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loan move How Anthony Martial went from a great ‘gift’ to a €50m problem no manager could solve

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Anthony Martial is set to join Sevilla on a six-month loan deal. Photo: Martin Rickett

Anthony Martial is set to join Sevilla on a six-month loan deal. Photo: Martin Rickett

Anthony Martial is set to join Sevilla on a six-month loan deal. Photo: Martin Rickett

Anthony Martial is undergoing a medical with Sevilla ahead of completing a six-month loan move from Manchester United.

After weeks of haggling between the clubs, United are understood to have waived a loan fee for Martial, but Sevilla will cover all of the France striker’s wages.

It has been suggested Martial was prepared to take a cut to his £200,000-a-week (€240,000) salary to help push a deal through.

There is not believed to be an option in the loan agreement for Sevilla to buy the 26-year-old permanently in the summer.

United are due to appoint a new permanent manager at the end of the season and he will be given the chance to make a call on Martial’s longer-term future at Old Trafford.

Sevilla are chasing a first La Liga title for 76 years and coach Julen Lopetegui, who has been linked with the permanent manager’s job at United, has been eager to add Martial to his ranks to give his side more firepower in their push for glory.

A war of words ignited between Martial and Ralf Rangnick this month when the player denied the interim manager’s claims that he had refused to be part of the squad for the 2-2 draw against Aston Villa.

The pair held talks the next day and Rangnick said the matter had been resolved, despite the German refusing to back down from his claims.

Martial made his first appearance for United since early December when he was introduced as a second-half substitute against West Ham on Saturday and played a part in setting up a stoppage-time winner by Marcus Rashford.

He missed the final two months of last season through injury and fell further down the pecking order following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho.

This season has been marred by more injuries and a lack of opportunities, with just two league starts.

Martial – who has 79 goals in 268 appearances for United – joined the club from Monaco in 2015 for a fee that eventually reached £44million (€52m). But he has largely struggled to fulfil his promise under four different managers – Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Rangnick.

It would be a mistake to assume the door has closed on Martial’s United career. A six-month loan move to Sevilla may yet prove the prelude to a rousing second act at Old Trafford for the mercurial France striker.

At 26, United have not given up on him just yet. It is, though, safe to say that Martial has fallen well short of the expectations that surrounded him when he arrived amid much excitement in the final hours of the 2015 summer transfer window from Monaco and, 10 days later, scored on his debut against Liverpool.

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In many ways, that profound sense of unfulfillment is reflected by the fee United ultimately ended up paying. Had Martial been the bona fide hit the club were hoping, he could have cost them as much as £61.6m in total following an initial outlay of £36m.

In the end, that price peaked at £44m. Instead, it was another young French attacker who left Monaco, initially on loan, a couple of years later that went on to establish himself as a global superstar.

Kylian Mbappe may be a generational talent, but it is easy to forget just how highly regarded Martial was within European circles at that time he left Monaco for United at 19.

Van Gaal famously declared that he had bought Martial as “a gift” for his successor at Old Trafford, but Mourinho came to regard the player with suspicion and mistrust and wanted to sell him in the summer of 2018, against the wishes of the club.

Solskjaer had some success in his attempts to convert Martial into a No 9 and he finished the 2019/’20 campaign with 23 goals, a career-best return, but about 18 months into the job, the Norwegian began to appreciate why Mourinho had misgivings.

Martial was famously scolded by Solskjaer in the dressing-room after the Frenchman barely joined in a warm-up before a game against Chelsea after being named as a substitute, and the struggles to engage the striker became more pronounced as time went on. By Solskjaer’s final months in charge, he had fallen way down the pecking order and things did not change under Rangnick.

The blame, in truth, can be shared around. In six-and-a-half years at Old Trafford, Martial has played under four managers, all with very different styles and opinions about the player’s best position.

At the same time, familiar complaints about work-rate and mindset have remained consistent, even as managers have changed.

All agree there is a player there, but none have managed to maximise that talent on a consistent basis, a challenge that now falls to Lopetegui.

With a fresh outlook in a new environment, Spain may prove a rich playground for Martial. If it does, he may not want to come back, but that is a conversation for the summer with United’s next manager.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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