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Anthony Martial’s summer of discontent

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Martial wants out, but will he get his wish?

Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Even though Anthony Martial did not make France’s World Cup squad, he still managed to steal the headlines last week. Speaking on the 22-year-old winger’s behalf, agent Philippe Lamboley told RMC Sport that Martial has rejected a new contract and wishes to leave Manchester United.

“After thinking about all the factors and possibilities, Anthony wants to leave Manchester United,” said Lamboley. “There are lots of factors, and right now it’s too early to talk about them. Manchester United want Anthony to extend his deal and do not want him to leave, but we have not reached an agreement for several months.”

Lamboley emphasized Martial’s continuing love for United supporters, but closed the statement with a pointed transfer plea. “Everyone will have their opinion, but I think he needs to resume his career. The time has come.”

One year plus a club option remains on Martial’s current contract — with the aforementioned extension offer still on the table. In other words, he’s not going anywhere unless the deal benefits Manchester United. Early reports claim that the club has slapped a transfer value of £75-100 million on Martial to dissuade potential bidders.

And Lamboley freely acknowledges the reality of his client’s situation: “It’s important to remember that he is under contract and that Manchester United have the last word. We will respect the club’s decision and he will stick with his commitment to the end.”

Hopefully Martial really means that, because United won’t just give him away. Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have reportedly expressed interest, but Jose Mourinho and Ed Woodward surely prefer to ship Martial out of the Premier League. Perhaps Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid will jump in, but there aren’t exactly a lot of clubs that can afford the rumored fee.

United clearly hope to double their initial £36 million investment in Martial, who signed from Monaco in 2015. While many doubted the wisdom of paying so much for an unproven Ligue 1 talent, Martial hit the ground running at Old Trafford with 11 Premier League goals in his debut season.

He matched that total this past season in all competitions, but remains more world-class potential than world-class production.

After starting 2017/18 on the bench, Martial seemed to hit his stride between November and January, routinely starting on the wing ahead of Marcus Rashford. But the mid-season arrival of Alexis Sánchez upended Martial’s momentum and forced him back into a late-game substitute.

If United are building towards a 4-3-3 formation next season, it’s hard to see an opening for Martial in the starting eleven. Alexis hardly set the world on fire in the second half of last season, but he surely remains Mourinho’s preferred option on the left wing. Either Martial moves to his weaker right side, agrees to bide his time on the bench, or takes more drastic measures to force his way out of United.

Mourinho repeatedly says that he doesn’t want players who aren’t totally committed to the club. That’s a fine sentiment in theory, but will be put to the test by Martial’s transfer demand.

And, interestingly, one former Manchester United and France star has little sympathy for the want-away player. “I think it’s a shame to see him wanting to leave already,” Louis Saha told Express Sport. “It shouldn’t be like, ‘Maybe it’s Mourinho’s fault’. There are always excuses. When you’re good, you play. That’s it.”

But before United fans divide themselves by assigning blame to Mourinho or Martial, it should be remembered that many transfer demands go unfulfilled. Things can change in an instant in football and Anthony Martial might still go on to carve his name alongside other club legends.

Consider Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2006. After World Cup vilification for his role in Wayne Rooney’s controversial red card, Ronaldo asked for a move to Spain. Even though he had not yet made the leap to full-fledged international superstar, United recognized Ronaldo’s astronomical potential and worked hard to mend fences.

Anthony Martial is not Cristiano Ronaldo, but the lesson from twelve years ago is that both sides can still come back from the brink. If Martial buckles down and takes on board his manager’s tactical instructions — and if Mourinho reassures the player of his value and creates for him a more expanded role — then hopefully this becomes nothing more than a footnote in Martial’s long Manchester United career.