Tuesday 20 March 2018

Comment - Why Jose Mourinho appears to have changed his tune over Anthony Martial

Manchester United's Anthony Martial
Manchester United's Anthony Martial
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

There was a moment earlier this year when Anthony Martial suspected his time was up at Manchester United.

Not for the first time, Jose Mourinho appeared to have passed a clinical judgement on a youngster whose brash confidence and sublime talent did not appear to be enough to earn him the trust of a manager who has always demanded so much more from the players granted entry to his inner circle.

In a summer when £50m is the going rate for a decent Premier League full-back, United's deal for Martial that could see them hand over £58m to Monaco if all facets of the deal are satisfied does not seem extravagant, yet this is a player who appeared destined to lose his way under this no-nonsense manager.

As Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Leonardo Bonucci, David Luiz and Mohamed Salah will confirm, Mourinho is ruthless in dispensing with your services if he does not believe you can become one of his warriors and Martial looked set to be the latest victim of his no-nonsense approach.

Mourinho craves more than just flashes of brilliance from his chosen few. The odd match-winning display and the occasional injection of magic and is not enough for Mourinho to give you his trust, with Martial's quiet personality doing little to convince his manager that he could be relied upon.

When the going got tough for United last season, Mourinho often hinted that Martial was one of the fall-guys who went missing and his omission from key games in the second half of last season combined with public criticisms of the player highlighted the mistrust he developed in his young forward.

"Do I think Anthony is player with great potential? Yes. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes," said the United boss back in April. "But he needs to give me things that I like."

That comment followed Mourinho's explicit criticism of Martial back in January, when rumours swirled that the forward was eager to seal a move away from United, which inspired this response from the United boss: "I know he's a top talent, but he needs to listen to me, not his agent. He needs to listen to me in training, where I try to improve the players," declared Mourinho.

"With Martial, every day I read the newspaper - Martial goes to Sevilla, Martial goes on loan, he's not happy. Martial needs to listen to me. He's a player with amazing condition to be a top player."

Mourinho's treatment of Martial was designed to spark a reaction. He needed to see a sprinkling of grit and passion added to the youngster's raw assets, with this manager expecting to see his players share the insatiable desire that has taken him to great heights in his own decorated career.

Anthony Martial (right) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal with team-mate Paul Pogba at Swansea (Nick Potts/PA)
Anthony Martial (right) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal with team-mate Paul Pogba at Swansea (Nick Potts/PA)

If he didn't see that glint in Martial's eye, he would be ousted from his United set-up, with the player who reluctantly gave his United No.9 shirt up to Zlatan Ibrahimovic last summer facing what appeared to be a losing battle to win over his boss.

Martial, it seemed, was destined not to become a 'Mourinho player', with failure to start the first two games of this Premier League season or the UEFA Super Cup match against Real Madrid earlier this month viewed as further evidence of his exile from the Jose gang at United.

Yet after Tottenham made a bid to sign Martial last week, Mourinho has confirmed he sat down for talks with Martial that may have been make or break in his United career.

The result of those discussions appears to have been positive, with the smile returning to Martial's face and Mourinho hinting for the first time in his tenure as United manager that the big facet that was missing from his game last season is now beginning to develop.

"We are using him well and he has the right attitude," Mourinho after Martial came off the bench to score for United at Swansea on Saturday, backing up his goal against West Ham in the opening game of the Premier League season.

Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial have big seasons ahead at Old Trafford
Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial have big seasons ahead at Old Trafford

"We had a conversation about the future he has here and I think he has a good connection on the pitch with Paul (Pogba) and Romelu (Lukaku).

"I think he is growing in confidence and to have two periods of 20 minutes and score two goals is good for that.

"I cannot play Premier League, Champions League and cups with 11 players. I need a squad. He is working really well and maybe the little French language group we have with Paul, Romelu and Marouane (Fellaini) is helping him.

"He is very well integrated now. They bring him up and his level has improved."

They are positive sentiments the United boss would not have muttered in Martial's direction last season and now this 21-year-old can dare to believe he is about to be given his first real chance to shine in Mourinho's plans.

United's failure to land Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan may prove to be the turning point in Martial's United career, as that deal may have pushed him too far down the first team pecking order to make a recovery.

As ever, Martial's attitude as much as his ability that will decide his fate in the coming months, but a manager who has been too hasty in discarding superstars in the making over the course of his career would be wise to grant a second chance to a player who has always boasted world class potential.

Online Editors

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