Eyebrows were raised when Manchester United splashed out £36 million on Monaco forward Anthony Martial in the aftermath of their 2-1 defeat to Swansea City on Sunday.
The 19-year old Frenchman is a relative unknown quantity having made just 52 top-flight league appearances in his fledgling career, and the move is certainly one of the most intriguing transfers to have gone through this summer.
Now the most expensive teenager in the world – taking the title from his new Manchester United team-mate Luke Shaw – Martial started from humble beginnings. He grew up in the suburb of Massy in southern Paris and was spotted by scouts from the Olympique Lyonnais academy at the age of just 14.
Having settled in well as part of Lyon’s youth set-up, he made a name for himself in his second season in their under-17 team, netting 32 goals in 21 games and earning himself a place in the France squad for the European U-17 Championship in 2012.
Martial made his first Lyon appearance in December 2012, coming off the bench in their 2-0 victory over Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Europa League. His Ligue 1 bow came two months later against Ajaccio, and he made three appearances in total – all from the bench – over the course of the season.
Despite his lack of experience, Monaco parted with €5 million to sign Martial in the summer of 2013. The principality club are widely regarded to have the best scouting system in France, and it is believed that the attacker’s impressive displays for the country’s national youth teams persuaded them that he was worth investing in. Having seen his value increase tenfold in the space of just two years, they have been comprehensively proved right on that front.
Martial made his first appearance for Monaco in November 2013, replacing Radamel Falcao in an away win at Nantes. Just six days later, the youngster made his first start for the principality, scoring in a 2-0 win against Rennes at the Stade Louis II. The rest of his 2013/14 campaign was disrupted by injuries, and he finished with two goals in 11 appearances – enough to earn a contract extension that summer.
His breakthrough came last season, as he scored nine goals in 35 Ligue 1 appearances. His playing style has been likened to fellow countryman Thierry Henry, as his movement, close control and pace are his greatest strengths. Like the Arsenal legend, Martial is capable of playing wide or centrally, and can drift inside to devastating effect.
Henry, however, has cast doubt on the fee paid for Martial, describing the move as “a massive risk” and the fee itself as “mind-blowing”. The teenager is inconsistent and drifts in and out of games – a trait not uncommon amongst talented youngsters – whilst there are fears that he may lack the physical strength to find success in the Premier League.
To date his only impression on the English game came in last season’s Champions League last-16, in which he impressed on the left wing and set up the second goal for Dimitar Berbatov in Monaco’s surprise 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates. He also started the second leg, but was replaced after an hour.
Undoubtedly a talented player with bags of potential, it is yet to be seen how Martial will fit into the United XI. The most likely option is up front, as this will take the burden off Wayne Rooney, but a wide role is also a possibility. The forward will hope to make an instant impact at Old Trafford, as a place in the France squad at next summer’s European Championships will be within reach if he does so.