marcus Rashford, even without scoring goals and not in the Premier League since September, he is always a player that I trust and I play and support because he was always coming in my direction.

It is a harsh criticism, this failure to learn, but it also hides a second truth - that Mourinho was unconvinced by Martial 10 months ago, before he attempted to teach him a new way of playing.

Why else would the United manager bring in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a global star, but one who, at the age of 35, can only serve to stunt the development of Martial and Rashford in the long term.

For all his flaws, Van Gaal was happy to give Martial responsibility, and he flourished. For all he has improved United, Mourinho has not seen the Frenchman grow.

This season Martial has just seven goals in all competitions. Two of those came in the EFL Cup, one in the FA Cup. One was a penalty. Only twice have his goals made a material change to the result of a game, and neither of those were in 2017.

Often out on the wing, regularly used from the bench rather than starting, or sometimes left out altogether, Martial is well down the pecking order to be Mourinho's central striker, with Rashford now ahead of him as well as Ibrahimovic.

There may also have been off the field issues that have hampered Martial's progress this season.

Between his sublime start to life at United and his poor form under Mourinho, he split with his wife - and the mother of his child - and has since entered into a new relationship.

We often think of footballers in isolation but it would not be any surprise if the lack of stability in his life off the pitch has contributed to his downturn on it.

Of course, he remains young. His brilliance last season should not mask the fact that he is still just 21. He will have many seasons to earn United back their millions, and has shown every indication that he will do so.

Whether he can adapt to Mourinho's way of playing, or whether he will need to realise his potential under another manager remains to be seen.

But United fans will be desperate to see the Martial of last season back on show as soon as possible. Perhaps, if he can help Mourinho secure Champions League football through the Europa League, he will once again feel welcome at Manchester United.


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