UTD Unscripted: 'There's this kid... you'll all be talking about him!'
Back in 2015, not long after I joined United, I was chatting with Ander Herrera, David De Gea and Juan Mata. I let them in on a secret.
“There’s a kid at Monaco. Anthony Martial. For sure, in a short while, you’ll all be talking about him.”
I’d known about Anthony for two years. In the 2013/14 season, I went to AS Monaco on loan for a year from Sampdoria in Italy. Anthony was still very young, just a kid - I think he was 17 years old at that time - but you could already see that he was that he was a special player with lots of class and lots of talent. The kid was a natural.
You’d just be amazed at the things he would do in the training sessions.
You could see he was a young boy with a huge amount of ability and great strength. He had great quality with his feet and great skill. At the same time he was very explosive too, when he got hold of the ball.
He’s always had the quality to finish in a one on one with the keeper or also to move the ball out of his feet and hit it hard. Right from when I first saw him he’s been able do that with consummate ease.
At that time in Monaco, he was just waiting to explode. He was a fresh talent who was at any moment about to show everyone what he could do on a football pitch. He had advice from everyone. Everyone really liked him and thought a lot of him.
One of the players who would always be speaking with him was Eric Abidal. Eric would chat with him and tell him things that would help him to stay relaxed as he was still a youngster, and Eric was older and had more experienced.
Eric is a funny guy and someone you can have a real laugh with, but he also makes you train really hard too; he can give you perfect instructions on what best to do in training. I think that Anthony learned a lot from him as well as from a lot of the other team mates that were at Monaco at the time.
It’s tough not to learn from a great finisher like Falcao, for example. He’s pure quality when it comes to putting the ball in the net. Falcao is just great at converting chances, so I’m pretty sure that in the time that he and Falcao were together in the dressing room, Anthony would have been observing a lot in order to keep developing as a player.
Of course, talent is one thing, but it needs a chance to show itself. At the age of 17 you can go on to be a great talent or you can fall by the wayside in trying.
At that time you could see the huge potential he had, it was just that he was still so young that he did not get so many chances in the first team. We knew that it wouldn’t take him long before he would explode on the scene. And that’s just what he did in the 2014/15 season; he burst on the scene having been given his opportunity by the Monaco manager.
About a month after I had told Ander, Juan and David about him, Anthony joined us at United. I think he made an impression that first day when he made his debut against Liverpool.
He comes on…
Gets hold of the ball out wide, then…
Pum, pum, pum.
He bursts through their defence and slots the ball in the bottom corner.
I reckon that right then, in those moments, he said everything about what he is and what he’s capable of.
Right after the game, Ander and Juan told me:
“You were right!” I said to them that I don’t feel the need to be proved right. When a young player is good, he’s good, end of! That’s a reality of life. And this lad is very good.
You never know what he’s going to do when he’s bearing down on you. He can dribble round you, he can put the ball over you, he can go to shoot, feint and wait for you to dive one way and commit yourself; he really does have so much quality.
He’s a kid who has a very clear mind when he does his work. He makes up his mind and knows when he wants to finish in one corner or the other. He’s not one for trying to fool you with a glance.
His preferred style of finishing is just inside either post. That’s the furthest distance that a keeper has to travel in order try to cover a shot. So it’s the most difficult to do but he’s scored past me in the same way that I’ve stopped some of his shots. I can also be happy and say that I’ve done my job which is to try and make things a little bit harder for him. That’s one of the best things about training.
I think the important thing is that when he works hard and he does things believing that he is going to do something positive in the game at the weekend, that’s the best for him. And if I also do my work with a positive mindset for the weekend’s game ahead, I know that my efforts will also be helping him too.
If his finishing is a bit off, I’m going to save the ball, but if he finishes well, it’s impossible for me to save the ball. It’s a constant work in progress, a joint effort between keeper and striker and we improve together, for the good of the team.
I think it’s in that area, that team ethic, that Anthony has most improved since he joined United.
