when it is easy to break up

Manchester United and Anthony Martial never fully functioned, but as a 26-year-old striker still has time to restart his career.

Sometimes it’s healthiest just to admit that things have not worked out as hoped and move on. After six and a half years with Manchester United, it seems to be the state of affairs for Anthony Martial, and the confirmation from Ralf Rangnick that Martial has informed the club about this just in time for the January transfer window, suggests that the striker’s exit from Old Trafford should come soon.

When Martial arrived at Old Trafford at the end of the summer 2015 transfer window from Monaco, there was high hope that he could be the player to shake Manchester United out of their post-Ferguson blues. He was the most expensive teenager in the world at the time and cost United at least £ 36 million and as much as £ 58.8 million with additions and bonuses.

This was considered a lavish amount to pay for a 19-year-old. Even Louis van Gaal said at the time that “I have not bought Martial for myself, I have bought him for the next manager of Manchester United,” and described the fee as “ridiculous” and reflected on the belief that Manchester United will regularly quoted higher prices for players than other clubs.

But at first, it did not appear that the high price tag would be too big a problem for Martial. He made his debut midway through the second half a delicately balanced Premier League match against Liverpool and scored a glorious goal to secure the victory. Eight days later he was back on target with two strikes in a win at Southampton on his first start. After just a few weeks in England, Martial was named PFA fan player of the month.

Over the next six years, Martial’s problems at Old Trafford have been more about consistency than ability. Few think he does not have the latter in spades – he demonstrated a lot throughout the 2015/16 season – but when Van Gaal was fired within minutes of the FA Cup final in 2016 and replaced by Jose Mourinho, it also affected Martial.

In the summer of 2016, United picked up Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Despite scoring 17 goals in 49 appearances in all tournaments in the previous season under Van Gaal, Martial was pushed out on the left wing as he played under Mourinho and many of his appearances came from the bench. Ibrahimovic’s arrival and the emergence of Marcus Rashford, a very similar player in some respects, pushed him down significantly in the pick order.

His downward trajectory in the club was not uninterrupted. At the end of the 2016/17 season, he was a substitute against Ajax in the Europa League final victory, and his profile rose again after Mourinho’s departure. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Martial scored 23 goals in all tournaments in 2019/20 – his highest career result for a single campaign.

But the decline in his fortunes was real. Last season, it took him until the week before Christmas to score his first Premier League goal, and he finished the season with just four in 22 games. And there has also not been much sign that he would get a more sustained run in an attacking position, with Manchester United continuing their tendency to pick up more experienced players in the positions where possible. In October 2020, it was Edinson Cavani. In August 2021, it was Cristiano Ronaldo, while a few months earlier they had spent £ 73 million on awarding the experienced Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.

This season, Martial has scored just one goal in ten appearances – hardly the form that should give him an extended run on the first team. Nevertheless, had his agent told Manchester United that Martial was ready to move on earlier in December, and the confirmation from Rangnick that he would be allowed to leave Old Trafford in the January transfer window on the eve of the opening seems to be the last piece of the puzzle that will provide him the opportunity for a fresh start.

But where can the fresh start be? Well, Arsenal may be looking for a replacement for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, though it’s open to question whether they need one at all, given their recent form. Newcastle United will be linked with every single player considered to be the least bit available over the next month or so. Elsewhere, Lyon have yet to find a successor to Memphis Depay, and it could be argued that a move back to his home country could do Martial something good, but it has been reported that Martial’s own favorite destination would be Seville.

Of course, when a player is considering leaving the Premier League, their salary can become an issue. Martial is at £ 250,000 a week at Manchester United. Matching this would make Martial Sevilla’s highest earners, but they certainly need a goal scorer. Second place in La Liga after Real Madrid is impressive, but the distance is eight points with a match in hand, and their highest score so far is Rafa Mir at just six. They may well be open to spending big bucks if it increases their chances of becoming Spanish champions for the first time since 1946, and the second in their entire history, but for now their move has been only for one loan.

By the standards of most professional players, Martial’s time at Manchester United was hardly a disaster. He won a couple of trophies, played 268 matches and scored 79 goals. But this is Manchester United, where expectations are always sky high. Other players have failed harder at Old Trafford than Martial has, and although he has already played more than 350 senior matches throughout his career, as a 26-year-old he still has the opportunity to rebuild elsewhere and get the playing time he longs for. Sometimes there need be no drama; it’s okay just to say it has not succeeded. In this particular case, it certainly feels as if it would be best for everyone involved to divorce.


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