Manchester United’s alleged £36m fee for French youngster Anthony Martial has been the real talking point so far as the transfer window draws to a close. It’s an emphatic fee for an unproven player - one that could rise by a further £22m if rumours are to be believed - but it is also one that does not address a significant problem at the Theatre of Dreams.
Louis van Gaal is not a man who likes his players to drift in and out of different positions, or ‘cross between the lines’ as Gary Neville likes to say. He wants his wingers to be wingers and his strikers to be strikers. Well, this is where the Martial deal looks all the more strange.
Ignoring the extortionate transfer fee, (we know that’s kind of hard) the 19-year-old is simply not an out-and-out number nine.
Wayne Rooney has struggled in the lone striker role. He is a man shackled, and a shackled Rooney is not good for himself or his team. The England captain is at his best when is rampant, charging all over the pitch, dropping into pockets, working the channels, all things that the manager is asking him not to do.
Martial, much like Rooney, is not the sort of forward to stick to the middle of the pitch and constantly engage central defenders. He has been compared to Thierry Henry in his homeland, and the Arsenal legend was not one to hold his position. Henry, a winger-turned-striker, much like his compatriot, was famed for drifting out to the left and using his excellent dribbling ability to get at full-backs, as well as centre halves.
Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim has used Martial out wide on numerous occasions and he likes to drop deeper to run at defences. So, will he even play as a number nine for the Red Devils? With Adnan Januzaj being allowed to leave there’s a high probability that the Frenchman will be used on the flanks rather than through the middle.
That means that the north-west club must sign a striker by the end of the day. Even if Van Gaal wishes to persist with Rooney as his focal point, to only have two teenagers, in the shape of Martial and James Wilson, as understudies would be immensely naïve from such an experienced manager.
It is surely worth investing £15m in a player such as Charlie Austin. The QPR striker was a major hit in the top-flight last term and it seems completely bizarre that no one has come in for his signature, or met Rangers’ valuation.
Only three players found the net more times than Austin in the division last year. Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Diego Costa all play for clubs who ended the season in the top five, while all would command fees somewhere in excess of £40m, if not £50m. Austin is available at a third of that valuation and scored 18 times for a team who were downright awful for much of the campaign. Imagine what he could do in a team creating more chances.
Is it a case of snobbery from the bigger teams? It may well be so. It’s just not fashionable to take a player that doesn’t operate in Europe’s elite band of clubs, but that is totally illogical. When a club does take the plunge, especially on an attacking player, the signing is scoffed at.
Take Danny Ings transfer to Liverpool as an example. He joined from Burnley for an extremely reasonable fee after reaching double figures in his first season at the highest level. At just 23 he has years ahead of him and offers options right across the forward line. The signing made sense, yet it was met with childish denouncement when he arrived at Anfield. Interestingly, he was impressive off teh bench in an otherwise dire display from the Reds at the weekend.
It’s hard to think of a player who fits the bill more for United than Austin. He’s a genuine number nine, is at a good age and most importantly would jump at the chance to join the Old Trafford setup. Even so, it is very unlikely that a deal will be done for him, a real shame for both the player and the club. It’s an opportunity, and a relatively cheap one at that, that could bear fruit for both parties.
If Wilson is to depart on loan, which seems to be the case, then surely Van Gaal has to move to bring in a striker. It would be refreshing if he opted to break the modern mould of pretentiousness and hand over the money for the QPR centre forward.
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