Anthony Martial is arguably Manchester United’s most talented player at this present point in time. Of United’s current crop, only he and his France team mate Paul Pogba could genuinely be seen as having the potential to become world class players in their positions. So the question is, why is the young Frenchman not among the first names on his manager’s team sheet?
The argument for
You could argue that Anthony Martial is a victim of the type of manager he happens to be working under. An Anthony Martial at 26 or 27 years old would be the ideal player for Jose Mourinho. One that has made all his mistakes, learnt all he needs to learn and is close to the finished product if not there already.
That version of Martial would be the first name on Mourinho’s team sheet and Mourinho’s go to man. He would also very possibly have the same relationship that the Portuguese had with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o to mention a few of the world class strikers the United manager has coached in his time.
Unfortunately for Martial in this instance, he is only 21, with bags of potential and a lot to learn. A player like Martial is probably suited to the fatherly figure of a Sir Alex Ferguson. Were Martial to be playing under the legendary Scot, he would most likely be playing more than he is now. Sir Alex would be more prepared to keep giving the young striker game time so that he can learn from his mistakes and build up his confidence.
The United legend used this approach for Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand to mention a few. When the trio came into the United team, they were capable of outstanding performances followed almost immediately by anonymous ones.
For example, a young Wayne Rooney followed up his debut hat trick against Fenerbahçe in the Champions League with a subdued performance in the league against Middlesbrough where he was kept quiet by current England boss Gareth Southgate who was at the time playing at the heart of the Middlesbrough defence. Ferguson persisted knowing that the talent was there and that for it to be developed, they had to play; it is a decision that paid off.
While it could be argued that playing Rooney, Ronaldo and Ferdinand was a no brainer, there were other young players Sir Alex persisted with, even against public opinion which included the likes of Darren Fletcher, David de Gea and Rafael Da Silva.
But then again, Sir Alex was more a fan of players capable of the unpredictable while Mourinho favours players capable of delivering his specific instructions on the pitch. That is not to say Sir Alex didn’t appreciate the latter or Mourinho the former, just that Sir Alex was more willing to give flexibility to those players able to do special things, as he did with Ronaldo and Eric Cantona amongst others, even reshaping the team during big games so those players were freed of their usual defensive responsibilities.
Mourinho on the other hand is more flexible with players capable of carrying out specific instructions and doing a ‘job’ that he requires on the field, which explains his appreciation for the big Belgian, Marouane Fellaini.
Unfortunately for Martial, with Mourinho, he is not going to be ‘let off’ for not tracking his full back and is not going to be excused for being quiet for 85 minutes because of his ability to win the game in 5. Such a player is more in the mould of the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti and dare I say it, Arsene Wenger.
And there lies Anthony Martial’s problem. Under some managers he would be the golden child who can do no wrong but he is under a manager who doesn’t have such sentiments and who is desperate to win now and not necessarily willing to give a player time to learn through failure
The argument against
As is always the case there are two sides to any story and it would be unfair to only air one. Jose Mourinho clearly believes and has stated on several occasions that Anthony Martial is a very talented player who can become a great one.
His treatment of Martial is no different to his treatment of a young Joe Cole during his first stint as Chelsea manager. In many ways, he was a lot stricter with Cole compared to his treatment of Martial but that tough love brought the best out of the young England midfielder and indeed after Mourinho left Chelsea, Joe Cole’s form and career declined.
Jose Mourinho will be hoping his tough love treatment of Martial yields similar results in challenging the young French man to show his manager what he is capable of and deliver match winning performances as he has on occasions this season. A similar approach has worked wonders for Martial's United team mate, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Another problem for the United manager is his wealth of options in this position. Juan Mata, the aforementioned Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney are all vying to play in the same position as Martial does and the United manager is keen to give everyone a fair shot and therefore is not inclined to give anyone preferential treatment.
Memphis Depay has already left the club in January due to not getting a look in and so the United manager is right when he argues that when players get an opportunity, especially in the positions where United are well stocked, they have to grab it with both hands, otherwise there are several players waiting to take their place off them.
Therefore, in many ways the ball is squarely in Martial's court. If he plays to his potential, he keeps his position but if he doesn’t, he can’t complain if the manager gives another player an opportunity and that player grabs it with both hands.
Whichever way you look at it, Manchester United fans will be hoping Anthony Martial gets into the team and stays there as that would mean that he is performing well and an Anthony Martial performing to the best of his ability, can only be great news for Manchester United.