Anthony Martial's rise and fall at Man United as he eyes January exit

Anthony Martial burst onto the scene at Man United with THAT goal against Liverpool… but a spat with Jose Mourinho, doubts over his work-rate and inconsistency mean he’s an outcast wanting to leave

  • Anthony Martial is pushing for a Manchester United exit after six years
  • Martial, 26, burst onto the scene with a sensational strike against Liverpool 
  • He went on to enjoy a strong debut season at Old Trafford under Louis van Gaal
  • However, Jose Mourinho’s arrival started a steady decline for the £36million buy
  • Martial has fallen down the pecking order and wants to leave this January 

The fact that Anthony Martial’s most memorable moment at Old Trafford over the course of his six-year stay was his first moment in a Manchester United shirt is indicative of his struggles.

Everybody remembers the goal. On September 12, 2015, Martial provided perhaps the textbook definition of ‘bursting onto the scene’ during United’s 3-1 win over Liverpool. 

‘Martial, he has isolated Skrtel here… ohhh yes!’ commentator Martin Tyler bellowed from the Sky Sports gantry as the then-19-year-old wheeled away in celebration in front of a jubilant Stretford End.

Anthony Martial is pining for a Manchester United exit after a turbulent six years at the club

He is now fifth in the pecking order under Ralf Rangnick (right) and desperate for a fresh start

It promised to be the start of an exciting new era at Old Trafford, at a club that had been pining for its first superstar in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. On first viewing, their new £36million (and possibly rising to £58m) signing from Monaco appeared to fit the bill. 

‘The goal of Anthony, not a bad goal I think!’ United boss Louis van Gaal beamed. 

‘It was also a match for him now. He has a lot of space so it was more easy to bring him. But he did it alright. He scored a marvellous goal and I have seen also, physically, he can play in the Premier League.’ 

And Martial certainly delivered a debut campaign to back his manager’s prediction. Eighteen goals and 11 assists in 56 appearances gave United fans much to be excited about, particularly with the rise of Marcus Rashford from the youth set-up too.

The Frenchman burst onto the scene with a sensational cameo against Liverpool in 2015

The 26-year-old came off the bench to score a sublime goal to wrap up a superb 3-1 victory


2015-16: 18 goals, 56 appearances

2016-17: 8 goals, 42 appearances

2017-18: 11 goals, 45 appearances

2018-19: 12 goals, 38 appearances

2019-20: 23 goals, 48 appearances

2020-21: 7 goals, 37 appearances

2021-22:  1 goal, 10 appearances

Yet the debate that raged on throughout Martial’s time at United had already begun even in these early moments of his Old Trafford career: Is the Frenchman a winger or a centre forward? 

‘I like him on the wing, I don’t believe he is an out-and-out goalscorer like Ruud van Nistelrooy,’ Van Gaal said. ‘In the future he might change, he certainly has the ability, but at the moment I see him as a wing player.

‘He has had an excellent first season in England and he can only get better with age and experience. 

‘He can improve further, I can see things in his game that he can work on, but the best way to improve is to play at a higher level and that is what he is doing.’ 

Martial was integral to United under Van Gaal and scored in their FA Cup semi final victory over Everton, before the Red Devils went onto beat Palace in the Wembley final. 

However, Van Gaal’s controversial United exit following that FA Cup triumph saw Martial endure his first slump at Old Trafford. Often, a player’s fortunes are intrinsically linked with the manager at the helm and for the Frenchman, Jose Mourinho’s time at the club was a torrid two-and-a-half years.

In total, Martial’s 27 goals and 18 assists in 106 appearances for the Portuguese spelt a decline from his scintillating form under Van Gaal. 

Martial had a great first season under Louis van Gaal and won the FA Cup the following spring

More pertinently, Mourinho and Martial were often at odds and it was reported that the view in the former Chelsea boss’ camp was that his striker was mentally weak and that he could not overcome minor psychological setbacks.

The current Roma coach also felt Martial sulked too often when a decision went against him. 

Tensions boiled over in July 2018 when Mourinho fell out publicly with Martial after the 26-year-old left the club’s US pre-season tour to attend the birth of his child. 

Martial went AWOL from United’s tour, leaving the team base in LA against Mourinho’s wishes and flying to Paris to be with his partner Melanie Da Cruz. He angered Mourinho further by refusing to return to America after the birth of baby Swan.

He tweeted: ‘Thank you all for your posts. My little Swan is fine, for the mom it was harder but thanks to God she’s better now. Sorry but my family will always come first.’

However, Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford onset a steady decline for the £36m man

Mourinho took the opposite view, saying after United’s 4-1 pre-season friendly defeat by Liverpool: ‘He has the baby and after the baby is born – beautiful baby, full of health, thank God – he should be here and he is not here.’

