It’s a shame that Anthony Martial wants to leave Manchester United, but hardly a surprise. Moreover, unlike a year ago when he tweeted Les rumeurs sont fausses after being linked to Arsenal, this time the information has come straight from his agent and the player has not denied it.
Martial’s teammates know he has not been happy for most of this year. The French international is not content with a lack of minutes, lack of progress and lack of participation in the World Cup. After a superb opening season at Old Trafford under Louis van Gaal, he has had two mediocre ones under Jose Mourinho,
He hardly exudes a picture of joy but, at 22, is young. He has not been able to benefit from enough leaders around him on the pitch and life in Manchester has not been a bed of roses. He was unable to speak decent English, separated from the partner of his child, was caught in tabloid kiss-and-tell stories and saw the manager who signed him leave.
Yet speak to the people in the Parisian commune of Les Ulis and they paint a different picture, one of a talented and dedicated young man from a well-respected, football-playing family. They talk about Martial being brave enough to leave a home that overlooks a football pitch to move to Lyon when he was 14.
Those friends were delighted when he moved from Monaco to England, as was his junior club Les Ulis; three modern vans — big enough to transport a team plus substitutes — stand outside the club’s main stand, thanks to money received when Martial joined United.
Speaking to those who’ve played with him — from Dimitar Berbatov to Eric Abidal and Patrice Evra — as well as others who know him, all are effusive about his talents. They do not need to be and could have gone off the record to added a “but” about his personality. None did.
None of this is to say Martial is without faults. There has long been a thought at United that he needed to be more consistent. Mourinho has criticised him — and that’s not to the liking of most in the dressing room — but also praised him when he’s done well, yet Martial wants out.
That is quite sad, because he has so many of the qualities associated with great United player. Young, fast, skillful, strong, versatile and with a love to run at goal, he has been called the most difficult man at the club to contain by defenders who mark him in training. He gets fans off their seats, he tries things other players will not and that is why his name gets sung.
He did enough playing for Monaco in the Champions League to persuade United to pay an intial £36 million and agree to clauses that increased the fee if he won the Ballon d’Or. With an ability to play on the left, right and through the middle, where many of those who knew him best thought he would settle, he should be full of confidence and improving each season.
Martial, who has scored 36 goals in 135 games for United, should be listening to advice and learning like the young Cristiano Ronaldo, who would be pulled into the office of Sir Alex Ferguson or Carlos Queiroz and issued with frank appraisals. Instead, his relationship with Mourinho leaves much room for improvement.
It has long been apparent from the body language of United’s boss during matches that Martial frustrates him, especially if he loses possession or doesn’t track back. Martial also frustrates his France boss Didier Deschamps, who opted not to take him to Russia.
He started only two of United’s final 12 games of last season his form when he did play was inconsistent. Meanwhile, the arrival of Alexis Sanchez further hindered things; Martial did not score a goal after the Chilean international signed in January.
United have never had any intention of selling — and still do not — but it is hard to keep a player when he wants to leave, especially one with many suitors. This is not an agent being awkward; Martial has not been happy for a long time. He is not the only United player who feels this way, but is the one who wants to do something about it.
But Martial might have little choice. He signed a contract of employment keeping him the club until 2019 and United have the option of another year, which they will almost certainly exercise. The club are also conscious of transfer flops and a record of signing players in the post-Ferguson era that could be derided as lacking long-term vision.
It is one reason why Luke Shaw has stayed at Old Trafford for so long. Like Martial, the club know he has the talent to be a top player but, for various reasons, things haven’t worked out. No single person is to blame in these situations; Martial, like Shaw, must take some responsibility for his performances.
Hopefully he will wear the red shirt again. If he does not, the club will move on, just as it always has.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.