Well, No One Ever Said Anthony Martial Was Stupid…

by Unfrozen Caveman Law Writer

Lazy? Of course.

Injury prone? Yes, especially over the last few years.

Underachieving? Most definitely. In his nine seasons at Manchester United, the forward has only surpassed 20 goals once, and has failed to hit double digits four times (he’s on track for another one this season, and given how he rarely plays anymore — even when he’s selected in the starting lineup— it’s probably safe to assume he’s a lock for #5).

Overpaid? Oh yeah. At £250,000 per-week, he’s definitely been stealing money from the club — although he’s hardly alone on that front.

But stupid? No. Despite his club’s and agent’s best efforts to move him in this transfer window, Martial knows he’ll never get another contract as good as the one he has now. That explains why he’s reportedly rejected all transfer approaches and seems determined to see out his current deal, which expires in six months.

A fitting end for a player who has come to epitomize much of what has plagued the club since the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson Era.

When United bought Martial in the dying moments of the summer 2015 transfer window, the deal raised a lot of eyebrows. The club paid a then-astronomical £36 million (with the potential to rise to £50-plus million with add-ons and bonuses) to AS Monaco for the promising but largely unknown 19 year-old, making him the most expensive teenager at the time (surpassing the likes of fellow United buys Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw).

The last-minute nature of the deal and inflated price tag, as well as the lack of long-term links to Martial (unlike what happened with the likes of Jadon Sancho or Wesley Sneijder), made it seem like a panic buy. Much like with Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and the murky first move for Ander Herrera, getting Martial that late and for that much money seemed to reflect the chaotic nature of United’s transfer windows under Ed Woodward.

Adding to that was the fact that United were coming off a 2-1 loss to Swansea City and were deep in negotiations to ship out forwards Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj, necessitating the acquisition of a new goal scorer. Because everyone knew they needed to buy a forward, Monaco were able to put United over a barrel and demand a fee more than three times Martial’s actual value to the club and more than double what they were allegedly quoting to Barcelona during that same transfer window.

Nevertheless, for a little while, it looked like Martial could live up to the price tag and hype. In his very first match, he came on against Liverpool, made experienced defender Martin Škrtel look like pub team amateur and scored a wondergoal to assure his new club of all three points.

There were some other big goals to follow. He bagged the winning goal over his favorite opponents, Everton, in the FA Cup semis in 2016. He scored a hat trick against Sheffield United in 2020, becoming the first United player to accomplish that since Robin van Persie. He plundered a career-high 23 goals and won the club’s Players’ Player of the Year Award during the 2019-2020 season.

But there were many more instances where he failed to make the grade. Martial could be wildly inconsistent, looking world class one match and then being completely anonymous the next. He could never establish himself as a starter regardless of whether the manager was Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjær or Erik ten Hag — Ralf Rangnick even tried to get rid of him, sending him out on loan to Sevilla.

It hasn’t helped that Martial has often seemed like he could not give less of a crap about playing well or working hard. Martial, for his part, has questioned this narrative, accusing his many detractors of focusing on his languid playing style and his perpetually calm demeanor. “I’ll tell you simply: I’m a footballer, not an actor. A lot of people think you have to be a little comedian and I see players who show their rage so that the public and the media think they are motivated,” Martial said.

To be fair, there have been other players who, because of their less-than-intense body language and demeanor have seemed lazy or uncaring. Dimitar Berbatov, for instance, fit that description to a T. However, he was known as a hard worker and dedicated professional, and that, combined with some preternatural abilities, made him an important and valuable member of several title-winning teams.

With Martial, however, where there’s been smoke, there’s been fire. He has been repeatedly called out for his poor work ethic and attitude, with Mourinho famously calling him lazy and others questioning his efforts on numerous occasions. Prior to shipping him out on loan to Sevilla, Rangnick claimed Martial refused to play in a match against Aston Villa in 2022, something the player denied on social media.

And that’s when he’s been capable of playing. According to Transfermarkt.com, he has missed 66 matches in the last five seasons for both United and Sevilla compared to only a handful during his first few years at United. His knocks have run the gamut, including hip injuries, knee ligament tears and hamstring pulls. His recent health woes could very well be a result of years of bad habits and poor training. Those things always catch up to you. Just ask Eden Hazard. Or Wayne Rooney.

Martial’s current injury layoff — he’s been out since December 12 with an illness — has resulted in him being sent to train away from the first team. According to ten Hag, Martial’s fitness levels were low after his time on the sideline, which is why he’s being made to train alone. Given how the same reason was used to banish Jadon Sancho before he was moved back to Dortmund on loan, it’s easy to see why few believe there’s an innocent explanation for Martial’s exile.

As such, you can see why the market for a lazy, injury-prone, underachieving forward who may or may not have disciplinary issues and happens to be in the last six months of his contract might not be so robust. Any club interested in gambling on Martial rediscovering his 2019-2020 form might as well wait until his contract is up at the end of June and sign him for free and at a fraction of his current wages.

Meanwhile, United don’t have a lot of options, given their lack of depth at forward (they’re one Rasmus Højlund injury away from having to give Martial another run of starts). They simply can’t let Martial leave before the end of the season without bringing another forward in. And given how United are being hamstrung by Financial Fair Play, they don’t have many options— even if they manage to get a fee for Martial.

As for Martial, he would be a fool to terminate his lucrative contract with United — even if it meant a fresh start somewhere else. He’s better off winding it down and then making a choice between taking a step down and signing with a smaller club where he’d be guaranteed playing time or cashing in on his name and going to Saudi Arabia.

So it looks like both parties are stuck with each other until their inevitable divorce in a few months’ time. In that sense, Martial represents another hallmark of United’s transfer business in the post-Ferguson period: the talented but overpaid and underachieving misfit that the club is stuck with until the end of his contract (a la Paul Pogba). Something tells me he won’t be the last on that front.

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