MARTIN SAMUEL: The jury is no longer out on Anthony Martial

MARTIN SAMUEL: Anthony Martial is on the brink of 250 games for Man United so the jury is no longer out… three strikers are ahead of him and he’s NOT the man to spearhead a title-winning team

  • Anthony Martial is set for his 250th Manchester United game against Everton
  • But the wider world still remains undecided on the Frenchman’s quality
  • He is 25 now and into his sixth season at Old Trafford after arriving in 2015 
  • If he was the man to lead the line in a title-winning team we would know by now

If Anthony Martial plays for Manchester United against Everton, it will be his 250th appearance for the club.

That is more than Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul McGrath, Eric Cantona and Duncan Edwards. More than Andrei Kanchelskis, Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke and Jaap Stam.

More than Robin van Persie, Carlos Tevez and Alexis Sanchez put together.

Anthony Martial is in line for his 250th Manchester United appearance against Everton

And, we are told, the jury is still out. Which means it’s not. If it is the 250th game and the wider world remains undecided, the jury is pretty much in. 

It was in on all the players listed above, including Sanchez, and in considerably less than 250 games. And it is in on Martial, really.

This is his sixth season at United and if he was the man to lead the line in a title-winning team we would know by now.

Martial scored twice against Southampton this week and won a penalty with a rather unimpressive dive, but United were 4-0 and one player up by the time he was introduced as a half-time substitute.

In the biggest games, he is regularly kept out of a central role by a striker nine years his senior, Edinson Cavani. He scores more frequently and works harder. The jury isn’t undecided on that, either.

It is not Martial’s fault that he arrived with the tag of the world’s most expensive teenager, but he is 25 now. He has had plenty of time to lose that baggage.

And he looked to have finally done so last season, 23 goals in 48 games in all competitions. Yet this campaign has again been underwhelming.

He has not become the player United thought they were getting six years ago

For all the glimpses of potential, United now have three forwards most would select ahead of Martial. Not just Cavani, but Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, too.

There is another young striker, Joe Hugill, making great strides with the academy who scored four times against Liverpool’s Under 23s. He is 17, the age at which Martial made his professional debut for Lyon. His time will also come.

Returns for Martial and Rashford have, until now, been similar. This season, however Rashford is leaving him behind — 0.47 goals per game, to Martial’s 0.25. Cavani’s record is better, too, despite this being his first season in English football.

So the jury is no more out on Martial than it is on Scott McTominay (112 games) or Bruno Fernandes (54 games). If he had become the player United thought, there wouldn’t even be a conversation.

Turkish Wall… are you sure? 

Ozan Kabak, Liverpool’s new centre back, has been lauded as the perfect partner for Virgil van Dijk. Kabak was known as the ‘Turkish wall’ during his time in Germany, although it can’t have been a very big wall because he was relegated with Stuttgart, before moving to Schalke, who remain bottom of the table with one win in 19 matches.

Similar boasts announced the arrival of other recruits from the Bundesliga — not least Timo Werner and Kai Havertz of Chelsea. None have lived up to their billing as yet. And, of course, not everyone is going to be Kevin De Bruyne or Vincent Kompany. 

But might it be that many years of Bayern Munich’s dominance has made the competition softer than it used to be and it is easier to impress now than it once was? 

Players from the Bundesliga certainly did not use to struggle with the physicality of English football the way latter signings have done. Kabak could be a revelation and Liverpool’s recruitment department hasn’t made too many mistakes of late, but for a defender who was heading for relegation twice in two seasons, that’s some fanfare.

Liverpool new boy Ozan Kabak has been lauded as the perfect partner for Virgil van Dijk

Hayes is right – she’s better than Wimbledon 

Emma Hayes was right. It is certainly not an upgrade to go from managing an outstanding Chelsea Women’s team, to AFC Wimbledon, in the bottom four of League One. 

Wimbledon have one of the smallest budgets in the competition and their standing reflects that. Chelsea are at the pinnacle of the women’s game. Hayes works with some of the best players in her sport daily — she would not at Wimbledon.

It is easy to understand why she would not be interested.

And yet, no woman has coached in the men’s professional game here, so the first blazes a trail. In that respect, yes, even a post in the lower reaches of League One constitutes a significant step.

Whether AFC Wimbledon is the right move is another matter. Having been founded in a spirit of independence it is now disappointingly like the rest — sacking managers with increasing regularity and last year voting with naked self-interest to relegate Tranmere on the bogus points-per-game system. Hayes might be well out of it, as would many others.

It would not be an upgrade for Emma Hayes to go from Chelsea Women to AFC Wimbledon

Chesterfield are not the bad guys 

Chesterfield got lucky. When a local medical centre had vaccines left after no-shows, the football club was contacted and some players and staff benefited.

The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at a specific temperature with a very limited shelf life. Of course, rather than see them go to waste, there will be those who gain from random availability.

If the club pulled strings to jump the queue, that is different. If vulnerable sections of society were deprived as a result, that is wrong. But if as Chesterfield say they were told by the surgery that all other options had been exhausted and that the vaccine would have been wasted if they had not had the jabs, what is the problem? The National League is in crisis. 

Some clubs are pressing for it to be called off. They do not have the money for regular testing programmes, yet players travel nationwide on cramped coaches to complete the fixture list. Chesterfield to Torquay is a 512-mile round trip, Weymouth 510 miles, Dover 466.

And while these are young, fit men, they still return to families and communities. They are not in bubbles like the Premier League stars, they are not working from the living room. So stop the spread.

