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Can Man United's Anthony Martial live up to £36 million price tag?

Manchester United are soon expected to complete the signing of Monaco forward Anthony Martial, after the French Football Federation confirmed on Monday morning that they had granted him permission to travel to England to sign a contract with the Premier League club in a deal reported to be worth £36 million.

Martial grew up in the southern Paris suburb of Massy and began his football education at local club CO Les Ulis. At 14, he was signed up by Olympique Lyonnais, where his prolific scoring record soon saw him move up to the fringes of the first-team squad. His debut came in December 2012, a day after his 17th birthday, as a substitute at home to Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Europa League and was followed by three further cameos in Ligue 1.

Lyon would have liked to keep him but were forced to sell in order to balance their books. Monaco paid €5 million to take him to the principality, and although he started the campaign with the B team, he was promoted following a hat-trick against Marignane in early November. His first senior goal came in a 2-0 win over Rennes later that same month, one of two he scored in 11 league appearances (eight starts) between then and the end of the campaign.

Martial became a regular part of the side last season. He made 48 appearances in all competitions (of which 26 were starts) and scored 12 goals. He began the campaign as an understudy to Dimitar Berbatov but gradually became an integral figure in Leonardo Jardim's side. His goal contribution (goals plus assists) of 0.50 per 90 minutes in league and Champions League play represented an impressive output in his first full season.

The 19-year-old signed a new contract in June, following reported interest from Tottenham Hotspur and began the current campaign as the club's first-choice striker. He was recently rewarded for some good early-season showings with a place in Didier Deschamps'  national team squad for the September friendlies against Portugal and Serbia, having previously represented his country at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 level.

Style

Martial is a quick and direct, team-orientated forward with a deceptively languid gait and a cool head in front of goal. He is capable of playing up top but also likes to drift out towards the left to pick up the ball and move infield towards goal. He doesn't produce an awful lot of shots -- 2.16 per 90 minutes last season -- and is not yet outstanding in any one area, but has very well-balanced skill-set that should act as an excellent base for further development.

Major strengths;

- smooth dribbling
- intelligent movement
- a cool head in front of goal

Anthony Martial has been compared to Thierry Henry and his composure in front of goal at 19 is impressive.
 

Major weaknesses;

- shot generation
- not yet fully developed physically
- not much of a threat on his weaker foot

Assessment breakdown

Tackling: Made just one tackle for every 130 minutes he was on the pitch last season. However, he did work hard to come back and win possession on a few occasions during the two legs of Monaco's narrow Champions League playoff round elimination at the hands of Valencia.

Marking: Showed a willingness to track back defensively when employed out wide in the early part of last season, although it is clear that defending does not come naturally to him. It's an area of his game that will require development if he is to be used out wide in England.

Heading: Standing less than six-foot tall, he does not offer a particularly potent threat on high balls into the area. Indeed, he attempted just four headers on goal in league and Champions League play last season, with only one of those finding the target. He also won just a third of his aerial duels, in contrast to the 50 percent won by Berbatov.

Close control: He is a wonderfully elastic dribbler, with the ability to smoothly shift the ball from foot to foot at pace. Also possesses a solid first touch, although he doesn't always have the necessary strength to spin clear with it when challenged on the half-turn.

Anthony Martial is still developing physically and defenses have been able to take advantage of his slight frame.

Passing: Quite good at linking in tight quarters and picking out teammates when joined quickly by runners on the counter-attack. He is not, however, a particularly accurate or inventive passer against set defences.

Positioning: Very active across the width of the front line. Intelligent in his movement, often pulling wide or dropping off the front to counterbalance the runs of his teammates. Likes to drift out towards the left to receive the ball and dribble infield towards goal from there. His ability to perform as a reliable back-to-goal reference will improve as he develops physically.

Crossing: Generally looks to drill the ball low into the area when he gets into good advanced positions out wide, and is more than capable of picking out specific options inside the area.

Finishing: Takes almost all of his shots from in and around the penalty area and mostly aims for the corners. Unexpectedly calm in front of goal for a player of his age. Produced a delightful lobbed finish for the second goal in Monaco's 3-1 win away at Reims in March. Needs to work on the power and accuracy of his shooting off of his weaker left foot.

What The Experts Say

France coach Deschamps: "He's a young player, but he's got an interesting profile in a position where it's not easy to find players with both strength and speed. He's got good potential and I want to see how he does with the squad."

Trivia

In an interview with Monaco's official website earlier this year, Martial revealed that his favourite dish is a Colombo curry -- preferably one that is "nice and spicy."

Conclusion

Martial has plenty of potential and is the sort of raw, yet talented young player who Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal loves to work with. It is questionable whether, at 19, he has the necessary physical strength to lead the line in the Premier League, but in the near term he will certainly add some much-needed pace and directness to United's attacking options.

The fee is extremely high for a player of Martial's limited experience and does represent a gamble for United, albeit a calculated one. People who have worked with Martial, or studied him at close quarters, believe him to be a player destined for greatness, and by moving early and spending big, United may just have secured themselves a future world-beater. The jury will, however, firmly be out until his obvious promise finds a counterpart in reality.

Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.

 

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