Martial, Mourinho and the Whataboutery at Manchester United

Martial, Mourinho and the Whataboutery at Manchester United

Recently, I wrote about the surprisingly positive start that Manchester United had made in the summer transfer window, particularly in a World Cup year where prices can be as volatile as they come.

The Red Devils have made a couple of early signings already, addressing the two weak areas in the squad: midfield and fullback. Jose Mourinho – who seems to be enjoying the role of a pundit when not taking pictures with the Russian President – does look like he has given the CEO Edward Woodward, an exhaustive list of transfer targets to work within the summer; so much so that there has been little noise from the former investment banker. Usually, this is the time when Manchester United announce their ‘tyre sponsorship’ deal to the world.

On a rather serious note, assuming the new signing from Shakhtar Donetsk –  24-year old Fred is replacing 36-year old Michael Carrick, United still look to be needing another central midfielder to replace the outgoing Belgian – Marouane Fellaini.

At left-back, 32-year old Ashley Young has done admirably well as the club’s first choice in the last two years – but he is not getting any younger and United have been constantly found lacking in depth when needed in these positions in the big games.

Good on the club to bring in a fresh pair of legs with the signing of Diogo Dalot whose fluency in English has been quite the positive surprise in itself, but here’s hoping the manager considers integrating the versatile Fosu Mensah into the side too. For he is another raw diamond waiting to be cut and polished by the Portuguese.

But there is something that is still not right at the club; something that needs to be looked at and sorted out before it gets out of hand.

What on earth is going on with Anthony Martial?

It’s no secret that he carries with him the potential to light up this league, and Jose Mourinho understands this full well. There is little doubt in my mind that he could develop himself into a devastating forward – wreaking havoc in the opposition box – with a different style of management (arm around the shoulder, maybe?) – and a personal touch from the boss, perhaps, should do the trick.

I believe Jose is doing all he can to keep him in the side because he is an asset. Not the kind of asset that the Glazers would want to leech all the value out of, although, this is a very real possibility. But he is someone who could do incredible things at United, with a healthy dose of playing time in his preferred role. In fact, in 1584 minutes in the Premier League in 2017/18, Martial has scored 9 and assisted 5 – only the club’s top scorer Romelu Lukaku has found the net more often for the Reds.

The accusation of Martial not willing to ‘fight for the shirt’ is baseless. It is as pointless as calling him ‘uninterested’ for not prancing around like a big-headed pony after scoring every goal. You can fight for the shirt in many different ways. Fight does not always have to mean squaring up to an opposition defender because he has taken a minute too long for a throw-in.

Anthony Martial wants to win as much as you and I. And Mourinho too. To think otherwise is quite wrong.

Jose Mourinho has improved a fair few in this football club since he has taken over – but it has mostly been where the ceiling is there and clearly visible. And it has been largely been the players who were aware of it and some – even close to hitting it. But in the case of Anthony Martial, the limitations are not so clearly defined, the boundaries seem arbitrary – at this stage of his career.

Let us not forget, he is still only 23 and playing under two managers with starkly contrasting footballing ideologies and core individual characters could make it harder to adapt and perform week-in-week-out (not that he was starting week-in week-out) for anybody – let alone Martial, who is still very much in the ‘settling down’ phase on a more personal level.

Martial is calm by nature; like still water – off the pitch. They could do with some of that in a side absolutely littered with characters – your Lingards and Pogbas;  Rojos and Baillys; especially in this day and age where social media has become the de facto window for player-club-fan relations. Yet, on the pitch, with the ball at his feet – very few players in this squad are more expressive and elegant at the same time.

He was not a waste of money when he came to Manchester – but he will be one if United let him go now without getting the best out of him.