Why Anthony Martial Will Be Manchester United's Player to Watch in 2016

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2016

Martial's team-mates congratulate him on his goal against Swansea.
Martial's team-mates congratulate him on his goal against Swansea.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Anthony Martial is an easy choice for Manchester United's player to watch in 2016.

His signing came as a huge surprise. In a summer rife with transfer rumours that linked United with the great and the good of world football, Martial's name never came up. And if it had, only those paying close attention to European football would have been familiar with it.

He faced Premier League opposition when Monaco played Arsenal in the Champions League last season, and of course, there were plenty of Ligue 1 watchers aware of him. However, when Wayne Rooney asked Morgan Schneiderlin who Martial was, per the Manchester Evening News, he was not alone in needing clarification.

Now everyone who pays attention to football knows who Martial is. His debut goal announced him in spectacular fashion as he danced through Liverpool's defence en route to a Thierry Henry-esque side-foot finish.

He followed that impressive cameo with a line-leading performance away at PSV Eindhoven, which seemed to indicate his impact against Liverpool had not been an adrenaline-fuelled fluke. As the season has progressed, it has become clear Martial is the real deal.

Martial and Rooney in training.
Martial and Rooney in training.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Sadly for United fans, he has been the bright spot in an otherwise very dull season in front of goal. Rooney's remarkable backheeled effort against Swansea City on Saturday aside, there has not been much to cheer about of late. A lot of what there has been to get excited over has been of Martial's doing.

None of the rest of United's attackers have captured fans' imaginations this season. Although 2016 could be a year of improved form for Rooney or, say, Juan Mata, to select them as players to watch would have much less of a basis than Martial in terms of their current performance levels.

There is a chance a breakout star could emerge from United's crop of younger players. Andreas Pereira has shown flashes of promise and Jesse Lingard has broken into first-team contention, but neither has made the impact Martial has.

There is also an argument one of the Red Devils' defensive players could be selected here. Chris Smalling has shown consistent form throughout the season, and United will need him to continue doing so as the year unfolds.

David De Gea's apparent ability to rewrite the future and stop shots from becoming goals even when the forces of destiny make it seem certain they will is always worth watching. However, choosing a goalkeeper—even a goalkeeper of De Gea's breathtaking quality—seems a little defeatist.

And in spite of the lack of magic dust around the feet of the rest of United's attack, Martial is a standout reason to pick a forward to watch. He is the definition of a player who gets fans on the edge of their seats, always happy to run at defenders and very often able to take the ball past them thanks to his spectacular close control.

Martial picks himself up off the floor against Swansea.
Martial picks himself up off the floor against Swansea.Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

There are encouraging signs in how he has coped with adversity, too. After something of a dry spell, he is scoring again—three goals in his past six games. He has shown he can make a substantial impact playing off the left flank, meaning Louis van Gaal can continue to shoehorn Rooney into his starting XI without Martial missing out on a first-team spot.

Barring injuries or an unforeseen drop in form, Martial should have a very big year ahead of him. He has taken to life at Manchester United with an apparent ease that is rarely seen. Indeed, so impressive has he been that United will likely need to improve their fortunes in order to hang on to the France international for the long haul.

If they do improve those fortunes, it seems likely Martial will have a big hand in that. He is, without question, United's player to watch in 2016.