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A tribute to Anthony Martial: Manchester United’s flawed genius



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After nine seasons at Manchester United, Anthony Martial officially said his goodbye to the club and its fans with an emotional statement on Monday evening.

Having joined with great promise and introducing himself to the fans in the best way he possibly could with a goal off the bench against Liverpool at Old Trafford, it feels incredibly saddening that he leaves United having been unable to be a part of the squad for the FA Cup final win.

Inconsistencies were present throughout Anthony Martial‘s time at United, with positional switches, having run in the team cut short, new signings being preferred over him, drops in confidence, and, during his later years, injuries all playing a part.

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But between these were flashes of brilliance so bright that many could never give up on hope with the Frenchman. Tall, strong, quick, technically one of the most gifted players to grace Old Trafford in years, skilful, and a remarkable finisher capable of scoring fantastic goals, Martial truly was special.

He had a very natural understanding with his teammates, most of all Marcus Rashford, and his ability to link up with them and bring them into play made him incredibly valuable to the side, even if there were strikers who could score more goals.

When he was properly trusted, Martial’s goal return was not exactly low either. His 90 goals for the club make him the fourth-highest non-British goalscorer in Manchester United’s history. Some of those goals were amongst the most memorable in recent years for United, such as the aforementioned Liverpool goal and his winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton that season.

Some were goals of lesser magnitude but still live in the hearts of fans, such as the winner against Tottenham Hotspur in 17/18 or a wonderful goal against Partizan Belgrade in 19/20 where he dribbled through the defence as though they were not there before slotting past the goalkeeper. His hattrick against Sheffield United in lockdown remains one of the most memorable performances a United player has had in the post-Sir Alex era, too.

These moments were special because, amidst United’s worst period as a club in years, they gave fans reason to believe that better times were ahead. Seeing young talents such as Martial and Rashford, two players whose careers almost feel intertwined, grow from boys into men whilst trying to carry the club on their shoulders gave fans hope that better days were ahead.

Martial presented value to every permanent manager he played under. Louis van Gaal bought and trusted him in his first season, where he showed so much promise. Jose Mourinho did not show the same level of trust in Martial, but he gave the Portuguese boss incredible stretches of form at important times in spite of this. Ole Gunnar Solskjær reinstated that trust in Martial, leading to his best season in a United shirt, and Erik ten Hag viewed him as a key player when fit during his first season at United.

It was under Solskjær that the injury issues became a real problem. Mourinho had dismantled the club’s sports science department and the physical level of the players was low, which the Norwegian looked to increase. Martial had picked up an injury, but because United were in a difficult position early in the 2020/21 season, he forced himself to play through it for four months, which had a negative impact on his form and his confidence, too. He had also bulked up too much, with the club not managing his physical conditioning correctly, and his style of play invites contact.

After all of this, Martial still had the technical brilliance, but physically, he just could not keep up without picking up injuries, a real shame given what he was able to bring to the pitch when fit and how he related to his teammates.

This season, he played his fewest minutes for United with injury issues plaguing him. When he said goodbye to United’s fans at Old Trafford after the Newcastle game, it had to be in a club tracksuit instead of his kit, allowing him to give fans one last flash.

Off the field, Martial’s life was not always perfect. A naturally introverted character, the media and sections of the fanbase often accused him of not caring. Certain pundits have smeared his name with totally unfair tags, which has impacted public perception.

But those who played and worked with Martial enjoyed wonderful relationships with him. He was often seen joking around with his teammates and fellow coaches, and his announcement of leaving on Instagram saw an outpouring of love from teammates over the years, expressing how they would miss him.

All in all, it did not go to plan, and it is heartbreaking that Martial never won a Premier League or Champions League at Old Trafford. But he should go down as a modern-day Manchester United hero, a player who stepped up in many moments when someone else was needed.

And when United do win those trophies again, I hope that fans will recognise him as one of the players who helped to lay the bricks for us to get back there.