Anthony Martial: The only winner from the Benzema scandal
Just two months ago Anthony Martial was considered a £58 million gamble, a little-known teenager for whom Manchester United had massively overpaid. Now he is United’s first-choice forward, one of the most important players in their side and is set to become just as vital to France’s international hopes.
United might well have struggled for goals of late but Martial’s run on the left of an attacking midfield three cannot be considered anything other than a success. “He can play, in my opinion, four positions,” Louis Van Gaal told MUTV. “He can play at seven – as a right-winger, 11 – the left winger, the striker’s position and also at 10, I believe.”
It was also noticeable that after the third of three successive 0-0 draws to end October away to Crystal Palace, opposition boss Alan Pardew explained that his “Stop Martial, and you stop United” team talk had been proved right. Wherever he plays, he is the Red Devils’ danger man.
And such a quick adjustment to the Premier League had even Van Gaal admitting his surprise.
“When you are a 19-year-old you cannot expect consistency, normally you have dips so I also expect that from him,” admitted Van Gaal. “So far he has shown his talent is at a high level and he has shown he can play in our system. He has shown he wants to do that and he can do that.”
But it clearly isn’t just Van Gaal and United’s fans who have been thrilled by the former Monaco man’s progress, with Didier Deschamps having called Martial up for his first four international appearances over the last couple of months. And the front man’s rise is unlikely to end there due to the current criminal charges hanging over the head of France’s star striker Karim Benzema.
The Real Madrid ace has allegedly been caught on tape discussing an apparent sex tape involving national team-mate Mathieu Valbuena, and Benzema faces charges of complicity in an attempt to blackmail and participating in a criminal conspiracy.
The ugly episode has left Deschamps shorn of two of his key players, with Benzema already struggling with injury while Valbuena is said to be “not psychologically ready” for the demands of international football ahead of this week’s friendlies against Germany and England. And the absence of Benzema in particular looks set to fast-track Martial to the front of the queue ahead of a vital run of games which will end with the Euro 2016 finals in France next summer.
While l’Hexagone is not short on top-level strikers, many are going through significant struggles. Loic Remy is finding game-time difficult to come by for a struggling Chelsea side, with injuries and Diego Costa taking it in turns to keep the ex-Marseille and Newcastle man out of the picture. Elsewhere, Olivier Giroud is flattering to deceive much of the time for Arsenal, and Andre-Pierre Gignac’s transfer to Tigres has taken him away from the spotlight that big-game European football offers.
Alexandre Lacazette remains a possibility, but his greater suitability to a wider or slightly deeper position than the No.9 spot could persuade Deschamps that Martial is his most viable centre-forward option. There are pros and cons behind every potential choice, but the youngster’s makeup appears to be the best match for France’s needs.
He may still only be a teenager, but Martial has already shown with his quick adaptation to life in the Premier League that he can live with the expectation of football at the highest level. He remains unassuming despite the way in which his career – his life – has changed since his deadline day move.
And Deschamps is certainly paying attention to the great strides he has made.
“He has the potential. Everybody is surprised by what he is doing at United but that’s good for him and good for us. He deserves to be here,” the France boss said recently. “It was anything but easy after everything that has been written and said about him.
“It has silenced a few people. He’s young, and he may have more complicated times but he’s able to make great things happen. He did in Monaco.
“He’s doing it now at a club at another level so it is easier to pay attention to his performances. He’s always been talented though.”
It feels like a huge moment in his fledgling career could be approaching. Martial is beginning to prove he has what it takes to play at the very top at a time when Les Bleus are crying out for a solution to their very public issues.
A huge summer might just be around the corner and the hosts may appear to be in disarray, but after displaying the qualities necessary to take Manchester United by storm there is every reason to believe Martial can steal the headlines for France and make himself indispensable come Euros time.