Anthony Martial needs the fresh start that a loan move to Sevilla will provide, having seen his career at Old Trafford suddenly stall and ultimately stagnate over the last 18 months.
Martial was just 19 when he burst onto the scene following an initial £36m transfer from Monaco in September 2015, a surprise deal at the time given his age and lack of experience. It was later reported that United had intended to wait another year but moved quickly to secure a deal sooner.
There was no doubting his talent and enormous potential from the outset. A sensational solo debut goal in a win over Liverpool at Old Trafford within minutes of coming off the bench was the perfect way for Martial to introduce himself to excited United fans.
With Wayne Rooney getting older and sinking back into midfield and Radamel Falcao a never fully fit flop the year before, United fans hadn’t had a goalscorer they could truly celebrate since the 2012 arrival of Robin van Persie, whose own Old Trafford career had already fizzled out by that point.
Martial then scored twice on his full Premier League debut and finished that debut campaign with 17 goals in all competitions. His overall performance and stoppage time winner against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley was a standout moment.
However, things quickly changed. The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw both his status in the squad suddenly change and his shirt number taken away. He was no longer the main man, symbolised by losing his number, and it showed in performances. It also appeared to be the case that new boss Jose Mourinho’s differing style of management wasn’t in tune with the player’s needs.
Martial ended up surviving Mourinho, Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku, the latter bought in 2017 and sold in 2019, at Old Trafford – rumour has it that co-chairman Joel Glazer was so invested in the Frenchman and his potential that he blocked an exit at least once.
When Lukaku was sold and not directly replaced, it gave Martial the chance to take his old shirt back and he suddenly became the main man all over again. Some players need to feel loved, appreciated and important in order to give their very best and it seems he is one of them.
Coincidence not, then, that he suddenly looked happier as 2019/20 began. Martial started the season with a smile on his face, playing like a true striker, and it showed his performances, bringing goals. He went on to score in two wins over Manchester City, one against Chelsea and was on fire during ‘Project Restart’. His final goal tally was 23 in all competitions, matching the two previous seasons combined and it seemed as though he was finally making good on his potential.
Yet 2020/21 didn’t go the way Martial would have wanted it. United were in surprising disarray given how 2019/20 had finished and a harsh red card against Tottenham resulted in an early suspension. When he did return, United were winning but he was no longer scoring. Suddenly in and out of the team, his goal tally fell to just seven and the season ended prematurely due to injury.
With the mood at United dropping generally in 2021/22, that loss of form bled into the new campaign and is what has ultimately now paved the way for his departure to Sevilla. But the 2019/20 season is proof that Martial is a quality player when fully fit and happy in his surroundings.
It was always going to be difficult recapturing his form the way he did in 2019 in a team that isn’t performing, and with intense competition for places from an array of strikers and wingers.
United won’t miss Martial in the short-term, especially with namesake Anthony Elanga getting increased first-team exposure and justifying his regular selection. But at Sevilla he has a chance to establish himself as a big name at a club that is smaller in stature but heading in the right direction.
Sevilla are in the hunt for a first La Liga title since 1945 and Martial has the chance to be a part of something special there if he can quickly find his feet. Confidence is so important to his game and he needs the opportunity to be able to build it back up somewhere that isn’t Manchester.
His time at United isn’t necessarily over. Cavani will likely be leaving when his contract expires in the summer and a soon to be 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be around forever either. The club haven’t included an option to buy in the Sevilla deal and will potentially have a £60m striker on their hands again come the summer if things go well over the next few months.
But first Martial needs the time to find himself and his scoring touch.