Teen respite to United's lean options

In two English Premier League appearances so far, French teenager Anthony Martial (left) has impressed with his composure and finishing for Manchester United.
In two English Premier League appearances so far, French teenager Anthony Martial (left) has impressed with his composure and finishing for Manchester United.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • For a raw diamond, Anthony Martial is looking remarkably polished.

The reactions ranged from baffled bewilderment to sheer scorn when the scale of the £58 million (S$126 million) package Manchester United agreed to pay Monaco for the teenager was revealed earlier this month, but no one is laughing now.

And for the first time since succeeding David Gill as United's transfer supremo, Ed Woodward, the club's executive vice-chairman, can permit himself a small smile.

Woodward has made more than his share of mistakes in the market over the past two years, but signing Martial, for whom United have already parted with about £36 million, is increasingly resembling a gamble that was worth taking.

The 19-year-old Frenchman's brilliantly-taken goals either side of half time on Sunday transformed a game which Southampton had been dominating.

United clung on to win 3-2 and manager Louis van Gaal conceded afterwards that his side cannot keep relying on Martial to bail them out of trouble.

"When you are 19 you cannot expect consistency," van Gaal said. "You will have a lot of dips and I expect that."

After attaining cult hero status by scoring a superb individual goal on his debut against Liverpool last week, Martial has now established his reputation as a United match-winner.

It is still too early to say whether the French teenager will justify the club's vast outlay but, 205 minutes into his Old Trafford career, several things have already become clear.

His natural exuberance will not be dented by that exorbitant transfer fee and the soaring expectations that followed the goal against Liverpool, while his direct approach and clinical finishing is precisely what United need.

Martial's composure in the penalty area is remarkable for one so young, demonstrated by his incredible return of three goals from his first three shots on target in the Premier League, a conversion rate that makes the initial comparisons to Thierry Henry flatter the former Arsenal captain.

Having been signed as one for the future Martial has made an immediate impact, with the question now being for how long can he sustain this astonishing start.

His biggest problem after scoring twice on his first appearance as a centre forward may be van Gaal's temptation to use him too often, with the lack of balance in United's squad shown by the absence of another striking option on the bench.

The cynical response to Martial's bamboozling of Martin Skrtel nine days ago was whether he would emulate the United career of Federico Macheda, who faded after scoring a winning goal on his United debut, or Wayne Rooney, who went on to skipper the team after scoring a hat-trick on his first United game.

For now, Martial has come into a less accomplished side that need him to perform from the outset. And the boy has done just that.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2015, with the headline 'Teen respite to United's lean options'. Print Edition | Subscribe