United have been unable to keep the Frenchman happy and a transfer looks likely this summer so long as they can find the right deal for all parties
From €50 million (£44m/$58m) teenager in 2015 to a squad filler in 2018, it has been a rocky ride for Anthony Martial since arriving at Manchester United.
The Frenchman’s difficulties in 2017-18 stretched so far that he was overlooked by Didier Deschamps for his national team’s squad as Les Bleus claimed a second World Cup, and his prospects of first-team football for the season ahead remain low if he is to stay at Old Trafford.
Having made 29 starts in his first Premier League campaign under Louis van Gaal, Martial has been in Jose Mourinho’s favoured XI only 36 times over the Portuguese’s two seasons in charge and that number has barely shifted since Alexis Sanchez was brought in to take up Martial’s favoured spot on the left of attack in January.
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The latest development saw Martial quit United’s US tour early to be at the birth of his son in Paris, leaving Mourinho short of yet another option as he comes to terms with a shortage of stars following the World Cup.
Indeed, Mourinho went as far saying he doesn’t know when Martial will return to his squad following the 2-1 win over Real Madrid, owing to further suggestions that the Frenchman is ready to leave the club.
So who might come in and rescue the 22-year-old from his Manchester United malaise? And what sort of fee might free him from Mourinho and Old Trafford?
Much of the clamour around his arrival as a 19-year-old centred around the potential €80m (£71m/$93m) payout, but only one of the three €10m (£9m/$12m) clauses inserted in the agreement has been triggered.
Beyond the initial €50m (£36m/$58m) fee, United were forced to pay another £8.5m when he grabbed his 25th goal for the club against Burnley in April 2017. However, Monaco are set to see no further top-ups on their €60m (£53m/$70m) if Martial leaves Old Trafford this summer since he remains seven appearances short of the 25 France caps-clause which would have triggered another €10m pay-out and he has also not been nominated for the Ballon d’Or which would have cost United another €10m.
The Frenchman has one year remaining on his United contract with the club holding the option of a further year, a condition which they have taken up with regularity on other players’ deals of late.
But a possible stumbling block is United’s valuation of around £80m ($105m) on their original £44m ($58m) investment, with the inflated market of late and the less lucrative exchange rate since the Brexit vote helping to force up Martial’s worth in sterling three years on from his transfer from Ligue 1.
One drawback in the current stand-off is the fact that few clubs have budgeted for a dabble in the market at the sort of level which would be needed to bring in Martial.
In his native France there appears to be only Marseille who have the cash available and the wherewithal to make a move but they have sat on their hands to this point so may well not make a late move. Meanwhile, reports in Germany suggest Bayern Munich have been put off by United’s €90m (£80m/$105m) valuation.
Chelsea have been credited in some corners with having a serious interest, but United are keen not to let Martial join a rival Premier League club. That would also provide a stumbling block to a deal with Tottenham, the side whose desire to add the attacker appears most credible.
Thus far there have been no firm bids, with the need to play cards close to the chest of great importance to potential buyers. There has been some talk of possible swap deals, particularly relating to Spurs’ interest combined with United’s courting of Toby Alderweireld.
But with United keen not to be stung on a price in relation to either Alderweireld or Martial a stand-off could be likely, opening the doors to rival interest from across Europe in the final month of the window.
For Martial’s part, he just wants to play football. His lack of starts in recent times under Mourinho has become a source of great frustration and he sees no prospect of increased game time.
His agent Philippe Lamboley is keen to get a deal done, and while United would prefer not to sell him to a Premier League side the player himself would be in favour of staying in England.
With the need to play his way back into international reckoning for Deschamps’ world champions, the most important thing would be that Martial is playing with greater regularity than he has been afforded at Old Trafford. And playing at the highest level, particularly in the ultra-competitive Premier League, would be the ideal move for the Frenchman.
For Martial himself, a move to Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs may be the best next step given their open style of attacking play, but such a deal would almost certainly depend on the two clubs coming together and bashing it out for a deal which would also include Alderweireld.
If it’s a big two weeks ahead for United in their quest for Premier League glory in 2018-19, it could be even bigger for the career of Anthony Martial.