Anthony Martial has been backed to rediscover his best form and prove he is a match for as £100million-rated Kylian Mbappe, writes David McDonnell in Los Angeles .
Striker Martial enjoyed a sparkling debut campaign, plundering 17 goals following his £36m move from Monaco to Manchester United in August 2015. But the France striker’s form suffered last season and his managed only eight goals.
United boss Jose Mourinho publicly criticised the forward’s perceived lack of focus and application, with the 21-year-old linked with a move away even before last week’s £75m capture of Everton top scorer Romelu Lukaku.
But former United defender and compatriot Mikael Silvestre believes Martial will prove his value and claimed he can perform at the same level as his Monaco successor, prodigy Mbappe.
“When you reach that level and you then have a difficult time, you bounce back, because you’re a competitor,” said Silvestre.
“Anthony has reached the level of Manchester United and the French national team, so I think he will improve his game to perform at least at the same level as the first season.
“The turning point for me was the Euros in France. He was substituted in one game, he’d had a difficult first half, and after that he didn’t play any more. Sometimes, when you take a slap to the back of the head, it’s difficult to bounce back, and all season he was trying to get back to his best.
“But his character is a good one, so I think he’ll answer the critics and do better.”
Martial has impressed Silvestre in the opening training sessions of United’s US tour on the UCLA college campus here, ahead of the opening fixture against MLS side LA Galaxy (in the early hours of Sunday UK time).
Asked if Martial was at the same level as Mbappe, Silvestre said: “Definitely. Every time he touches the ball, even out here in training, you can sense the danger.
“Defenders… I wouldn’t say they’re afraid, but you don’t dive into a challenge when you’re facing Anthony, because he can go left or right, and beat you with speed.”
Silvestre also suggested Martial was intimidated by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and has had that burden lifted now the veteran striker – who was released after suffering a serious injury – is no longer around.
“Zlatan’s aura was big, his character, his ego, and what he was spreading around him was sometimes intimidating for the younger players,” said Silvestre.
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“But also it gives you an example to follow, so it was good to have him around.”
Mourinho employed his familiar tough love approach with Martial last season, publicly calling him out in a bid to ensure the young striker regained his best form.
Silvestre is convinced Mourinho’s approach worked, claiming Martial was more focused and produced a better work ethic in the wake of his manager’s public rebukes.
“I don’t know him well enough to say if it’s more love or a tougher style that he needs, but young players… I was the same – need to be told the truth, so you work harder the next day,” said Silvestre. “But I think it did [work]. He worked harder, he tried to stay focused on the pitch for 90 minutes.
“There was also talk about him leaving the club, but he came out and said ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to try to impose myself here’. That shows the character and the type of person he is, so I’m hopeful for next season.”
Silvestre also believes United’s world-record £89m signing Paul Pogba will become an even more influential figure in midfield next season.
“He came after a long season for Juventus, then he played at the Euros with France and got injured, so he had to catch up with the rest of the squad,” said Silvestre. “When he signed, the price tag was extra pressure on him, so I think he’s responded well.
“Obviously there’s room for improvement, because we haven’t seen him have his best season.But I’m hopeful that on the back of a good rest and full preparation with the rest of the squad, he’ll have a better season.”