Sun. Sep 27th, 2020

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Anthony Martial has made Manchester United change their transfer approach

4 min read

For someone who barred more people than a landlord Sir Alex Ferguson could also be media friendly, especially with ITV on European nights. It was once the norm that Ferguson would not just chat to Gary Newbon or Gabriel Clarke before and after a game but at half-time.

United’s Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Bucharest in 2004 was a side-bar to the following morning’s headlines. United had bid for Wayne Rooney, irrepressible at the summer’s European Championship, after Everton received an optimistic offer from Newcastle.

“We’ve made a bid today,” Ferguson told ITV prior to the Bucharest tie. “He’s a fabulous player – he showed that at Euro 2004 – and is a young player.”

Ferguson had already signed Louis Saha for £12.6million in the winter window and Alan Smith for £7m in the summer. United would be deprived of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the whole season due to a chronic knee injury and had just bid farewell to Diego Forlan, but a move for Rooney had been planned for the next year.

You have to make exceptions with certain talents and United were wise to pursue Erling Haaland with his release clause a knockdown €20million. Solskjaer knew how high Haaland’s ceiling was from coaching him for Molde and there was intense competition to sign him ahead of the January window.

Haaland plumped for Borussia Dortmund and ended 2019-20 with an astonishing 40 goals in 40 games for Red Bull Salzburg and the Bundesliga runners-up. Haaland already has three in two this term and club football has not even started.

Solskjaer ended up with a loanee striker from the Chinese Super League to cover the prone Marcus Rashford. Odion Ighalo has served a purpose and has five goals in five starts but, despite Solskjaer’s apparent receptiveness, United never intended to sign Ighalo permanently.

Ighalo, 32, returns to China in the New Year and United are still on the lookout for a striker on a permanent basis. Had they successfully bypassed Mino Raiola and recruited Haaland he would not have caught fire as he did in the Bundesliga but would have risked upsetting United’s established number nine.

Unless another Haaland emerges, United now plan to support Anthony Martial rather than replace him. Martial top-scored for the second time in his United career with 23 goals – six more than his 2015-16 best – and has made good on his request to reclaim the number nine, claiming the first United Premier League hat-trick since Robin van Persie in April 2013 against Sheffield United.

With results due in on the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award soon Martial is a leading contender: 17 league goals in 31 starts, 23 from 41 overall, two derby winners, goal of the season contenders against Norwich and Watford and an improved work ethic.

Solskjaer has built his attack around Martial
Solskjaer has built his attack around Martial

Hugo Lloris, on France duty with Martial this month, is uniquely placed to analyse his compatriot’s development as he now works with a manager who was open to letting Martial leave two years ago.

“I don’t know if it’s related to his relationship with Solskjaer, but he is more confident,” Lloris said. “There is a very good atmosphere with the players around him at Manchester United which enabled him to score those goals and get good statistics last season.

“He is now expected to perform. He will have to confirm his reputation. He now has a chance with the French team. He’s here to settle down for the long-term.

“He has his set on doing well whether he plays five minutes, 10 minutes, a half, a whole match. He is ready to meet expectations.”

Paul Scholes is about as illuminating as a blackout and his quip Martial was struggling under Jose Mourinho was an inaccurate jibe. Martial and Luke Shaw, two of Mourinho’s whipping boys, were United’s standout players prior to his dismissal and got going when the going got tough. Martial embarked on what was then a career-best streak of six goals in five league starts.

Despite flickers of fecklessness, Martial has always had the capacity to knuckle down. Mourinho was only prepared to let Martial leave as his agent had communicated that desire and then when Martial went AWOL on the 2018 pre-season tour Mourinho wanted United to make an example of him.

Martial excelled under Mourinho in his final months at United
Martial excelled under Mourinho in his final months at United

Ed Woodward informed Mourinho Martial would not be sold and Mourinho discovered Martial was the favourite player of United co-chairman Joel Glazer. Mourinho also suspected Woodward was running scared of Daniel Levy amid Tottenham’s interest in Martial. Martial parted on positive terms with Mourinho and later admitted the public criticism galvanised him. Mourinho would have gladly inherited Martial had Spurs prevailed in 2018.

The greatest goalscorers have a knack of salvaging dormant performances with vital goals and Martial has developed that habit, most memorably against Chelsea and City. He was not truly convincing as a centre forward until after the warm weather training in Marbella and the presence of Ighalo was crucial: Martial had 12 goals in 28 games without Ighalo and plundered 11 in 20 after the Nigerian’s arrival.

United need to keep Martial on his toes and a goalscorer remains on their recruitment list, only now it is a supporting striker rather than a starter.

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