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Why Anthony Martial Is the Man Manchester United Can't Afford to Lose in Summer

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2016

Manchester United fans and players celebrate after Martial's late winner at Wembley on Saturday.
Manchester United fans and players celebrate after Martial's late winner at Wembley on Saturday.ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

There are, in truth, two players in the Manchester United squad the club needs to keep hold of this summer: Anthony Martial and David De Gea. Of the two, though, it is holding on to the brilliant young Frenchman that is most crucial to the Red Devils.

That might run contrary to received wisdom.

After all, the counterargument reads De Gea is closer to being the finished article than Martial. He is—while the term is generally ephemeral and hard to pin down—truly worthy of the label world-class. In this case, the usage is based on the fact almost any team in the world would be improved by his presence.

That might not yet be the case for Martial, but there are two key reasons why—were push to come to shove—it should be he United keep on their books.

De Gea celebrates Martial's goal.
De Gea celebrates Martial's goal.Tim Ireland/Associated Press

The first is about the PR of the thing. De Gea's presence at United is a bonus. It should have been all over; there should have been a season of getting used to having Keylor Navas between the sticks at Old Trafford. The Costa Rican told Cadena COPE he got as far as the airport last summer before learning he would be staying in Madrid after all (h/t the Press Association, via the Guardian). 

Thus, if United lost De Gea this summer, they could at least take comfort from the fact he stayed for one more year—a year in which he made a telling contribution.

The superb season Navas has enjoyed for Real Madrid—as Tim Collins recently covered for Bleacher Report—is the second key reason the prospect of losing De Gea is less threatening, particularly if last summer's move is resurrected and Navas travels in the other direction. The drop in quality would hardly be precipitous.

Indeed, in an AS survey in March, 79 per cent of Madrid fans voted in favour of keeping Navas rather than investing in De Gea.

Losing Martial, though, would feel like the kind of hammer blow losing De Gea would have been last summer.

Chris Smalling @ChrisSmalling

That feeling when @martial_9 saves the day and your heading to the final 🙌🏽🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴 @ManUtd @EmiratesFACup #MUFC https://t.co/cqIHygK65G

The France international has been a shining light in a long, dull season. His winner in the 93rd minute of the FA Cup semi-final against Everton at Wembley on Saturday sparked jubilant scenes, and United fans sang a song in his honour long after the final whistle.

As fans spilled out of the stadium and congregated to celebrate, it was the late-goal hero they saluted.

It was his 14th goal of the season in all competitions. In addition, he has seven United assists to his name—as well as one for AS Monaco that predates his summer deadline-day transfer and three for his national team, per WhoScored.com

That would be a thoroughly decent contribution for an established star wide forward. For a player who was 19 when the season began—for whom this is his first campaign on the world stage in earnest—it is outstanding.

Martial has the potential to become a symbol for United's re-emergence from the fall that followed Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013. While Louis van Gaal has got a great deal wrong during his time in charge, he has begun to build an attack around young and talented forwards who could be talismanic during the next era of the club's history.

Van Gaal and Martial celebrate after United's FA Cup semi-final victory.
Van Gaal and Martial celebrate after United's FA Cup semi-final victory.Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press/Associated Press

To lose Martial now would be a huge blow to that project.

Football being what it is, new heroes would emerge. But given his huge talent, how effective he already is and what that tells us about what he could become, holding on to Martial for the next few years should be priority No. 1 for the Red Devils hierarchy.

They simply cannot afford to lose him this summer.

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