The Frenchman has suffered a difficult beginning to 2016-17, but a lot has happened in his life of late and a sophomore slump is perhaps no surprise as a result.
It has been a life-changing last 14 months for Anthony Martial. On his journey from young talent with Monaco to mega-money Manchester United superstar, the 20-year-old has experienced a number of highlights as well as difficulties the like of which few will ever witness.
This time last year he was United’s great hope, having come off a streak of four goals in his first four games following a transfer from Ligue 1 which may eventually cost the club over £58 million. Having seen his price tag grab so much attention, he quickly made his quality apparent as Louis van Gaal’s side began to rely on his ability in front of goal.
It was the kind of form which earned Martial a call-up to the France national team, but his break-out performance against Germany in November was quickly overshadowed by the Paris terror attacks which had targeted the game itself. For a 19-year-old of any description, this was unchartered territory.
Back in Manchester, things started to change for Martial. Not only did he find his opportunities as a lone striker reduced under Van Gaal, he also found his private life was of public interest too. When his partner Samantha Jacquelinet mistook the Emirates Stadium for Old Trafford in an Instagram post, it made news across the world. The 20th birthday cake she had made for him depicting Martial at a more accurate Old Trafford also grabbed attention.
His first season at United proved to be mixed, with FA Cup glory offset by failure to reach the Champions League, but his 17 goals in 48 appearances saw him finish top of the club’s scoring charts. It was form which saw him secure a spot in Didier Deschamps’ Euro 2016 squad, but again there was disappointment as France lost the home final to Portugal.
Everything seems to have come to a head for him since then, though. Not only has he struggled to recreate his first-season form at club level, but his private life has been the talk of the town after the breakdown of his relationship with Samantha. Her decision to sell her story resulted in Martial’s questionable behaviour being exposed, and the fallout has not painted him or United in a great light.
“I was told United was a family club but off the pitch he didn’t get any guidance. Manchester United have ruined my life,” Samantha told The Sun in August.
“Neither of us were prepared for it at all. Everywhere we went people would stop Anthony for pictures and his Instagram followers rocketed to more than two million.
“Other big clubs like to offer support to players in managing their social media but we were offered nothing. He was getting a dozen pictures a day on Instagram from girls. They sent sexy photos begging him to get in touch.”
What United and Martial both needed after such negative exposure was for the striker to play his way back into a positive frame of mind, but his performances this term have led to further concern rather than any return to relative normality.
Having started the season wearing the number 11 shirt rather than his previous number nine following the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Martial struggled to get started and found himself dropped by Jose Mourinho for the Manchester derby defeat to City in September. A calf injury and concussion suffered against Watford have not helped his attempts to get back on track, but he did score immediately after coming on as a substitute against Stoke City in his last club outing as United dropped two points against Mark Hughes’ strugglers.
There is a hope now within the club that Martial can return from international duty feeling fresh and looking to build on that goal. United face a crunch period over the coming weeks, with their next four fixtures against Liverpool, Fenerbahce, Chelsea and Manchester City likely to define the first half of their campaign.
Whether Martial’s lack of form is down to the adjustments caused by his ever-altering personal circumstances or simply a ‘sophomore slump’, United need him fit, focused and firing as they go into those matches. And after a year of ups and downs both on and off the pitch, the player himself could do with immersing himself in his football as he looks to regain the sense of normality which made him a £50m future star in the first place.