Unless you are a big fan of well-drilled defensive ball-retention, Anthony Martial has been the best reason to watch Manchester United this season. When he was signed at the end of the transfer window there were plenty of doubts, and plenty of folk who had never heard of this incredibly expensive new signing.
Having finished fourth in the league, switched to possession football with no real edge and been linked to but failing to sign tons of big-name players, panic-buying a French teenager at huge expense seemed all that was needed to complete our transformation into Arsenal.
Of course, it has proven anything but a panic buy. The kid looks to be the absolute total and utter real deal. He’s torn apart Liverpool, finished off United’s best attacking move of the season, led the line with aplomb and given terrible recurring nightmares to Branislav Ivanovic and Seamus Coleman.
Let’s take a look at the kid’s top five moments in a United shirt so far. There should be plenty more to come.
Number Five: Proving himself against PSV.
The Liverpool goal—more of which later—was a bolt from the blue. Martial had been pretty shaky when he came on as a sub in that game, and the goal was at odds with the rest of his all-round performance. It was easy to leap to conclusions from that—perhaps here was another young, erratic genius who would grow into something more special before eventually leaving us for Real Madrid.
The 2-1 loss to PSV will not be remembered fondly by United fans. It was, of course, the game in which Luke Shaw was injured, and it was one of the reasons we didn’t make it through the Champions League group stage. But there was one huge positive to come out of it. Martial had been thrust into a starting spot up front by an injury to Wayne Rooney and he put in a focused, determined, disciplined and effective front-man performance, leading the line like a way more experienced striker. The Liverpool goal was clearly not a flash in the pan, here was a really complete young player, with a whole lot to his game.
Number Four: Seamus Coleman on toast.
United’s 3-0 demotion of Everton at Goodison Park did not feature a goal or an assist from Martial, and yet his performance—particularly in the second half—was worth the price of admission on its own. Poor Seamus Coleman was dribbled past three times, as Martial completed seven dribbles of the 10 he attempted.
It had seemed something of a waste to play such a dangerous forward on the left wing, but Martial has shown just how effective he can be from there. Right-backs everywhere wish that he had not.
Number Three: This Photo with Wayne Rooney.Look. I know it’s ridiculous, okay. I know that we could have had his goal against CSKA Moscow in Russia or his goal-and-assist performance against Swansea, or either of the times he came up against Ivanovic and left the Serbian defender contemplating the fundamental nature of existence, so complete was his schooling.
But look at this photo. Have you ever seen a more perfect side-eye in all your life? Maybe Martial is actually just listening attentively and trying to learn, but that’s not what it looks like. That it was taken when ol’ Roon-dog was seriously struggling for form and Martial was being played out wide to accommodate him raised an extra chuckle.
It’s the most perfect caption competition fodder. Get yours in the comments below.
Number Two: The Stoke Goal
I have waxed lyrical about this goal elsewhere. It is an absolutely magnificent affair, from start to finish. A glorious team goal finished off with outstanding individual brilliance is a rare combination in football, and this is one of them. Martial’s finishing has been decent this season, with nine goals in all competitions, but it is clear that when he’s really on it he has the capacity for a wondergoal well within his repertoire. This was one of those, curled into the far corner past the keeper with real power.
It was a goal and double-assist performance from Martial, and it was a triumph.
Number One: Welcome to Manchester United, Anthony Martial.
I mean. Come on.
The best moment of Martial’s season so far, the best moment of United’s season, one of the truly memorable Old Trafford moments of the recent past—and that is quite the pantheon to belong in.
All that pressure, all that money, all that expectation. No bother. Here was a kid playing football the way he loved to do, and it was absolutely magnificent. You wouldn’t bet against him topping that moment in a red shirt one day, but he set the bar very high on his debut. Welcome to Manchester United, Anthony Martial. Here’s hoping you stick around for a long time to come.