In the first six months he was here, he really showed us what he could do in attack, but since then he has learned more and more about the defensive side of the game; that in football, in reality, it’s not just one player who plays the game but 11 guys who are out on the field, trying their best not just for that 11 but for the squad of 23, the club and the fans who are in the stands enjoying their team.
Anthony is a kid who can offer an awful lot in defence because he has amazing energy levels, and he’s extremely quick too. If you help out the team, it’s not that you are just simply helping out the team, but you are winning over the hearts and minds of your team-mates, so that later on, things will be easier for you to attack.
I believe that this is what he is working on currently, trying to making his game much more complete, in addition to the incredible ability he has, making himself a much more rounded footballer in all aspects of his game. So that from tomorrow he can show everyone that he can defend as well as attack. That he can defend a ball back towards his own line just as easily as he can score a goal in the other penalty box.
These things are very important in football.
I think he is working very hard to be an Anthony Martial that one day people will say is a complete, all-round player, who can defend, who can attack, and who, in any position high up the field can do what he wants with the ball, but who when called upon can also do a job in defence.
His attitude to learning this has been so impressive. He is showing a real desire to play and be in that starting 11. That’s why he is also working on the defensive side of his game, knowing when he has to drop back and sacrifice himself to the defensive cause, and then when he has to attack he has a free hand.
He can do what he likes when he has the ball at his feet! Pure, natural talent.
Martial at Monaco Gallery
Anthony was a teen sensation during his short senior spell in Ligue 1.
Anthony is aware of the ability and quality he has, but he also realises - because he’s not daft, he’s a bright lad - he realises that he can still improve and keep growing as a player. That’s the real key here.
You never just say:
“That’s me, potential realised!” No, there can always be a little bit more, and he tries to keep on improving.
He’s a very quiet lad who gets on with everyone. I’ve known him a long time so maybe I can get closer to him even though we don’t speak the same language. It’s the same affection you can feel or can sense, when you say hi to him or ask how he is, it’s those little things that you notice, that the boy gets on with me as I knew him from back in the day.
But then of course it’s quite usual that he’s a lot more open with Paul Pogba and the other French-speaking players, and behaves differently and is a lot more talkative. He’s a great lad who gets on with everybody.
On the pitch, he really is one of the best I’ve seen. I think that the only player in the world or who I’ve seen, running with the ball as if it’s stuck to his foot, is Leo Messi. He can be going at top speed and the ball is always right on the end of his foot, it never gets far away from his control. That’s why he can do all the things he does.
But the thing that Anthony has which is quite similar is when he is running at top speed, he can stop the ball absolutely dead, in a split-second. That is the same as what Messi does. Leo will be running with the ball, on a mazy dribble, and then all of a sudden he’ll stop suddenly and change pace or change speed, or go the other side.
Anthony can do that with ease and in fact he has done it many times. He dribbles the ball one way, stops suddenly and then goes the other.
At such high speed, stop suddenly and then change direction.
You can count on one hand the players who can do stuff like that.
Anthony is one of them.
When a player has that quality then, if he wants to, he can sign up for being the best in the world. But he has to believe that and that’s the most difficult part: to really want it and have that need to say to the world:
“I want to be the best,” and demonstrate it out on the field, as I say, both in defence and in attack.
He can go wherever he wants. If he really wants to say to himself:
“I want to be the best in the world,” then he can be the best in the world. He has to work, he needs to demonstrate to himself, and convince himself, that he can be the best in the world.
We all know that there’s someone called Leo Messi who is very difficult to catch up, but hey, why not try for it? No one can take away that desire to say that you want to go for it and you’re going to show that you are.
And then maybe one day you manage to become the best in the world, or one day you get to be the second best in the world. It’s a learning curve, and in football it’s all about learning and developing. Training session after training session, match after match, it’s all about development.
Trust me, Anthony is going to keep getting better and better. For sure, in a short while, we’ll all be talking about him even more.