Manchester United's Anthony Martial should be patient if he wants to succeed
Anthony Martial is a player who splits fans' opinions and it appears as though Jose Mourinho is yet to make his mind up on him too.
The Frenchman will go through spells of great form for Manchester United, with the manager picking him every week, then out of the blue will haul him out of the team and he'll be forgotten for a few weeks.
Many supporters were disappointed to see him left out of the starting line-up for the all-important Manchester derby on Saturday. He has proven he can keep his cool in the big games and his pace would have been welcomed, if Liverpool's successful tactics against City at Anfield were anything to go by.
Martial is fearless when he runs at defenders and it's that sort of attacking intent that United are so often lacking.
After a disappointing first season under Mourinho, Martial began this season with a bang, despite often featuring from the bench. He scored five goals in the opening nine games of the season, despite playing in eight of them and starting four. In January, Martial was voted player of the month by the fans thanks to three goals and two assists in five games, including a quality strike against Everton at Goodison Park. He ran directly to the travelling fans, kissing the United badge on his shirt, giving the indication he was happy at the club.
Yet in the 11 games that have followed the opening month of the year, Martial has started just three and hasn't scored any.
Football fans are quick to blame Mourinho for this, citing his inability to develop attacking talents, but it would be unfair to suggest Martial's waning form is entirely of the manager's doing. Let's not forget that of the six years Eden Hazard has been in England, his best season came when playing for Mourinho. Arjen Robben, Mesut Ozil and Joe Cole are further players who thrived under this manager too -- all of them having spoken about how hard they were pushed by Mourinho, but also the gratitude they feel for the impact he had on their development.
Mourinho demands so much from these sorts of players, which is too much for some, while praising the likes of Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay, which grates on sections of the fanbase.
"I am not the kind of guy who makes life easy for the great players," Mourinho said in 2013, at the start of his second stint with Chelsea. "This kind of player is the last I praise. You have to praise the guys who play to their limits, who give everything. Don't get me wrong, I still prefer the top players, the guys who win you matches and make the difference. But if they are 'great', they have to give more than the others."
Martial isn't a great player yet but he potentially is, which is something some United fans are already growing tired of his supporters clinging on to. He has shown great promise and at 22 he's entitled to be inconsistent. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney have made it look easy from that age but there are many more forwards who weren't setting the world alight at Martial's age.
But if the Frenchman wants to do well for Mourinho, he will have to show there is more to him than his dazzling footwork and incredible speed at which he runs at opponents.
"A creative player has to use his ability and, if he loses the ball trying to create or score a goal, no problem," Mourinho continued. "If he's just having fun, though, and loses the ball in midfield and then doesn't defend, and the team concede, that's a problem. These guys have to go out there to produce, not have fun or look to humiliate an opponent, putting the ball through their legs."
Sound familiar? Mourinho said this five years ago when discussing the likes of Cole and Hazard, but he may as well be talking about Martial.
Reports from France have suggested that the Frenchman has grown tired with his lack of playing time, with new signing Alexis Sanchez taking his place on the left side, and that he has rejected the offer of a five-year contract.
Antoine Griezmann and Gareth Bale are two players who have been repeatedly linked with a move to United and they have five and six years, respectively, on Martial. Some fans claim that Martial could be good enough to compete for the Ballon d'Or in a few years' time, but Mourinho wants the finished article -- which is why the club sanctioned the transfer and huge salary for 29-year-old Sanchez.
The club can claim they have one eye on the future, and they always will do with the development of academy players to the first-team a founding principle at United, but the club needs a title or Champions League trophy now.
Yet if capturing an already developed world-class talent for the sake of a season or two comes at the cost of losing such a young and exciting talent, there will be a split response from the fanbase. Some support the manager regardless of his decisions, others are prepared to take success at any cost, while many would be devastated to see Martial leave.
Martial would be wise to give himself at least one more season at United before making any big decisions over his future. It's understandable that he will be frustrated, but he could be a huge success at United and could win the trophies he craves.
He just needs to show patience, a greater desire to learn and improve and, ultimately, to do as Mourinho says. If his situation is no better next summer, then a decision would be more obvious, but he has to dig in for now and prove to the manager what he is capable of, not throw in the towel.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.