This past weekend, football fans across the world dealt with the doom and gloom of another international break. While the general sentiment among supporters is one of desperation for club competitions to resume, the international break is an important time for players to escape the rigors of their domestic leagues, particularly in England. For Manchester United, this period served as a timely window for key players to focus on their recoveries, while those who were fit were able to either rejuvenate on mini-vacations or join up with their national teams.
Among the Reds called up to represent their countries were two-thirds of Manchester United’s new-look forward line: Marcus Rashford and Daniel James. Anthony Martial, the third cog in United’s attack and arguably the most important player in the squad at the moment, was not selected for his native France once again.
Martial has played just three times for his country since 2016 and has not featured at all in 2019 despite his resurgence under Solskjaer. French manager Didier Deschamps was asked about the player this week, and responded:
“He was part of the French team on a regular basis, but recently he was often injured. He came back not so long ago and it’s going well in his role as a central striker with Manchester United. For a long time he’s been part of the players likely to be called up.”
Deschamps’ comments make it clear that he is following Martial’s progress, yet his reasons given for not selecting the United striker raise a few eyebrows. If Deschamps’ words are to be taken literally and Martial’s injuries are the reason he hasn’t been included, then why was Benjamin Mendy picked? Yes, Lucas Hernandez is on the mend and France needed a left back, but Mendy has been on the sidelines for the better part of the past two years, let alone this season. Layvin Kurzawa was an option who was both fit and available, but he was still not chosen.
Kurzawa has appeared sporadically throughout the season, so perhaps rather than literal injury status Deschamps was referring to regular minutes at club level. If that’s the case, then why was Olivier Giroud — who has only seen 20 minutes of action for Chelsea since the last international break — given a spot in this French team? Martial is a number nine like Giroud, however the former Gooner has been a consistent performer for Les Blues, so maybe the manager is looking for players who he knows he can count on to make the most of their minutes regardless of how many they actually get. But if that was really the criterion, though, left winger Thomas Lemar should be nowhere near this squad either. Lemar has no goals or assists to his name in 11 La Liga appearances in 2019/20, and has only registered a measly four shots. Meanwhile Martial, who is also comfortable on the left, has contributed three goals and three assists in seven Premier League matches, plus two more goals in as many Europa League games.
International managers have unique relationships with certain players and do often overlook form to call up their favorites, which means Martial’s situation is not unprecedented. Yet, while it may not be fair to conclusively state that Deschamps has an agenda against Martial, it is indisputable that Anthony Martial deserves a chance to compete with the aforementioned fading French stars.
Although it’s curious and unclear as to why Martial remains out of favor, from a United perspective fans should have no complaints. At the moment the Frenchman’s sole focus is to stay fit and firing for the Reds, and as long as Martial remains in his international exile, United will hope to keep reaping the rewards.