Who is Anthony Martial?
Still only 19 despite approaching his fourth season of senior football, Monaco’s Anthony Martial is perhaps the most exciting prospect in a team absolutely brimming with them. Born in the Paris suburb of Massy, Martial joined Lyon as a 14 year-old, eager to develop at what has slowly but surely become one of France’s finest academies. Netting 32 goals in 21 matches at youth level saw the player subsequently included in 2012-13’s senior side, and he made his competitive debut for Les Gones that December in a Europa League match.
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A handful of league appearances followed, but with the likes of Lisandro Lopez and Bafetimbi Gomis firmly ensconced at the top of the striking hierarchy, opportunities were always going to be scant, especially with Alexandre Lacazette, Yassine Benzia and others more immediately capable of helping the squad also ahead of him.
It was still, however, a bit of a surprise when, at the height of Lyon’s great financially-driven exodus, in the summer of 2013, Martial was moved on to Monaco, then entering their first season in the top flight under the ownership of Dmitry Ryblovlev. With the likes of Valere Germain and Emmanuel Riviere already well-established in the side, as well as the big name arrivals of Radamel Falcao and Dimitar Berbatov, playing time for the youngster was limited under Claudio Ranieri.
Despite the Italian’s conservatism, Martial did show the odd flash of brilliance when played, but his general contributions were limited, often due to poor ball control. In any event, Monaco, despite playing a rather dour brand of football, finished second in the league, behind the inevitable Paris Saint-Germain. Thus, despite failing to blood many young players outside of Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Layvin Kurzawa, it was job done for Ranieri, Martial remaining an interesting, but still peripheral prospect.
Despite this success, Ranieri was dismissed last summer, the reins handed to Leonardo Jardim, a young Portuguese manager who had had a large degree of success, if not stability at Olympiakos, Sporting CP and Braga. Jardim’s arrival was also accompanied by the departure of James Rodriguez and Falcao, signalling a dramatic change in the club’s operating strategy, from that of free-spending heavyweight to a side focused on developing youth which it could sell on for a profit. Despite the departure of Ranieri, when last season started, it was service as usual as far as Martial’s playing time was concerned; he appeared in most matches, but starts were rare as Berbatov generally kept his place when fit.
Despite a lack of match time with Monaco, however, Martial had been rapidly rising through the levels for his country, scoring with aplomb and coming runners up in 2013’s U-19 European Championship. Already capped a dozen times for the U-21s, despite his age, international football was giving the youngster the much-needed chance to express himself.
However, with Monaco struggling in Ligue 1, Jardim slowly but surely began to re-think his squad. After shuffling through a variety of formations through the season’s first three months or so, he settled on dynamic, counter-attacking 4-3-3 which used the pace of Martial, finally employed as a center forward, Ferreira Carrasco and the season’s other revelation, Portuguese winger Bernardo Silva.
With Joao Moutinho deployed behind the trio, all saw a dramatic rise in their scoring records, with Martial at one point netting 8 goals in 9 matches as Monaco took full advantage of Marseille’s stumbles to nip their south coast rivals to third place and return to the Champions’ League. Despite a raft of rumors of him being sold to any number of English clubs, Martial looks to be sticking with Monaco for the time being, with a wave of promising youngsters arriving to take the place of the likes of Berbatov and Ferreira Carrasco.
Martial featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to watch in 2016.
Style of play, Strengths and Weaknesses
While his future is almost certainly as a center forward, the position where he has been used most often, Martial is also able to operate on either wing, despite generally preferring his right foot. Much like his fellow Lyon academy product, Alexandre Lacazette, whose development also included stretches of being deployed in wide areas, Martial is an instinctive finisher who makes good use of his upper body strength to put himself in good positions. Also willing to battle defenders to the last, it would be unfair to label him a poacher, as more than a few of his goals were down to a doggedness to find the back of the net. Certainly a confidence player, Martial blossomed once he was given a consistent run in the side and was able to better establish a rapport with his teammates.
Balancing a fine mix of pace and strength, Martial doesn’t necessarily need the ball put on a platter for him as a striker, as his determination to get a shot away has boosted the assist totals of his teammates on more than one occasion this season. When looking to pass the ball, Martial is a better and more inventive presence than often given credit for, despite a fairly low completion percentage.
At his best when creating interchanges in close areas along the ground, Martial is also able to mix in the odd cross from wide areas, something which, while not always successful, is enough to make opponents worry.
