COMMENTARY

United mustn't rely too much on a teen

Manchester United's French striker Anthony Martial (right) celebrates scoring for his new team.
Manchester United's French striker Anthony Martial (right) celebrates scoring for his new team. AFP

The money was supposed to be the burden. Manchester United, the theory went, had paid so much to coax Monaco into selling Anthony Martial that the teenager would have to be superhuman not to bend and break under the pressure.

That he has not so much as flinched bodes well. Even only six games into his Old Trafford career, he is not just carrying his price tag but his team too.

Few players in France escape the eagle eye of Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager. He has been aware of Martial ever since he first burst on to the scene at Lyon; he despatched his emissaries to watch him after his move to Monaco too.

They all said the same thing. Clearly gifted; wonderfully direct; best used wide. Wenger concurred. He felt his team were well-stocked for that type of player; given the money it would take to extract him from his homeland, he felt the investment would not prove worthwhile. He did not need another winger.

Just because Martial has not yet had a dip in form does not mean his manager, who has been warning that it is an inevitability, is wrong.

Given that United have largely deployed him through the middle, it is still too early to decree that those scouting reports were wrong. Maybe Martial is at his best stationed on the left, cutting inside. If that is the case, though, he must be some winger because it is already apparent that he is most certainly a prodigiously gifted striker.

This is the scale of his talent: He has been in Manchester a month, aged only 19, and yet he is already the central focus of United's attack. It is hard to imagine Louis van Gaal's side possessing any real edge without him.

He might not have scored against Wolfsburg in midweek - leaving that to Juan Mata and Chris Smalling - but his every touch sent a shiver of fear into the Bundesliga side's defence in a manner none of his older, more established team-mates could manage.

It is the range of his gifts, you suspect, that does it. He can dance his way past a defence just as easily as he might dispense with subtlety and bulldoze through.

He is dangerous with the ball and he is dangerous without: The primary beneficiary of his arrival seems to have been Mata, rejuvenated not just by the fact there is now someone to fetch his clever through-balls but because the teenager's movement creates space for him to exploit too.

His maturity is almost as impressive as his ability.

That is all, of course, to his immense credit, and yet there is something troubling by how easily he casts his team-mates into the shade. What does it say about the Premier League that a relatively untested ingenu from Ligue Un can arrive and take it by storm?

What does it say about Wayne Rooney and the rest that he has managed to do what they could not and bring a degree of menace to van Gaal's side?

They are questions worth contemplating - for the players, for van Gaal - because the risk of relying on the exuberance and freedom of youth for deliverance is that it is inherently unreliable.

Just because Martial has not yet had a dip in form does not mean his manager, who has been warning that it is an inevitability, is wrong.

That first difficult spell is always the most difficult for any player, simply because they lack the tools to handle it. United must enjoy Martial, no question.

To rely on him, though, would be a mistake as grave as Wenger's.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline 'United mustn't rely too much on a teen'. Print Edition | Subscribe