23 hours ago
It’s a sign of how far Anthony Martial had flown under the radar that Wayne Rooney had to find out who he was when news emerged of Manchester United’s interest in the teenager last summer.
Rooney approached Martial’s French compatriot Morgan Schneiderlin for information during United’s flight back from Swansea in August, and filled in the gaps on Google.
Nine months on, everyone knows Martial. Sitting down at United’s Carrington training ground, very much part of the furniture and looking forward to an FA Cup final in his first season in England, he smiles about the Rooney tale.
Well, he knows me now doesn’t he!’ says Martial, aware that United’s captain was not the only one bemused by the club’s decision to spend an initial £36million on a relatively little known forward from France.
‘I’ve heard that story. I guess it’s pretty amusing,’ he says. ‘I don’t know whether it’s true but it doesn’t bother me at all.
‘It’s not a case of proving anything to other people. I don’t pay too much attention to that. I want to prove to myself that I can succeed.’
Many questioned United’s wisdom in allowing experienced strikers such as Javier Hernandez, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao to leave while putting so much expectation on Martial’s young shoulders.
The deal with Monaco, which could rise to £58m, made him the most expensive teenager in world football. He had moved there from Lyon only two years earlier for £4.4m after four first-team appearances.
Martial, shy off the pitch and remarkably calm on it, turned 20 only in December and has taken it all in his stride. The final will be his 49th game of a season in which he has scored 17 times.
That total includes a dramatic late winner in the semi-final against Everton last month. Martial is the man Crystal Palace will fear most on his return to Wembley on Saturday.
‘I didn’t try to put too much pressure on myself,’ he says. ‘Obviously, people mention the price tag but I just came here to do my best. What helped was that I’d already gone through quite an expensive transfer in the past when I moved from Lyon to Monaco.
‘I just tried to remain true to who I am as a person. I’ve always been quite calm and relaxed, and had confidence in my ability.
‘Things have gone relatively well but I feel deep down I could have done better. I hope things will go even better next season.’
Even for a player renowned for his speed, Martial has adapted incredibly quickly. He scored four goals in his first four games — including a brilliant effort on his debut against Liverpool at Old Trafford in September. It is, he says without hesitation, still his favourite.
The Frenchman wheels away in celebration after scoring against Everton in United’s previous trip to Wembley
MARTIAL’S SEASON SO FAR
Matches played: 48
Goals scored: 17
Pass Success: 75.8%
Yellow Cards: 4
Red Cards: 0
Source: Who Scored
‘It just couldn’t have been a better way to start. From being a kid I’d dreamed of playing at Old Trafford and to score in my first game in such a way against United’s biggest rival — it couldn’t have turned out better.
‘It freed me up and helped me settle in. I drew a lot of confidence from scoring. Fortunately, things started to go well from that moment and I kept scoring regularly.’
And it’s not just goals. His assists are also vital to Louis van Gaal’s side, terrorising defences down the left with quick feet and devastating acceleration.
Martial prefers to play through the middle but his versatility has drawn comparisons to Thierry Henry, who graduated from the same Paris-based club, CO Les Ulis. So, too, the cool demeanour and clinical eye for goal. Paul Scholes has gone so far as to say Martial doesn’t ‘look bothered’ if he scores.
‘I’d heard that,’ he says. ‘Not happy when I score? Scoring makes me happiest because it’s what it’s all about. I’m really happy inside but I’m not a guy who shows that sort of emotion on the outside too