Possessed with enough drive to want to score but also enough consideration to know when to lay the ball off, (see his assist for Dimitar Berbatov against Arsenal) his decision making is strong in terms of ideas, even if it is somewhat lacking in execution at times. Also with solid, if not outstanding ability as dribbler, Martial is, even now, a fairly well-rounded attacking player, even if his first touch can be a bit disappointing. He has also sometimes seemed at odds with Jardim, especially early in the season when used on the wing or as a substitute, and he could do better tracking back, but all in all these are the types of things that can be learned.
Martial’s natural talent is apparent, and he is a fine prospect in the Lacazette/Henry mold, the bottom line being that his scoring record at 19 is tremendous, and he has a real chance to be on their level, provided he continues to burnish the rough areas of his game.
To say a player is a good finisher may seem overly simplistic, but it is truly an apt description for Martial. Not only good, but versatile, this is easily the strongest part of his game, a primal skill that shows a tremendous amount of creativity on the player’s part. Lobs, thunderbolts into the top corner, tap-ins from set pieces, a brief review of Martial’s goals for Monaco this season shows a player who has an inveterate nose for how to get the ball from his foot into the net, a lively and unpredictable blend of creativity and accuracy.
Also a fairly strong dribbler, especially considering his rather lanky frame, Martial uses this not only to create opportunities for himself but also seeks to involve teammates. When, as he generally has been at Monaco, surrounded by pacy players, this is a tremendous asset. Despite being just 19, Martial has also demonstrated a fairly high level of physical strength, which when coupled with his acceleration, make him a tough customer for burly center backs and fleet-footed fullbacks alike.
While well-rounded physically, there are still likewise a multitude of reasons why Martial is far from the finished article. Most notable among these is a rather poor first touch, one of the primary reasons why he failed to garner much playing time under Ranieri, as one-touch finishing was less of a primary directive as a wide player, the ability to control the ball being more prized. Sometimes going quiet on big stages, particularly against Juventus in the Champions’ League, where his pace could’ve been the difference against the Italians’ aging back line, there are aspects to Martial’s mental game that could be improved. Too, as regards his passing, although a lack of selfishness is to be praised, it is too often overly ambitious or shows a lack of cohesion with teammates.
Because of these issues, and a seeming lack of desire to do much in the way of defensive work, Martial almost has to be used as a center forward with regard to his career trajectory. Not currently a negative, I mention this only as regards how it could affect a potential move, as these kinds of weaknesses could make some managers think twice, especially as Monaco’s system is more forgiving in this regard. Although it seems a bit of a minor point, Martial also concedes far too many fouls, in the neighborhood of 2.5/90 minutes. While not an issue in a gritty Ligue 1, it would limit his appeal if a move to, say, Spain were on the cards.
Obviously youth is somewhat of an ameliorating factor as regards most of these potential caveats, but consistency on all fronts needs to be maintained to make the next step. Overall, though, it can be too easy to forget just how young Martial is. To score 9 goals at age 19 in what was essentially half a season (1800 minutes played) in one of Europe’s major leagues is very impressive, and most, if not all of these faults are the type of issues that can be improved upon with time and proper guidance.
What does the future hold?
With Berbatov a free agent and Germain loaned to Nice for the season, Jardim has unquestionably put full faith in the youngster for the upcoming campaign. Admittedly, the arrival of the talented but injury-bit Stephan El Shaarawy will create some competition for Martial, but if he returns to full fitness, the Italian is more likely a natural replacement for Ferreira Carrasco. Despite that incredible run through March and May in the league, Martial often went missing in the Champions League, and needs to focus on being at his best in all competitions, particularly with a potentially dangerous play-off encounter looming. A return of at least 15 goals should be a target, along with racking up a few more assists than the 3 of last season. With Silva and others providing more of a goal-scoring threat than the likes of Nabil Dirar or Lucas Ocampos, improvement here should be easy enough, making it down to the player to finally seize his chance to be the “main man” for a squad with hope of continued European involvement.
Internationally, Martial has yet to break into the senior squad, but has maintained a strong scoring record as he moves through the age levels. With the likes of Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Alexandre Lacazette, and Paul-Georges Ntep all seemingly ahead of him, Martial will do best to focus on his time with the U-21s as they seek to qualify for the 2017 tournament in Poland, with qualification starting in September. If he can combine the consistency for his club with what he has shown for his country, the fees currently linked with the player will seem laughable. The next twelve months are truly the opportunity for which Martial has been waiting; with much more attention being paid to Monaco after their European performances last season, what could very easily be France’s next brilliant attacker will hopefully be turning even more heads.
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