Martial was fined £180,000, the equivalent of two weeks’ wages. Mourinho was open to selling the player that summer and was in favour of a swap deal with Inter Milan involving Ivan Perisic, but the United board did not sanction a transfer. 

United legend Gary Neville claimed that Mourinho’s inability to offload Martial was the start of the Portuguese’s decline. He was later sacked in December of that year.

‘I think the club dug their heels in, probably the start of their dispute of them between them in terms of overruling the manager,’ he said.

Martial and Mourinho did not see eye to eye and reports suggested the Portuguese manager viewed his striker as ‘mentally weak’ and unable to overcome psychological setbacks

Mourinho fumed at Martial’s decision to leave pre-season training for the birth of his child, with his partner Melanie da Cruz

‘Myself, I’m confused as to whether he’s a world-class striker or whether he’s someone who is going to pretend to be something. You think he’s a fantastic player, great composure, cool, strong, can hold the ball up.

‘And then other weeks you look at him… there’s definitely a persistence that needs to occur with Martial in the sense that he has to have his chance.’

Mourinho took up punditry work after his United sacking, where he took another swipe at Martial after suggesting that the Frenchman’s desire to play as a centre forward was based on his unwillingness to track back. 

‘I know that Martial likes to play as a No 9, sometimes, I think for the right reasons, sometimes I think for the wrong reasons, but I know he likes to play as a No 9,’ Mourinho told Sky Sports.

‘Of course, [Marcus] Rashford does too, but he adapts perfectly on the left side because he has more responsibility and a high working rate, coping with the progression of a possible full-back.’ 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival saw a rejuvenation in the confidence and self-esteem of United’s star-studded squad, and Martial enjoyed his strongest season post Van Gaal in the 2019-20 campaign.

His 23 goals in 48 games saw the Red Devils return to Champions League football and there were high hopes among the United masses that Martial would go onto be the No 1 striker they have long been crying out for.

Yet the 2020-21 season did not go according to plan. Martial’s red card during United’s 6-1 defeat by Spurs saw him fall down the pecking order and his inability to continue his fine form from the previous campaign was the source of much frustration.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment saw a brief rejuvenation in form during 2019-20 season

‘Martial almost conned us into thinking he was one (a high-level striker) at the end of last season because he scored so many goals and was quite good,’ Paul Scholes said in a blistering attack. 

‘He’s started this season quite poorly again, which makes you think he isn’t. It’s misleading. That’s why I’ve kept saying we need a top-class No 9.’ 

Martial went on to make fleeting appearances throughout the campaign, before Solskjaer trusted him to play through the middle away at runaway leaders Manchester City.

And he did not disappoint his manager at the Etihad Stadium. Martial won a penalty in the opening stages of the game and worked tirelessly to fend off Ruben Dias and John Stones in a standout performance. 

Yet Martial failed to maintain those performances in 2020-21, much to United fans’ frustration

United legend Paul Scholes last year blasted Martial, saying he ‘conned’ the club into believing he was a centre forward

‘Anthony Martial was man of the match,’ Solskjaer told BBC Sport. ‘That was the Anthony we know, strong, positive and taking players on. [I’m] delighted for him.’

He added to Sky Sports: ‘Every game is different. We went back to be a little bit what we wanted to be and that’s being direct. That was the Anthony Martial of old.

‘Until two hours before warm-up I wasn’t sure if he’d play. Today he rediscovered himself. He was really strong on the ball and very positive.’

But that was the last Premier League game Martial played that season, with a ruptured knee ligament ruling him out for the rest of the campaign.

Since then, the outlook has been bleak for the 26-year-old. He is now fifth in the pecking order, behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood, and his frustrations were made public last Friday after his agent revealed that Martial is desperate for a January exit and more game time.

It is a sad state of affairs for a player that offered so much promise in his opening season and has shown glimpses of the talent that excited Van Gaal. Ultimately, Martial will know in his heart of hearts that he has regressed in recent years.  

‘I think the most frustrating thing about him is that he’s actually gone backwards from when he first signed,’ Rio Ferdinand said on FIVE.

‘If you’re a player and you look at when he hit the scene with the two goals against Liverpool and you think to yourself, “Wow what have we signed here?”, he’s not really hit those heights since.

Martial has had fleeting moments of quality, including during last season’s win at City

‘As a player I’d love to be able to get inside his head and spend time with him. Everyone thinks they can affect someone with a conversation.

‘You’d be saying to him, “Are you actually happy with what you’re doing, are you happy with your trajectory of how it’s going?”. It’s gone here [up] and it’s slowly like this [down].’ 

A move away, then, would benefit all parties. French clubs PSG and Lyon are early contenders to rescue Martial from Old Trafford, although the striker may wish to prove that he can perform week in, week out, in the Premier League.  

‘I think if they can get good money for him… I just think now is the time for him to leave and go and play regular football,’ Neville said on Sky Sports.

Martial certainly thinks so. 


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