Anthony Martial has divided Manchester United’s fanbase in recent months – some have been in awe of the Frenchman since his phenomenal debut goal against Liverpool, while others are still yet to be convinced by his striking ability.
His frightening potential was immediately obvious as he slalomed past Martin Skrtel and stroked the ball past Simon Mignolet back in 2015, but with that goal being the pinnacle of his United career so far, it’s fair to say that potential is yet to be fulfilled.
For much of his United career Martial has been deployed as a left-winger, but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed tremendous faith in his player by restoring him to his preferred centre-forward position.
Many believed that Martial returning to his natural position would coincide with prolificity in front of goal, but the 24-year-old has been less than clinical this term, scoring just 12 times in 28 appearances – although he did endure a spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
His languid style has caused many to question his work ethic, but the adoration shown for former United striker Dimitar Berbatov proves that a relaxed demeanour can still win over supporters – when combined with end-product.
And end-product is exactly what Martial needs to provide if he is to remain as United’s first-choice striker beyond the end of this season.
The Red Devils have struggled for goals this campaign and were heavily linked with a number of strikers during the January transfer window.
United’s interest in another forward option will persist for as long as Martial fails to produce consistency in front of goal – and the remainder of this season may be his final chance to prove that he can.
Most goals scored in a single Premier League season by current Man Utd players:
🔴 Odion Ighalo (15)
🔴 Marcus Rashford (14)
🔴 Paul Pogba (13)
🔴 Anthony Martial (11)
No wonder they brought him in. 😉 pic.twitter.com/saNKEBKz4A
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 1, 2020
If the former-Monaco man can’t put together a lengthy goalscoring run between now and the summer, then United will be forced into signing another forward – Moussa Dembele or Raul Jimenez are likely candidates.
Should one of Dembele or Jimenez sign for the Old Trafford club, it would almost certainly spell the end of Martial’s United career – at the age of 24, he surely wouldn’t be content with being second-choice to a new signing.
Nor would he be satisfied with being pushed back out to the left wing, and even then, he would be behind Marcus Rashford in the pecking order.
In short, Martial is the author of his own future at Manchester United, and the number of goals he scores in the next few months will determine how long that future is.
The signing of Bruno Fernandes in January does, however, offer Martial a boost in his fight to save his United career.
He has often been forced to drop deeper to pick up the ball and act as a playmaker for United this season, thus leaving himself further from the areas he needs to be in to score goals.
With the likes of Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira failing to provide any creative spark from midfield, Martial has been burdened that responsibility – whether that be at the request of his manager or not.
But with Fernandes now offering that quality in the number ten position, Martial will be able to play higher up the pitch while also receiving much-improved service from a man that recorded 14 assists in the Portuguese league prior to his move.
It must also be considered that goals do not always define the effectiveness of a centre-forward, particularly in the modern game – Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino is a prime example of that.
But while Firmino is complemented by world-class wingers in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, Martial’s last outing in a United shirt saw him accompanied by Juan Mata and Daniel James on the flanks.
While by no means terrible players, they fail to provide the cutting edge that someone like Marcus Rashford has prior to his injury.
The statistics reinforce this theory too, with Martial (11) and Rashford (11) scoring 22 times in 18 starts together this season.
Marcus Rashford & Anthony Martial this season:
⚽️ 30 goals
🎯 8 assists
A deadly pair🔥 pic.twitter.com/szrSqiLrb9
— UtdArena. (@utdarena) January 11, 2020
Perhaps if United sign a top-class winger in the summer (Jadon Sancho is the name touted) to occupy the opposite flank, Martial’s true potential would finally be realised.
But in truth, the excuses are starting to run out for United’s number nine, and even those that hold Martial closest to their hearts may be forced to concede that he hasn’t made the grade at United if he fails to hit a respectable tally over the coming months.
The worry is though that should he leave United, he will finally be supported by the word-class talent he deserves elsewhere, and prove all that doubted him wrong.