Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
This summer’s transfer window was the most expensive one for the Premier League to date. One of the most expensive and least expected transfers occurred on deadline day as Manchester United brought in 19-year-old Monaco striker Anthony Martial. Martial has already claimed the famed number 9 shirt for United and his hefty £36 million initial price tag have placed a world of expectation on the French striker and United fans will be hoping he lives up to the billing.
Anthony Martial’s youth career in France started in the same institution that developed the likes of Thierry Henry and Manchester United fan favorite Patrice Evra: CO Les Ulis. Les Ulis’ academy was Martial’s home up until the age of 14 when a Ligue 1 suitor finally came knocking for the young striker.
French giants Olympique Lyon brought Martial into their youth system at the start of the 2009 campaign, and around the same time, the 14-year-old started to earn playing time with France’s U-16 national team. The move to Lyon appeared to be the perfect thing for Martial’s young career as he began to find success on both the international and domestic levels. Through two seasons in France’s youth setup, the Lyon striker had scored 21 goals between the U-16, U-17, and U-18 squads in just 34 games. The international success quickly translated to a glut of goals with Lyon’s U-17 squad as Martial bagged an impressive 30-goal tally in just his second year with the club.
Continued dominance on the youth level earned Martial a first team debut during the clubs 2012/13 campaign. Just one day after his 17th birthday, Martial earned his first team debut as a late substitute during a Europa League fixture against Hapoel Kiryat. The brief cameo appearance would be the teenager’s only first team action until February, and the season would end with Martial appearing in just four games for Lyon. The limited playing time meant that the striker would end his first senior campaign without a single goal or assist, but bigger things were to come.
Moving to Monaco
Even though he managed to break into Lyon’s senior squad at such a young age, Martial found his opportunities limited due to the wealth of strikers already present in the squad. Ahead of him in the pecking order were the likes of Batembi Gomis, Alexandre Lacazette and Lisandro Lopez. Despite many fans seeing Martial as the future of the club, a summer transfer debacle with Gomis led to the 17-year-old going elsewhere for employment.
In the 2013 summer window, freshly promoted Ligue 1 club AS Monaco bought the budding star for a miniscule fee of €5 million. The move to the newly bankrolled principality put Martial alongside one of the best strikers in the world at the time, Radamel Falcao, and former Manchester United man Dimitar Berbatov, on the front line. The French striker would have to wait nearly two months for his debut with Monaco, but he finally came on late in a French Cup match against Reims. Despite Monaco’s depth at the striker position, Martial was still able to appear 14 times between league and cup matches, including nine starts for his new club. The increase in playing time also saw the teenage sensation score two league goals and register one assist during the campaign.
The 2014/15 season served as Martial’s first real taste of consistent first team action. The departure of Falcao to his future employers meant that the 18-year-old was one of new manager Leonardo Jardim’s first choice strikers. Through the first half of the season, Martial would earn most of his playing time coming off the bench, and it wasn’t until December that he earned his first start of the season. 2015 saw the teenager become a consistent part of Monaco’s starting 11, and the youngster played key minutes in the club’s Champions League fixtures against Arsenal and Juventus. The conclusion of the season came with a career high 12 goals for Martial through all competitions including a two-goal performance against Bastia in the league.
Despite early rumors that Monaco were willing to sell off their bright prospect early in the 2015 summer transfer window, Martial remained at Stade Louis II for the start of the French season. In the club’s Champions League qualifier against BSC Young Boys, the 19-year-old striker scored his first ever European goal with a simple tap-in from six yards out. A disappointing display in the team’s last qualifier against Valencia meant that Monaco were out of Champions League contention, and that sparked the interest of several clubs in the team’s young striker.
As the clock dwindled down on deadline day, several media outlets began to report that Manchester United were set to make Martial the world’s most expensive teenager in an attempt to bolster their thin front line. An official announcement from the French Football Federation confirmed that Martial had been given permission to travel to Manchester in order to finalize a deal with the Red Devils, and a rumored fee rising in excess of €80 million began to surface. A day after that announcement from the FFF, Manchester United made the official announcement that they had signed the young striker, and that he would sport the number 9 short previously worn by his Monaco teammate Falcao.
France’s upcoming friendlies against Portugal and Serbia are the first senior matches that Martial has been called up for by Didier Deschamps. Prior to this call-up, the 19-year-old has made just over 50 appearances for the every French youth squad between the U-16s and most recently the U-21s. This lack of international experience adds even more doubt as to why Manchester United invested so heavily in Martial, but it looks like he is now on the verge of becoming a full member of the French national team.
Style of Play
The player Anthony Martial is most commonly compared to is Arsenal’s legendary French striker Thierry Henry. Both players possess a relatively large frame, and an abundance of strength on the ball, but what made Henry, and possibly Martial, special is his creativity and pace. In his first interview after the move to United, the teenager described himself as a “very fast player” and his performances in the Champions League last season certainly validate the claim. With all due respect to Ligue 1, the English game is notoriously physical and it may be difficult for a young player like Martial to adapt his playing style early on. Only time will tell if he lives up to his Henry-esque billing, but Louis Van Gaal certainly has faith that he will.