Anthony Martial must build on his fine display vs. Young Boys
BERN, Switzerland -- Almost to a man, following their 3-0 Champions League win vs. Young Boys on Wednesday, Manchester United's players turned after applauding the 1,700 travelling fans and began to walk back to the dressing rooms at the other end of the stadium.
There was one exception. As his teammates drifted away, Anthony Martial, who scored the third goal with a deflected shot after being set up by two-goal, man-of-the-match Paul Pogba, moved closer to the United supporters, who began to sing his name while simultaneously applauding the 22-year-old French forward, who clapped back.
He came from France,
English press said he had no chance.
£50 million down the drain,
Tony Martial scores again.
Though he did little for much of the first half as the team struggled to find their feet on a slippery surface, Martial was far better in the second period, both in attack and defence, which is all manager Jose Mourinho ever asked of him.
Martial impressed with his performance, which was capped by the 66th-minute goal that he celebrated by touching the badge on his shirt. It was the first time he had scored for his club since a win at Burnley in January -- the same month that Alexis Sanchez joined United -- and it is not unreasonable to expect more from someone of such talents.
Martial has an unusual relationship with fans, who hear little from him. He rarely talks to the media yet remains popular -- especially with younger supporters -- and has achieved almost cult-like status among some who call themselves "Martial FC."
Those he stood before on Wednesday were generally longer in the tooth but his acknowledgment of their praise following a good performance will have done him no harm in the eyes of match goers; Mourinho himself has found that out in recent weeks.
Martial still being on the pitch at full-time was a rarity. He has had few chances to thank fans properly at the end of a game, having failed to go 90 minutes in last season's Champions League and managing it just six times in the Premier League. That he got stronger as this latest game went on showed he is not going to tire easily.
A photo I tweeted of Martial applauding quickly went viral, accompanied by many positive messages. An hour later, I showed him my phone in the post-game mixed zone after he left the dressing room. "Nice!" he said. "I like it."
He has not always been content at Old Trafford and, earlier this year, his agent let it be known he wanted to leave. Martial wanted to play more and to be happier than he was, yet United had no intention of selling a player with the potential to be one of the best attackers in the game.
One game will not make everything perfect. Before Wednesday, he had started only once this campaign, lasting an hour in the capitulation to Brighton. He was poor that day and has shown signs that he lacks interest, to the ire of his manager. However, Martial remains a fine sight when running at and trying to go past opponents. His first touch, even when controlling a ball hit at speed, is usually faultless.
Young Boys Bern are not Juventus or Valencia, United's other Group H opponents, but Martial looked like he had a point to prove and did enough to keep his place against Wolves side on Saturday. But will he or will Alexis Sanchez, the team's top earner, be recalled instead? Despite a couple of promising pointers in preseason, the Chilean forward is yet to spark this term and will get more chances to come good.
The good news is that, with games coming thick and fast either side of the next international break in mid-October, both should get opportunities and possibly in the same line-up; it is not like they cannot play in the same team, given each man can operate on the left, centrally and the right.
So there is still hope for Martial. Luke Shaw, who is the same age, has come good and looks once more like he has a promising future; the fact is that young players require more patience and United have shown plenty to him and Martial. Had many fans had their way, both would have been sold long ago.
It was a mistake the club made when unloading so many under Louis van Gaal. Full-back Rafael da Silva was one who was shown the door; along with another ex-Red, Memphis Depay, he returned to Manchester with Lyon on Wednesday night and did just fine as Lyon beat Manchester City.
Meanwhile, United have won three away games in a row, scoring seven times and conceding just once. Let a run of four home games in the next five commence.