Selling Anthony Martial for Harry Kane? If only it were that easy for Manchester United

Manchester United need to move Anthony Martial on. Photo: Reuters


There were 33 minutes still to play at the Vitality Stadium when the board went up to signal the end of Manchester United’s No 9’s afternoon and Anthony Martial, it is fair to say, was not amused.

The Frenchman’s body language has seldom done himself any favours down the years and now, as Erik ten Hag prepared to introduce Wout Weghorst at his expense, he went into full pet-lip mode before trudging off and heading straight for the tunnel.

In fairness to Martial, there are one or two other United attackers who probably warranted coming off before him against Bournemouth on Saturday. Equally, the prospect of being replaced by a 30-year-old journeyman without a Premier League goal for the club who runs around a bit but not much else is never going to be something to smile about. Sympathy for Martial was, is and should be in short supply, though.

​The advent of another summer is almost upon us and here we are again, United fans left to lament another desperately underwhelming – if entirely familiar – season from Martial and wonder if this is the transfer window when everyone, finally, is put out of their misery and that strange purgatory of misguided hope he will come good is banished once and for all.

In the ideal scenario for many supporters, United cash in on Martial, the money is redirected into the Harry Kane fund and the England captain – better late than never – rides to the rescue. But when has it ever been that simple where United, transfers and Martial are concerned?

There have been jokes about United getting to early August with the Kane chase having gone cold and, amid the struggles to recruit a high-calibre alternative, Martial, without a buyer, finds himself gearing up to start against Crystal Palace on the opening day, only for the sudden onset of a hamstring injury to force a late withdrawal. Cue Weghorst, his loan from Burnley now a permanent move, leading the line next to a bemused Marcus Rashford.

OK, so maybe that is a little harsh, and all manner of things could have happened before then with the ownership of the club still up in the air, but United fans could be forgiven for having their concerns.

The prospect of Martial entering a ninth campaign as a United player and limping away at the end of next season as another free agent is a chilling thought in a lot of ways – if not as chilling as the idea of Weghorst being kept on – but who is going to buy him? He still has a year left on a contract worth £200,000 (€230,000) a week and has not exactly put himself in the shop window, with eight goals in 27 matches over the course of yet another injury-plagued, apathetic campaign when it all looks like just a bit too much hard work for him.

Maybe Erik ten Hag can convince whoever is running the ship this summer to accept a heavily discounted fee to help facilitate the process, but it is still likely to require Martial accepting a substantial drop in wages somewhere else, bar United paying him off.

In Martial’s defence, he was willing to take a hefty cut to push through a loan move to Sevilla last season only to return to Old Trafford after a dismal five months in Spain, but with each passing year of indifference he becomes that bit harder to shift. He is 27 now. Remarkably, he is just four matches short of 300 appearances for United. He should be in his pomp, but the sense of drift has merely amplified.

There is another problem, too. Ten Hag is already a striker light. If Martial and Weghorst go, and both of those things need to happen, the manager will need two forwards. Is there the budget and wherewithal to pull that off, particularly with other areas to address and Martial among a glut of players the club have to shift?

All told, Martial’s Old Trafford career has been a bit like a trailer to a film that promises plenty and momentarily threatens to flicker into life but ultimately leaves you feeling short-changed and cheesed off.