José Mourinho and Manchester United brought an average campaign to a close last week with their win over Ajax in the final of the UEFA Europa League to attain UEFA Champions League qualification and finish by winning two competitions. Just like every club, every season, he, along with the Manchester United faithful, have had to endure their fair share of dip in forms, and the most prominent amongst the Manchester United squad has come from French forward Anthony Martial.
Anthony Martial Faces His Toughest Test at Manchester United Next Season
In a season that saw star names arrive at the club during the summer, Martial was expected to keep his place in the side and build on his impressive showings from his first season in the Premier League, where he thrived under pressure with Louis van Gaal at the helm. Under the more dynamic Mourinho, he was touted to star down the left wing, where he so often played in the 2015-16 campaign following the arrival of Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimović.
He did start the season well and was it was evident that he was a player in Mourinho’s long-term plans. Following a good opening three weeks where United won all three of their league games and saw Martial dazzle his way through opposition defences, they were forced to slow down following a home defeat to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. That was met by a 3-1 away defeat to Watford, where Martial’s defensive contribution, while he was on the pitch, was nearly non-existent and he was taken off before half-time after colliding with two Watford players and suffered an ankle injury.
That performance, mid-way through September, was enough to convince Mourinho that he needed more work on the training ground and Martial became an in-and-out figure in the first team ever since. He’s started less than half of the Old Trafford club’s Premier League games this season and was only a late substitute in their Europa League final success. Despite that, he has managed to score 11 times this season – joint third-most at the club – although most of them have been in the cup competitions, with only four coming in the league.
The Frenchman’s stats speak for themselves. Seven fewer goals than last season, 24 chances created rather than the 37 last year and almost half the dribbles completed as compared to the last campaign – all statistics being his primary traits that he dwelled on last year. Obviously, a lot of that is due to him playing more than 1,100 minutes less than last year, but it has been clear that his performances have often been hard to watch at times this season.
Take recent performances against sides like Swansea, Arsenal and Manchester City for example where he was often unreliable in attack or even home draws earlier in the season against Liverpool and Bournemouth where his ineptness cost Manchester United crucial points.
Earlier in the season, Mourinho came out with a public scolding of the 21-year-old in a bid to help him regain form and it had been coming. Making comparisons with fellow teenage forward Marcus Rashford, this was Mourinho’s way of letting Martial know that he hadn’t been up to the mark:
“We are together for almost ten months or something like that. The same way I know the players much better now, the players should also know me much better now. The same way I know what the players like, I think the players also know what I like. The same way I have to go with the direction of the players, the players have to come in my direction. That is the point. That is why Marcus Rashford, even without scoring goals and not in the Premier League since September, he is always a player that I trust and I play and support because he was always coming in my direction. That is what I want from a Manchester United player. It’s about that. It’s about knowing each other better.”
Next year, however, Martial faces a much tougher test. It is no secret that Mourinho and United are going to spend big to rise from their disappointing sixth-place finish in the Premier League and compete in the Champions League, and there will be several signings in positions Martial usually takes up. Antoine Griezmann has been the most likely to sign for the club as well, along with rumours linking United to move for either Real Madrid’s James Rodríguez or Inter Milan’s Ivan Perišić.
All three players play on either wing or as forwards and should either one or two of the players arrive, Martial will face an even harder task to prove himself at the club. His potential is widely visible and there are sure to be clubs willing to have him on their team, but José Mourinho’s stern methods, whose wrath has been felt by so many star names over the years, could see Anthony Martial be the next victim.
Ivan Perišić is a more experienced name than Martial and he has proved himself in a hapless Inter Milan side, as well previously in Germany with Borussia Dortmund and his performances with Poland over the years have been more than impressive. Should he arrive at the club, it is almost certain that Anthony Martial will go further down the pecking order, considering the contributions, both offensively and defensively, that Perišić could provide – an attribute that is likely more provoking to José Mourinho.
James Rodríguez, similarly to Perišić, will provide an equal task to Martial, and his ability to play on either wing as well as in the number ten role could further hamper his chances at the club as well as his country as he looks to make it to the FIFA World Cup squad. The transfer window is sure to bring uncertainty to several players and Martial needs to become more open to his surroundings. The season is still more than two months away, but coming on the back of a disappointing one, he needs to do more to adapt to Mourinho’s methods and save his future at the club.
For now, though, it is sure that Anthony Martial is going into his toughest season as a professional footballer, one that could alter his long-term future, whether he is at Manchester United or anywhere else.