The vaccine call-up has inconsistencies. There will be people who live their lives at home, yet qualify for priority care. There will be people who must travel to work and come into contact with others every day who will be last on the list.

That is the way the system works. There had to be an order and it was never going to be perfect.

Yet what we can surely all agree on is the more who are vaccinated, the better.

And better the staff and players of Chesterfield, than vaccines go in the bin.

Queue-jumping is selfish. Yet if all Chesterfield benefited from was a friendly face in the medical centre and being in the right place at the right time, then lucky them and shame on those who choose not to turn up.

Batsmen need to dig deep in India 

The statistics are daunting. India have not lost in Chennai since 1999 and their record of 14 Test victories makes Chepauk Stadium their most successful ground. India have lost one home Test in eight years, while England have won a single series in India across 36 years. 

Yet one set of numbers worries most of all. India’s top six batsmen, and seven in their team, have a Test average above 40. England have Joe Root, alone, making those numbers.

Joe Root needs help from his fellow batsmen if England are to prevail in India this winter 

And, of course, Indian cricketers play a lot of cricket in India, in favourable batting conditions. This, however, is the challenge England must overcome: the demand for long, slow, patient innings. 

Alastair Cook says that when his tourists won there in 2012, he had world class spinners in Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar — but every Test also featured a three-figure score of significance by one England batsman. 

Cook made 176 and 190 in Ahmedabad and Kolkata, Kevin Pietersen made 186 in Chennai, Jonathan Trott 143 in Nagpur. Without great batting, England can’t win.

Test title is a test to understand 

By pulling out of the tour to South Africa, Australia also looked to have scuppered their hopes of playing in the World Test Championship at Lord’s in June. 

New Zealand are now almost certain to face the winners of the series between India and England. There is a mathematical route by which Australia can make it, but only about three people in the world have worked it out and they’re all now having to lie down in a darkened room. 

And, of course, Covid concerns are real.

Nick Hockley, chief executive of Cricket Australia, said that travelling to South Africa where infection rates and a virulent new strain remain high posed an ‘unacceptable’ risk. 

Would Australia have travelled had it been Cricket’s World Cup on the line, though? That is what should worry the ICC. With some series included and others not, some series lasting five Tests, others two, their competition makes no sense — therefore it made no sense to try to win it.

Southgate must not forget Jesse

Of all the players who Gareth Southgate jettisoned in the aftermath of the 2018 World Cup, Jesse Lingard was perhaps the most unfortunate. 

Not because his club form justified it. Lingard lost his way at Manchester United, for many reasons. But he didn’t let England down. He was one of Southgate’s most consistent performers in Russia and came within a VAR fraction of sending England to the final of the UEFA Nations League. 

So it was good to see Lingard so impressive on his West Ham debut against Aston Villa. David Moyes immediately speculated on a return to the England team and that may be wishful thinking, because there are quite a few vying for Lingard’s position and most of them are younger. 

Yet back to his best, he is a very gifted footballer with tournament experience who did not wilt under the pressure of representing his country. He would be well worth a second look. 

Jesse Lingard was unfortunate to be jettisoned in the aftermath of the 2018 World Cup

Warning signs from France 

After the deadest deadline day in recent memory, from France comes another reminder of the hard road ahead. 

Mediapro having reneged on their £2.87billion agreement for the TV rights to Ligue 1, the contract was put out to tender. Amazon, Discovery and DAZN all bid but none even met the reserve price. 

The Ligue de Football Professionnel now says it will take 48 hours ‘to define the next steps’. Premier League clubs will shudder at the news. True, they have a superior product, but there remains a feeling broadcast rights have peaked unless a bidding war can be sparked with Amazon and Disney in the mix. 

The French experience suggests these companies are not as extravagant as hoped, mind — unless they are saving themselves for the big one. 

No, Nick, you’re the real ‘extra’ 

Well, that didn’t take long. Having spent several months as a guardian of morality, Nick Kyrgios reverted to type. 

He refused to play when an umpire called a time violation at the Murray River Open, returning to his chair to swear and address the official in a demeaning way.

Replays showed the umpire got it wrong and Kyrgios was into his serving action when challenged, but that isn’t the point. Given his talent, the fact that Kyrgios is currently world No 47 shows he’s prone to the odd mistake, too. 

Having spent several months as a guardian of morality, Nick Kyrgios reverted to type 

Yet the tirade displayed an unedifying sense of entitlement, as if his ego has been fed by cheaply scoring points off Novak Djokovic on social media. 

‘You’re an extra,’ Kyrgios told the umpire. ‘You’re an extra for all of us.’

Actually, he isn’t. If the umpire had got down from his chair and walked off, there would be no game. If other umpires then came out in support, no tournament. 

The day that happens, Kyrgios might be properly called to account. And, yes, Djokovic can be an idiot. But Kyrgios? He’s the idiot’s idiot. 

Goals drying up in the big games 

Going into the match between Tottenham and Chelsea, the most common result in League meetings of the Big Six this season was 0-0. It had occurred five times in 17 games, or in 29.4 per cent of matches. 

Indeed, while the average goals per game in the Premier League this season is 2.7, in matches between the elite it is 2.11. Take away Manchester United 1 Tottenham 6 and it is 1.81. Bet you can’t wait for that European Super League, can you?

DeChambeau’s not just a big hitter

Bryson DeChambeau says he is flattered, not worried, by the idea of rule changes to curb golf’s biggest hitters. And why wouldn’t he be? 

DeChambeau’s game is about more than just power. Nobody wins a US Open without being able to putt.

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