The Anthony Martial Saga and Another Detour in the Monaco Project

The Principality has been an awfully busy place this summer, but no deal Monaco have made is bigger than this one. At the time of this writing, Anthony Martial looks like he’ll be the most expensive French teenager in the history of football as he closes in on a move to Manchester United. There are conflicting reports about the number in question: the British media is reporting that the deal is worth around €49 million while the French media is reporting it’s more like €80 million.

Holy. Shit. These are exorbitant numbers for many players, but even more so for a 19-year-old who just completed his first “real” season in Ligue 1 (real as in he played more than 1000 minutes in the league). The price tag is a reflection of multiple things at work:

  1. United were desperate for a striker and Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward waited until the end of the window to find one;
  2. The market for decently-profiled strikers as a whole today is very scarce (just look at the holding pattern Napoli have had with Higuaín over the last two years);
  3. Monaco are well positioned enough financially to demand these types of fees despite missing out on the Champions League;
  4. Martial’s ceiling is the next Thierry Henry. I typically am not a fan of every French winger-turned-striker earning a comparison to Henry, but Martial in fairness could be that good. He’s certainly further along in his development than fellow Henry protégé Alexandre Lacazette was at age 19.

It’s certainly shocking to see this happen so quickly with Monaco and Man United, but English interest in Martial is hardly a new thing. Tottenham sniffed around Martial and that turned into Monaco handing Martial a renewal (Spurs gonna Spur). There were faint rumors about Chelsea preparing a bid for Martial as well but that never amounted to anything. To see how quickly this happened is pretty amazing and once again demonstrates how hilariously insane the transfer window is.

Again, I hate the idea of comparing every winger who’s converted into a striker to Thierry Henry, because it’s pretty lazy analysis and it does a disservice to how good Henry was. But Martial is that exciting a prospect. He possesses an impressive athletic build for a 19-year-old and he can play any position in the attacking midfield if necessary.  He had a solid season last year at age 18-19 in a notoriously slower-paced, defensive league in Ligue 1:

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For large stretches of last season, Monaco were bad as an attacking team. It was a mishmash of old and young talent failing to find a competent game plan in attack. By around February, they started to settle as a counter attacking side that leveraged the pace and directness of Martial and Yannick Ferrera Carrasco with the clever movements of Bernardo Silva. Monaco finished the season ranking tied for fifth in shots coming on the counter and tied for third in goals scored in those situations. The fact that Martial produced at the rate he did given the circumstances is impressive.

Man United have a lot of money all the money. Between the money they get for their commercial brand, their kit deal with Adidas, the EPL TV money and the fact they’re fricking Manchester United, they decided that it’s a chance worth taking to pay a lot of money for a potential generational talent. And if Martial fails? His struggles wouldn’t cripple the club.

More than anything, Martial will give United the type of dynamism in attack that they’ve sorely missed. A combination of him and Memphis, with the likes of Ander Herrera and Juan Mata feeding them on the counter could return United to some semblance of the Sir Alex Ferguson days of the mid-late 2000’s. Yes, this is still contingent on LVG loosening the strings on the club’s attack, but perhaps he’s just been waiting for a striker to do it with.

There’s also the fact that United have needed a striker who can get in behind an opponent’s backline since Robin Van Persie’s heyday, and Martial could certainly do that in abundance. Wayne Rooney has fluctuated between “very good” and “great” over his career, but he’s at a point where he just no longer has the athletic ability to get in behind a defense on a consistent basis. Yes, some of that is due to the constrictive nature of van Gaal’s system, but it’s also that Rooney has been playing professional football since 2002. He’s old in football years. There’s no shame in him having a slowly-reduced role but maintaining a solid standard of play.

Of course there’s the chance that Martial is a flop and turns out to be one of the worst signings in United’s history. Whatever the final number is on Martial, it’s a staggering amount of money for a guy who has had one solid season as a professional. United with this deal give off the appearance that they rushed to find another striker besides Rooney. It’s also a gamble that his potential will make that point more or less moot.

Where this leaves Monaco is anyone’s guess. From the sales of Aymen Abdennour and Layvin Kurzawa combined with Martial, Monaco could accumulate somewhere in the region of €135 million on those three alone. It’s insane. Yes, there are real arguments to be made that Monaco should’ve kept Kurzawa, let alone sell him to PSG. On a pure monetary note, however, it’s incredible business from Monaco. Martial cost €5 million in the summer of 2013 because Lyon couldn’t keep him, as they failed to offload their higher paid talents. Kurzawa came from the youth academy. Abdennour was a loan deal from Toulouse that eventually became a permanent deal.

The problem Monaco now face this season is while it’s great that they have this money generated from the transfers of those players, the team as currently constructed is very flawed and Monaco need to be in the Champions League next season to keep this new “buy young wingers and sell them for big profits” project going. Guido Carrillo and Lacina Traoré are the options at striker right now, and that’s pretty poor unless Carrillo becomes something. Ricardo Carvalho and Andrea Raggi are a combined 1000 years old. Fabio Coentrão and Elderson Echiéjilé are a significant downgrade from Kurzawa and a midfield trio needs to be sorted out.

Despite all this, Monaco through four games this season have been one of the best teams in Ligue 1 in terms of creating chances. They rank third in expected goals for, third in danger shots for and first in big chances created. Monaco also rank dead last in both expected goals conceded and danger zone shots conceded while ranking tied for 17th in big chances conceded. Monaco could return to being a purely defensive and drab side that hammer out 1-0 wins, but that might not even be attainable. The combination of the attacking midfielders they have stocked up combined with the losses of Abdennour and Geoffrey Kondogbia make it really tough. Perhaps they simply remain the counterattacking side we say from February through May last season but with a dodgier defense.

This is one of the crazier deals in recent memory for all the things involved. It’s a huge gamble by Manchester United but one that could pay huge dividends for the club if Martial fulfills his potential. Martial is an exciting prospect who, at his current stage of development, helps United right away. Monaco’s project has take another detour with the sales they’ve made this summer, and what’s left is a talented but incomplete side that’ll find it harder to finish in the top three in 2015-16.

Gotta love Deadline Day!

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About Moesquare

Marseille supporter, #FancyStats supporter. Troller of all things Twitter. I write words and hope they make me sound SMRT
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