Anthony Martial is the latest occupant of The José Mourinho Naughty Step. After putting in a shockingly bad performance off the bench away at Anderlecht last week, he was dropped from the squad altogether for the visit of league leaders Chelsea. This was the latest demotion for a player that has been in and out of favor with the manager all season.
In his press conference ahead of the second leg of Manchester United’s Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht, Mourinho explained why Martial has found himself out of favor.
“I know we are together for almost 10 months. The same way I know the players much better now and the players should know me also much better now.
“The same way I know what the players like, I think they also know what I like. The same way I have to go in the direction of the players, the players they have also to come in my direction.”
If that sounds typically vague, Mourinho went on to clarify his point by comparing Martial directly with one of Mourinho’s favorites - man of the moment, Marcus Rashford.
“That's why Marcus Rashford, even without scoring goals, even without scoring in the league since September, even without that, he was always a player that I trust, always a player that I play, always a player that I support. Because he was always coming in my direction, in the direction I want from a player, what I want as a Manchester United manager.
Even though both young strikers have struggled mightily in their second seasons, it’s clear that Mourinho has always had more trust in Rashford’s ability to carry out tactical instructions. Encouragingly though, Mourinho offered hope for Martial to work his way back into the manager’s plans.
“Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes I think. Do I think he can be successful for me? Yes I think. But he needs to give me things I like very much.”
Both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw can testify that Mourinho’s public dressing downs, no matter how savage, are meant to be taken as challenges. And if Bastian Schweinsteiger could be given a second chance after quite literally being written off, and if Luke Shaw could start a game after being called brainless in public, then there is still a chance for Martial to prove himself.
United have been linked with the suspiciously-similar-skillset-having Ousmane Dembélé this week, and there have been ongoing reports of an interest in Inter’s left winger Ivan Perišić, both players who would ostensibly replace Martial in the side. This interest, on top of Mourinho’s frequent public criticism of Martial, would seem not to bode well for the striker’s future.
Manchester United fans - like fans of any big club that is used to success - can be entitled little shits with short memories. It was only last season that Anthony Martial was the shining light in the darkness of another largely pointless Louis van Gaal season, illuminating one dull game after another with his pace and finishing. Until the emergence of Marcus Rashford - only given his debut because of an injury to Martial, remember - our Tony was the only good thing about a mostly wretched year.
Unfortunately, there are some who have been too quick to say “What have have you done for me lately?” Fingers are eagerly pointed at his body language on the pitch, and his “sulking,” even though he’s not smiling any less than he was when he banging in goals and terrorizing opposition defenses. But such is the nature of fickle fandom: when a young player is in form, his lack of visible emotion is a sign of maturity and preternatural calm. When he’s not, it’s a sign that he’s a moody git that needs to be f*cked off out the club pronto.
Let’s re-familiarize ourselves with just what kind of player we’re talking about.
Don’t have time to watch the video? Here’s the synopsis: He’s bloody good at football.
There is no getting around the fact that Martial is having a poor season. And for all Mourinho’s faults, he’s a serial winner that has earned the benefit of the doubt - if he thinks that Martial is not meeting the required standard, then it is up to the player to work harder. With a maximum of 11 games left this season, let’s hope that Mourinho gives Martial the chance to prove his worth, and that the attacker himself seizes it. It would be a crying shame to see such a promising United career circle down the drain.