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Anthony Martial will leave United as the poster boy of their mediocrity

Anthony Martial has become frustrated by his lack of first-team opportunities at Old Trafford (Martin Rickett/PA)

Anthony Martial has become frustrated by his lack of first-team opportunities at Old Trafford (Martin Rickett/PA)

Ken Lawrence

ANTHONY Martial should have had it all. And when he was signed by Manchester United six and a half years ago, Monaco wanted it all, too.

His transfer fee was £36 million but would rise to £58m if certain targets were met.

One of those was winning the Champions League with United, another was lifting the World Cup with France.

United gladly signed on the dotted line for here, in the biggest signing of Louis van Gaal's reign as manager, was a 19-year- old everybody believed would become a global star.

He goes into January desperate to leave the Theatre of Dreams, having failed miserably to become the leading man.

Now 26, Martial might face Newcastle United tomorrow, but interim boss Ralf Rangnick is hardly likely to want to rely on a striker who appears to have been in a sulk ever since he arrived.

The sad part is that he seemed to have everything in the locker in terms of talent.

If United can get £25m for him, they will bite off the hands of any prospective buyer.

He has already demanded that he be allowed to go - but his fall from grace has been such that it is more likely he'll leave on loan, with Newcastle and Sevilla interested parties.

Martial, when he does exit stage left, is hardly likely to even glance behind him, for his presence after his first couple of seasons has been an uncomfortable one.

He was never able to make himself the centre-forward sensation the club, and its fans, craved. In 247 appearances, he has managed just 47 goals.

This season he has one from 10 games and is now fifth in the front-line pecking order behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani - who should return from injury tomorrow - Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho.

Nobody is likely to miss him very much, if at all, when he goes.

For sure, he is not going to miss Old Trafford, because for the most part life has been miserable for him in Manchester.

You only need to look at his face to know that - even on those rare occasions when he does happen to score.

Yet, having been seen as the illustration of new beginnings under Van Gaal when he replaced the doomed David Moyes, Martial can now be seen as one of the very reasons why United declined so dramatically once Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

Martial, of course, wasn't there when Moyes was going through his own, miserable, nine months in charge.

But the front man's failure to make himself a true hero of the Stretford End mirrors how fragile United became once Fergie called time on his legendary career.

Moyes suffered because he inherited an ageing team - albeit one which won the Premier League by 11 points in Fergie's last season - and his first transfer window was a shambles.

Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tried hard in their own individual ways to reignite the light in the soul of the club.

But they never quite managed it - and leaning on someone as apparently soulless as Martial meant they were never going to.

There was a brief interlude in season 2019-20 when the French star netted 23 goals in 48 appearances. Yet that season, his most prolific, was really only a mirage.

As the great Paul Scholes said of him a year later: "Martial almost conned us into thinking he was a high-level striker at the end of last season, because he scored so many goals and was quite good.

"He's started this season quite poorly again, which makes you think he isn't. It's misleading. That's why I've kept saying we need a top-class No 9."

United do have one in Greenwood, who is seen by so many as the best striker on the books.

Yet Ronaldo is there now, and scoring too for that matter, but he is hardly one for the future. Nor is Cavani, who is almost as old as the Portuguese superstar.

It should have been Martial in the main role and, had Mourinho not fallen out with him, claiming he was not mentally strong enough, then he might still be the Special One of Old Trafford and not the well-worn one of Roma.

Solskjaer would have won trophies with the Frenchman firing. Instead, he had to make way for Rangnick, a sadder and wiser man for the experience.

United's struggles to reinvent themselves are not just down to Martial.

Plenty of other buys have failed to live up to their billing, not the least the attacker's countryman, Paul Pogba, who has still not recovered from a thigh injury and won't play until the new year - if the German interim boss plays him at all.

Pogba did win the World Cup with France but he never did help win the battle United had with themselves in the wake of Ferguson's retirement.

Fingers can also be pointed at Aaron Wan - Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Donny van de Beek and Fred, to name but a few of the current squad, who have often been average at best and, in the case of the Dutchman, plain awful.

Yet if one person personifies the pain that has never really been eased over the past eight and a half years, it is Martial.

He will not be the only one shown the door by Rangnick, who at least is showing that, finally, United have someone in charge who is really building for the future and is neither managing for his own ego or, in Solskjaer's case, because of romantic attachment.

When United say au revoir to Martial they won't just be saying goodbye to a flawed front man but, on the evidence of Rangnick's short time at the wheel, to a philosophy that was flawed almost from the moment that Ferguson took his seat in the directors' box.


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