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Martial time? Why Man Utd No9 has never had it so good

COMMENT: So he's it. No competition. No threat of the axe. Indeed, it's the opposite. For Anthony Martial, there's never been a time when Manchester United have needed him more...

As far as strikers go. As far as finishing the chances United's midfield make. Martial is indeed it. With the pessimists writing off Marcus Rashford for the remainder of the season, Martial is as good as it gets. That number on the back of his shirt suddenly takes on genuine significance. United are in dire need of a No9. Never have they needed the man who occupies the shirt as much as they do now.

This is his time - his chance - to make good on those words older brother Dorian declared almost five years ago. A future captain, insisted Dorian. Of both club and country, he vowed. And at 24 and into his fifth year as a United player, the club needs Martial to step up and embrace the responsibility he has as a veteran of this team.

"Anthony has all the qualities needed to be Manchester United and France captain," declared Dorian barely days after his kid brother had cleaned out his locker at AS Monaco.

"My little brother isn't someone who will shout at all the players around him. He doesn't need to because he speaks with his incredible skills.

"Anthony is a talisman and has the ego and personality on the pitch to be a captain of Manchester United and even France."

Five years on and for some, this prediction appears fanciful. Indeed, for this column, no matter what Martial does between now and June, there'll always be some big name critics there to pick holes in the Frenchman's game. Grabbing a terrific header at Club Brugge, setting his team on the way to victory at Chelsea, for anyother player, Martial would be celebrated up and down the country. Problem is, for many of those paid to talk about the game, they've invested too much in a reputation of Martial being surly, sulky and lazy. Where Mohamed Salah's tapered work off the ball is seen as a bonus for Liverpool, Martial - even when he gets on the scoresheet - is slated for the same.

Fortunately, he has a manager who believes in him. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer working regularly one-on-one with Martial. The manager rebuilding not only the player's confidence and self-belief, but also his game. Solskjaer confirming what Carrington sources had told earlier this season - Martial's approach has had to be deconstructed and rebuilt. The Norwegian sees his No9 as just that... a central striker. Predecessor Jose Mourinho favoured using the France international on the flank, but Solskjaer, as soon as he took charge some 14 months ago, saw something completely different in Martial. But it's been a process. A long process. Even with Martial embracing the methods of his manager, it's still taking time to eliminate those winger instincts driven into him by Mourinho and before the Portuguese, Louis van Gaal.

"I'm encouraged by his attitude this season," said Solskjaer after Martial's clever header in Brugge last week. "He wants to do those things that are not natural for him.

"You've got to make him a No 9 again after playing wide for so many years."

So a lazy trainer? Give us a break. A selfish player? Again, the efforts highlighted by Solskjaer state otherwise. But United - today - need more from Martial than simply meeting the expectations of any decent Premier League pro.

Can he be that leader Dorian predicted? Can he be someone his manager can rely upon? A senior pro on the pitch others can look to when in trouble? This is what we'll learn in the coming weeks and months about Martial.

With Rashford sidelined, Odion Ighalo finding his feet and Mason Greenwood still too raw to lead United's line, Martial knows he is now United's prime No9. It's a dream fulfilled. A reason why he chose to quit ASM for United all those years ago.

A supportive manager. A guaranteed starting place - in his favoured position. And an almost desperate need around the club for him to succeed. Martial has never had it so good.

United's No9 has never been so needed as he is now. It's just a question of how Anthony Martial plans to run with it.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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