Anthony Martial’s display against Newcastle on the weekend may have been disappointing, but some of the media’s treatment and reaction to the Manchester United striker has been beyond disproportionate.
Almost no player could come out of the game in a positive light after the performance on the pitch, but the performance was a direct result of tactical failings. Manchester United‘s environment this season has been poor at times for players, with the instructions setting them up for failure. This was true against Newcastle more so than any other game Erik ten Hag‘s men have played.
Martial, especially, has borne the brunt of some horrible attacks from the media. In a segment on Sky Sports over the weekend, Jamie Carragher was criticising Marcus Rashford and saying how as a local player, the responsibility is greater for him in times of need than others. Not unfair.
However, he said that Marcus Rashford “looks like Anthony Martial”, which he described as ‘the worst thing you could possibly say about him’, before going on to state that it is a ‘fact’ that Anthony Martial does not care about Manchester United, citing the fact he is a ‘foreign player’ who hasn’t quite worked out at the club.
Now, firstly, I’m sure that if you asked Marcus Rashford himself what the worst thing you could possibly say about him is then saying he looks like a player whose career feels almost intertwined with his own and one he is close friends with would not even come close to featuring on the list. Especially considering the level of abuse Marcus Rashford has faced at times.
But to then go on and call it a ‘fact’ that Anthony Martial does not care about Manchester United? Look, say what you want about how it hasn’t worked out the way many hoped it would for him. But this is a player who is now in his ninth season at Manchester United, having joined for a record fee as a teenager. He has scored some of the most iconic United goals in recent years and has his own dedicated chant that rings around Old Trafford every single matchday without fail.
He has also endured many hardships both on and off the pitch and has been targeted by the media for many years for perceived attitude issues, he has struggled to play football in recent years due to injury issues, and this frustration is very visible – it has also been publicly spoken about by his manager, Erik ten Hag – yet despite everything he continues to give his all and work hard. That is not the behaviour of a player who doesn’t care.
The MEN’s Samuel Luckhurst is the biggest culprit of this written agenda. Luckhurst has pushed an incredibly hateful and vitriolic agenda against Martial for a number of years now, and the days following the Newcastle defeat were no exception. Luckhurst has generally been incredibly hateful around United in times of despair, and just this week, was banned from Erik ten Hag’s press conference because of this.
Back to Carragher. Already he’s said some very scathing things about Martial, which were not warranted, but then he mentioned the fact that Martial is foreign. If you assume the best, he may not have meant it in the way many will think – he is probably just trying to further highlight the importance of Rashford as a local player to the club. But how he did not see or consider how problematic the framing of that statement was, is incredibly concerning.
As I mentioned, Rashford’s importance to Manchester United and its fans as a player who grew up a stone’s throw away from Old Trafford and has been with the academy since a young age is something that is more than fair to talk about. Rashford deserves measured criticism, as does Martial, for on-pitch performances. Both have been subject to much more than this and not just during the last week.
Some of the comments that have been made are incredibly damaging to the players and in such a public space, influence the views of a lot of people, which leads to the creation of false narratives and agendas. They can also be personally damaging to players, who fans have increasingly seen speaking out about mental health and taking sabbaticals due to struggling with this.
After United’s win over Chelsea, where both players were dropped from the lineup, many will come to the easy-yet-lazy conclusion that United won because of this. United did benefit from the increased off-ball intensity, yes, but tactical corrections by Erik ten Hag were a far larger factor in United’s improved performance, coupled with playing against a weaker and more dysfunctional side than the weekend.
Fans naturally feel very frustrated about how Martial’s career has turned out and can take issue with his performances sometimes, but criticism needs to be kept to this. Personal attacks are too far, and the comments of Carragher, Samuel Luckhurst, and many other people in the media have far overstepped the line.
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