Jose Mourinho and Man United staff 'concerned' about star's personal life after poor start to the season
Twelve months ago, boos circulated around Old Trafford when Louis van Gaal opted to bring off Anthony Martial in a Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow. Martial made way for Marouane Fellaini in the 66th minute with the game still goalless and plenty of Manchester United fans in the ground were quick to register their disgust at the decision.
By contrast, there was no great remonstration from supporters at Old Trafford on Saturday when Jose Mourinho opted to withdraw the France forward after 63 minutes against Arsenal with the game also goalless and instead bring on Wayne Rooney.
Polite applause rippled around the stadium but there was not even the whiff of complaint. Once again, Martial had been ineffectual, on the periphery of the action, subdued, a shadow of the player who had enjoyed such an excellent debut season in a desperately under-performing team in the wake of his projected £61.6 million move from Monaco.
Even when he was flying last term, Martial seldom gave the impression of being particularly happy. That rather glum, blank look on his face has almost become a fixture. In good times, it can and has been read as the cold expression of a ruthless striker. In bad times, it will inevitably be construed as evidence of an unhappy player, so it would be unwise to read too much into his body language.
Having interviewed Martial with a handful of other reporters in the days before the FA Cup final triumph against Crystal Palace last May, he spent most of the conversation with his eyes fixed firmly at the floor. He does not exactly exude warmth but he should not be criticised for it, either. Everyone is different and no one really cares too much about such things when a player is making the sort of glittering contributions he was last term. Who could forget the stunning debut goal against Liverpool, the slick two-goal salvo away to Southampton or the last-gap winner against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final?
So where has that Martial gone? Sure, he was not consistently impressive last term, he tended to spring to life in bursts, but then that was to be expected from one so young. Yet, this season, United fans are barely even getting fleeting glimpses of Martial’s talents. There was a show-stopping strike against Stoke City last month and a penalty against Fenerbahce in the Europa League almost three weeks later but there has been very little else to get excited about.
With Arsenal missing their outstanding right back, Héctor Bellerín, and instead fielding Carl Jenkinson, who had last started a league game for Arsène Wenger’s side in May 2014, Saturday’s game presented a perfect opportunity for Martial to finally make his mark on this campaign. Yet whereas Antonio Valencia, United’s right back, asked countless questions of poor Nacho Monreal, surging up and down the flank, Jenkinson had a pretty easy time of it against Martial. There was a shot that Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech tipped over the crossbar but precious little else. Martial looked bereft of confidence, his lack of conviction marked.
Mourinho has been concerned for some time about Martial’s state of mind. While it has certainly not been the case with a lot of players, the United manager has adopted a softly-softly approach at times with the 20-year-old. On other occasions, he has put considerable pressure on the player before games to perform. Nothing, for the moment at least, seems to be working. Events in Martial’s personal life have certainly been a cause of concern for United’s coaching staff.
Some at the club talk about the Frenchman appearing distracted, worried his split from his partner, Samantha Jacquelinet, earlier this year and the fall-out from that has impinged on his football. France coach Didier Deschamps has noticed a change and dropped Martial from his squad for France’s games against Sweden and Ivory Coast this month while sounding a warning to the youngster. “His club coach expects more from him and so do I,” Deschamps said. “I have not forgotten what he has done or what he is capable of doing, but it’s up to him to make efforts to find his best form. He is not at the level where he should be.”
United paid Monaco an initial £36.3 million for Martial and will have to shell out an additional €10 million if he scores 25 goals in competitive matches for the club and two more €10 million payments if he makes 25 appearances for his country and is nominated for the Ballon d’Or. Having scored 17 goals for United last season, the club may have expected him to be close to that 25 goal target by now. Instead, he is marooned on 19 while he is 10 caps short of playing 25 games for France and may have to wait for a while yet before reaching the milestone.
United would gladly foot those bills sooner rather than later because it would show Martial on an upward curve. For now, though, he has, at best, stagnated and as the former United captain Gary Neville articulated over the weekend, he is fortunate Rooney has been deflecting attention from his dismal form. “He’ll be grateful the spotlight is on Rooney,” Neville said. “He’s got to produce a lot more. He doesn’t look happy at times, he needs more energy and dynamism in his game. He’s got to go more to get into the game, especially when the ball is not near him.
“I think Martial has gone under the radar and needs to start delivering because some of the performances I’ve seen have been nowhere near good enough, his work rate hasn’t been good enough as far as I can see.
“United signed a player 18 months ago for £55m and to be honest in the last six, seven, eight months he’s not delivered. He certainly has a lot of question marks. At the moment nobody is asking the question of Martial but he is £55 million.
“He now needs to start performing on the pitch because at £55 million, you think about the scrutiny the big players come under at this club – Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, [Ángel] Di María in the last 12 to 18 months – they’ve all been criticised heavily when they’ve not played well.”
Van Gaal famously declared that he had bought Martial, not for himself but for his successor. As things stand, though, the striker is not proving much of an inheritance for Mourinho.