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Transfer Rater: Boateng to Manchester United

Football Whispers

Anthony Martial emerging from shadows after Mourinho's tough love

There were more than a few disappointed Manchester United fans on Sunday when the starting lineup for the game against West Ham was announced.

Anthony Martial was overlooked by Jose Mourinho, despite enjoying a positive preseason, suggesting he had still yet to find his way in to his manager's good books.

However, after coming off the bench for the final 10 minutes, Martial managed to score one and assist another when setting up Paul Pogba's goal in the 4-0 win.

While there are plenty of things for United fans to get excited about following their opening victory -- from Nemanja Matic's outstanding debut to Romelu Lukaku scoring twice -- and Martial's cameo was certainly up there with the highlights.

The fanbase have a soft spot for him following his first season at the club, signed for a potential £50 million by Louis van Gaal when he was largely unknown in world football. The headlines mocking Martial as a waste of money, before he had even kicked a ball for United, were quickly incorporated in to a chant.

Martial found himself deserving of his own song after coming off the bench to score a vital goal against Liverpool on his debut to make it 3-1.

"Tony Martial he came from France, the English press said he had no chance, £50 million down the drain, Tony Martial scores again."

This song became associated with one of the best moments for United fans since Sir Alex Ferguson retired -- Martial's injury-time goal at Wembley against Everton to put his team in the FA Cup final in 2016.

There have been better moments since then, like Jesse Lingard's extra-time thunderbolt to win it against Crystal Palace in the final, Zlatan Ibrahimovic rising to meet Ander Herrera's cross to win the EFL Cup, as well as the hugely important victory in the Europa League final to book United's spot in this season's Champions League.

But that Martial goal was the first massive occasion that gave fans a taste of what life supporting United used to be like. Thousands poured outside Wembley, bouncing around, singing Martial's song and continuing it on the coaches home.

United were awful to watch in 2015-16 but Martial, with his 17 goals in his first season, provided a rare flash of hope. He is a brilliantly gifted player and played with so much confidence. No defence overawed him. Before Marcus Rashford made his debut in February, Martial was about the only thing that had United fans on their feet.

Yet his second season was anticlimactic. He missed out on preseason thanks to France reaching the final of the Euro 2016 and his personal life came under scrutiny.

Who knows what was going on behind the scenes, but Mourinho clearly was not impressed. Martial's performances often weren't good enough, but some players would play badly yet still keep their place in the team. The Frenchman could play brilliantly yet still get dropped for the next game.

Mourinho is famed for his tough-love approach, with Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Frenchman on the manager's hit list last term. The latter forced his way in to the starting lineup by the end of the season and scored in the Europa League final against Ajax. The jury is still out on Shaw, but it appears as though Mourinho's cold stance on Martial is thawing.

Anthony Martial impressed during his cameo as Manchester United opened with a 4-0 win over West Ham.

Following a top performance against Real Madrid in a preseason friendly, Mourinho was full of praise for Martial, but insisted he needed performances like that on a more consistent basis.

Having endured reports all summer that United were prepared to let Martial leave on loan to secure the Ivan Perisic signing, which would have been a truly disastrous decision, there was a huge sigh of relief when his shot against West Ham found the back of the net.

Of course, if Martial goes on to recreate the form of his first season, Mourinho will take the credit. Maybe there's no harm in making Martial mentally tougher. He will almost certainly have difficult times in his career ahead and if he's better equipped to work through them, that is surely a positive thing.

Martial keeps his emotions under control, though. There are a handful of occasions where he has allowed the moment to get the better of him and burst with happiness, like when he dived into the Wembley crowd after his goal against Everton.

Phil Jones was spotted telling Martial to "smile" following his goal against West Ham. Hopefully he was just messing around and hasn't fallen victim to the bizarre take that Martial has to look happier when he plays. Smiling won't make him any better. He's allowed to celebrate how he likes.

United supporters will be hoping he has plenty more reason to celebrate in the season ahead. Martial has the potential to be a superb player and it would be a mark against Mourinho's record if he's unable to allow that potential to be realised.

The start couldn't have got much better. Now Martial needs to do whatever he can on and off the pitch to prove to Mourinho he deserves to be in the team.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.


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