It feels odd describing a £50m man who scored against Liverpool on his United debut as a “cult hero”, but Anthony Martial’s Manchester United career has constantly refused to be a straightforward.
Picked up in the dying embers of the Summer 2015 transfer window after Ed Woodward asked Jorge Mendes if he had any remaining stock left in his fun house, the story of Martial bares all the hallmarks of United post-Fergie. He was an excess spend made to show that United were still at the big boy table. He had a bright opening before suffering a winter of discontent. Paul Scholes and Roy Keane made various comments about “what’s going on?” with him. Now he’s seemed to have kicked on a bit and everything seems to be mostly ok, albeit he’s probably not the world killer people would have him sketched out to be.
Stranger still is Martial’s link with Manchester United’s other golden boy Marcus Rashford. Had Martial not pulled up in the warm up for the Europa League against Midtjylland, the Wythenshawe Eusebio wouldn’t have had his initial explosive first team run. The injury to one young United favourite helped give birth to another and so their respective United careers have taken on a strange connection to one another.
See Marcus Rashford is Manchester United as the young, intrepid, handsome, homegrown hero the club likes to portray themselves as.
While Anthony Martial is Manchester United as the expensive, cold, unfeeling. yet utterly terrifying proposition the opposition traditionally paints the club as.
Martial and Rashford are two borderline generational talents (possibly) vying for the same position at Manchester United. Two incredible players to watch, yet going about their business in ever so different ways. And both players have their very own, ever so different fan groups on social media.
Meet Martial FC. A spinning tasmanian devil of fandom, dedicated to Manchester United’s most naturally gifted attacking player (probably).
Our no.11 has been nominated for a prestigious award – you know what to do, Martial FC!
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 24, 2017
Roll the clock back to the end of last season and it looked like it might have been the end of Anthony Martial at United. Out of form and out of place in Jose Mourinho’s first season, the Frenchman never looked happy following his concussion in the team’s 3-1 defeat to Watford in September 2016. Struggling for form, fitness and game time (not to mention undergoing troubles in his personal life), United fans feared Martial might go the way of other Van Gaal signings like Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, and end up being sold by Mourinho.
Enter Martial FC, a movement that apparently started from United fans in Nigeria. The movement was simple: Martial is a phenomenal attacking talent who can only get better, play him.
So fans kept tweeting. And tweeting. And tweeting. And now, fans are enjoying fruits of their labour.
Or as a Martial FC member would put it: they “eating good”.
— 📝Datboyjerry 🇳🇬 (@datboyjerry) November 28, 2017
There’s been a marked difference in Martial’s form this season. No longer stuck halfway between Van Gaal’s “take a touch before you shoot” and Jose’s “don’t you dare forget to track your opposite wide” school’s of thought, and apparently free from the personal issues he had last season, he’s focusing on what he does best: embarrassing opposition players.
this Martial meg. just rude. cold blooded murder. pic.twitter.com/7T4tmaD6jP
— amadinho gaúcho (@amadoit__) September 30, 2017
There’s a gimmick in modern computer games where gamers can choose to make moral decisions for their avatar. Do you want to save the villagers from the local tyrant? Or are you just passing and can’t be bothered with the faff? Do you want to be Jedi or Sith? Do you want to beat the man on the outside on the dribble, or do you want to break his ankles before you cross it in?
Are you Rashford, or are your Martial?
This is not a competition over who’s better, or which player should occupy the wide position so long as Mourinho opts for a 10 type figure in Mata/Mkhitaryan on the right. Martial FC (for the most part) doesn’t want Rashford dropped from the first team to make way for “Two Chains Tony” (another one of Martial’s nicknames)
Jose: We need a goal
Martial: Hold my chains pic.twitter.com/wwiVRWy5E6
— Maartial🔴 (@MaarMufc) October 28, 2017
This is appreciation for seeing a Manchester United who could have oh so easily faded into the background, come back and seize his opportunity with ruthless aggression. He’s a first team player who’s mostly scoring off the bench. The “for the future” panic buy that turned out to be the real deal on his first game. The cult hero who barely smiles.
Martial is Manchester United as opposition fans like to portray the club as. Which is why so many Reds love him.
Martial FC pop that champagne pic.twitter.com/yxK3fvLG60
— Charles the Great (@charlogazzo) November 28, 2017