Jose Mourinho is unfairly blamed for Anthony Martial’s predicament at Manchester United
Manchester United signed Anthony Martial in 2015 for a princely sum of 36 million pounds from Monaco, potentially rising to more than 50 million with add-ons. Martial was the most expensive teenager at the time and amongst the most precocious.
At the time of signing, there was a lot of scepticism over the move. After his debut goal against Liverpool, there was a 180-degree change in opinion. Martial turned from “panic buy” to “inspired signing” by Manchester United. He shone in his first season under Louis Van Gaal, scoring 17 goals.
In 2016, Louis Van Gaal was replaced by Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese manager has tried to integrate Martial into his first eleven, but he has never been fully convinced by the ex-Monaco man. The suspicion is that Mourinho is not happy with the player’s work ethic.
A deluge of opinion has been shared by football lovers, experts, and even “sources close to the club” about Martial and Mourinho. The chief complaint is that Mourinho is unable to tap into Martial’s talent because of his supposed aversion to trusting young players. In fact, some have claimed that Martial could be like Lukaku, De Bruyne, or Salah under Mourinho, players who appeared hapless in Mourinho’s squad and then transformed into superstars.
In this author’s opinion, there is a certain degree of oversimplification in such analysis.
Firstly, Mourinho has not been picking Martial because of his lack of work ethic and not his age. Martial's current age is 22 years. Petr Cech and Joe Cole were 22 and 23 respectively when they starred in Mourinho’s first season at Chelsea. Arjen Robben was 20. This evidence is not in any way to suggest that Mourinho is a champion of youngsters. But, he is also not an evil football manager destroying the careers of young players.
Jose’s reputation as a manager with distrust for youth seems to stem from his wildly successful spell at Inter where he won the Champions League with a team that was the personification of experience and “proper football men” such as Zanetti, Milito, Materazzi, Walter Samuel, etc.
The Chelsea team of 2004-05 also seems to carry a similar perception now. It has been conveniently forgotten that a number of first-team players in that squad were between the ages of 20 and 26 at that time, including Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Petr Cech, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, and Damien Duff.
Secondly, the transformation of Lukaku, Salah, and De Bruyne happened over a period of time. It was not a magically instantaneous transformation. For example, De Bruyne needed two and a half seasons at Wolfsburg and a season at City to reach the levels he reached last season.
The trio’s development may have been hindered partly due to lack of chances at Chelsea, but that is less because of age, and more because Chelsea had wonderful players in their position. For example, in the 2012 Champions League winning season at Chelsea, when Jose was not even the coach, Lukaku had very few chances to play ahead of the club’s legendary spearhead at the time, Didier Drogba. Similarly, De Bruyne and Salah could not get a chance ahead of the stellar names already playing in the Chelsea squad.
We saw a similar situation in international football with the German team. Questions were asked about talents such as Leroy Sane not being given a chance soon enough. The flaw in the argument was the same one: It was easy to say in retrospect that the squad needed refreshment, but very difficult to execute especially in one of the most dominant sports teams in history.
In the case of Germany, even when the likes of Lucas Podolski and Miroslav Klose were bit-part players for their clubs, they still remained starters for the national team. Players such as Ozil may have faced criticism for a variety of reasons, but because they were integral parts of a historically successful outfit, and were difficult to omit from the squad.
Blaming Mourinho for Martial’s disenchantment at United, and comparing his situation to De Bruyne, Salah, and Lukaku is unfair on the United manager. Martial is not getting his chance because his application is not good enough to get into a United squad in transition.
Martial’s predicament partly exists because of the player’s attitude and mental strength as evidenced by his inconsistent effort in games. This has been noted by pundits such as Gary Neville.
Looking at Martial's statistics from the 2017-18 season, in 30 games in the Premier League, for each game he won a meagre 0.5 aerial duels. Under Jose in the 2016-17 season, Martial was 0.8 aerial duels per game. Its an insignificant statistic taken by itself, but a close to 40% drop in the aerial duels seems to possibly indicate reduced effort.
If Anthony Martial has to succeed at Manchester United, or indeed any other football club competing at the highest level, then he needs to show greater effort and desire to succeed. Currently, the only thing consistent about the Frenchman is his inconsistency. Jose Mourinho is not to blame.