It was Sunday March 28, 2021 and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial started as France took on Kazakhstan in a World Cup qualifier.
The stadium in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, was empty as the outside world continued to battle the pandemic, which meant only coaching staff from each nation and players on the pitch were able to attend a moment of brilliance thanks to Martial. .
Just before the 20th minute, the striker collected the ball in the opposition half and elegantly pirouetted around a defender with his first touch of the ball before sliding towards goal. Martial then gave Ousmane Dembele a chance to score and the Barcelona striker duly found the back of the net. It was a great way to open the scoring and it all started with Martial.
While Martial loves playing for France, his appearance for his country was about to turn into a nightmare. Shortly after the start of the second half, the player fell into visible pain. Martial received treatment, he tried to continue, but he was finally arrested and his worst fear was later confirmed. He had suffered a serious knee injury. He was out for the rest of the season.
Martial missed the final two months of the campaign, including the Europa League final, and he was left out of the European Championship in the summer. Martial then returned to Manchester at the end of June as he continued his rehabilitation and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer provided an encouraging update on the player: “Anthony Martial also joined us,” Solskjaer confirmed just before July.
“But he hasn’t joined the team training yet. He is recovering from his knee injury and it looks good.”
Martial would need a further four weeks before returning to full training at United and he was finally pictured with his team-mates again at the Reds’ training camp in St Andrews, Scotland in the first week of August. His pre-season was now underway.
It has since been claimed afterwards that some members of the club struggled to communicate with Martial during his rehabilitation period, but Solskjaer has always appeared publicly happy with Martial, even though it would be in his interest to appear so.
Martial then started for United in their pre-season friendly against Everton and he was fit enough to start United’s season opener at Old Trafford against Leeds. With the summer transfer window still open, Martial was linked with a move and Solskjaer was asked about such reports ahead of the opener against Leeds.
There’s often no smoke without fire, but Solskjaer was keen to insist that Martial wouldn’t leave United. “I wouldn’t be surprised if other teams target Anthony because he’s a very good player,” Solskjaer said.
“Anthony came back strong and hungry, determined to prove his fitness and quality. Last season was tough and disappointing for him and you can see that bit of guts between his teeth again.
“He’s up for the challenge, he’s a Man United player and we’re happy to have him. He’s proven the doubters wrong so many times.”
Despite these comments, Solskjaer then started Daniel James, who would leave the club two weeks later, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood against Leeds. Martial was left on the bench. Solskjaer’s actions were louder than his words.
Although Martial started against Southampton a week later, he had to wait until October for his next league start. He was reduced to two appearances after that Southampton game and was an unused substitute against West Ham and Aston Villa.
The cracks were now starting to show at United and Solskjaer rolled the dice despite being advised against.
After a home loss to Aston Villa, Solskjaer dropped Cristiano Ronaldo and started Martial for visiting Everton. Jadon Sancho was left on the bench. Prior to this game, Martial had scored twice in his last 24 appearances, both in the 9-0 win over Southampton and leaving was meaningless. Perhaps the controversial decision made full-time sense.
Martial missed a first chance in that game, but he also scored United’s only goal just before half-time. He was taken off the field and ‘Tony Martial scores again’ echoed around the Stretford End.
It was Martial’s last league start for United and it was possibly the last time he would hear his name sung at Old Trafford.
Martial has only started one game – that was under Michael Carrick at Villarreal, not Solskjaer – since leaving the pitch against Everton and he was struggling to find minutes. Still, with change of management comes opportunity and the caretaker appointment of Ralf Rangnick was a potential fresh start for Martial, however, it looked like his mind had already been taken on his next move.
To make matters worse, Martial injured his knee – the same knee he damaged against Kazakhstan in March – during Rangnick’s first training session, then his agent, Philippe Lamboley, came out and did a public appearance, for which he is fit.
“Anthony wants to leave the club in January,” Lamboleys said. “He just needs to play. He doesn’t want to stay in January and I will talk to the club soon.” Rangnick responded by informing the press that he had not discussed these matters with Martial.
That was until Martial ‘spoke a long time’ with Rangnick and it was agreed he could leave the club. Martial was left out of United’s five games as it appeared he wanted to leave and Sevilla came calling, offering to loan the Frenchman out.
Their offer, which was to cover half of the player’s salary, was rejected. As Sevilla have returned to the drawing board, Rangnick have only fielded eight of the nine possible replacements at Aston Villa. The German then claimed that Martial refused to be part of this squad.
Martial took to social media the same evening and denied Rangnick’s comments. He claimed he had ‘never disrespected United’ and some were quick to point out he had been fined for leaving United’s 2018 pre-season tour under Jose Mourinho .
It was like the beginning of the end for Martial and it was. Rangnick held peace talks with Martial and the dispute was stalled, but the dice had already been cast, although the player was then welcomed into the fold against Brentford and West Ham.
Sevilla made a move to sign Martial on Monday, they offered to cover his entire salary, and the deal moved quickly from there. Martial arrived in Spain on Tuesday afternoon and he was officially a Sevilla player on Tuesday evening.
Martial has joined Sevilla on loan until the end of the season, however, United have not received a loan fee for Martial and there is no option to make the move permanent. It means there could be another chapter in Martial’s career at Old Trafford.
After this tumultuous season, Martial needed a fresh start and everyone connected with United wishes him the best in Spain.
Perhaps ‘Tony Martial scores again’ will be heard at Old Trafford in the future.