Jose Mourinho has heaped praise on Anthony Martial for notably improving his work rate at Manchester United over the last few months after the Frenchman once again dazzled against Swansea City.
Martial enjoyed a superb opening campaign at Old Trafford under Louis van Gaal, claiming 17 goals and almost always posing the most potent threat in an otherwise languid set-up going forward. But he initially struggled under Mourinho. He begun the 2016/17 season featuring in the starting XI but, following a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, looked painfully out of sorts, unable to harass defenders with his direct style as he struggled to adapt to the Portuguese’s new demands of a winger – something pointed out by the boss in November.
By April, the Frenchman continued to lurk on the periphery, and rumours of a move away started to hang over his head. And Mourinho, just like with Luke Shaw, felt the need to publicly point out that, in terms of work rate, Martial wasn’t giving him enough.
“The same way I know the players much better now, the players should know me much better,” he said. “Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes, I think. But he needs to give me things that I like.”
This aroused something in Martial. Against Burnley less than a week later he starred in a 2-0 win, scoring United’s opener and, crucially, making more sprints than anybody else on the pitch. Gary Neville made him ‘Man of the Match’. Another dedicated performance came against Manchester City not long after.
By pre-season, you could tell something had shifted. Martial, especially against Real Madrid and Sampdoria, was an effervescent force on the left hand side, tracking back well and taking on defenders at will. And this only continued once the Premier League season kicked off. The Frenchman has been lethal, claiming two goals and an assist in just 25 minutes against West Ham United and Swansea City. There is, without doubt, a renewed sense of cold determination running through his veins. And Mourinho has taken note of it.
“We had a conversation about his future here,” Mourinho said. “All positive. We’re using him well and he has the right attitude. His confidence is growing. Two periods, scoring two goals – it’s good for his confidence.”
“His professional level has improved, he’s working much, much better,” he said. “That French language little group we have – [Marouane] Fellaini, Paul [Pogba], [Romelu] Lukaku – it’s a group he’s very well integrated with. Of course he wants to play, he wants to start, he wants to be selected for the national team and go to the World Cup. For me it’s simple: I can’t play in the Champions League, Premier League and cups with 11 players. I need a squad.”