DERBY DAY

Manch­ester ri­vals gear up for big day out

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON BURT

WHEN Daniel Levy called Ed Wood­ward dur­ing the sum­mer, the Manch­ester United ex­ec­u­tive vice-chair­man was ex­pect­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about whether his club were ever go­ing to make a bid for Toby Alder­weireld (they were not).

In­stead, the Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur chair­man was in­quir­ing if United were will­ing to sell Anthony Mar­tial, as he had heard was pos­si­ble. Levy also asked about Juan Mata, but Mar­tial was his No 1 tar­get. He got nowhere. Even though Jose Mour­inho wanted him out — and Mar­tial was de­ter­mined to leave — United were even more de­ter­mined not to sell some­one they still be­lieve can de­velop into one of the best play­ers in the world.

Spurs had hoped to se­cure Mar­tial in June 2015 for €25 mil­lion. Talks were pro­gress­ing well with Monaco for the then 19-year-old France un­der 21 in­ter­na­tional, ex­cept the deal did not hap­pen.

Monaco re­sisted of­fers un­til United signed Mar­tial that sum­mer, on trans­fer dead­line day, for an in­cred­i­ble fee that could rise to €80m.

“It was the fi­nal days of the trans­fer pe­riod and I sat down with [the then-Monaco coach Leonardo] Jardim and said, ‘Look, this is the of­fer’ and he said, ‘It hap­pens at the wrong time be­cause there’s no time to re­place him, but I fully un­der­stand you can­not turn it down’,” re­called Monaco vice-pres­i­dent Vadim Vasi­lyev. “To make it hap­pen it had to be some­thing ex­cep­tional. And it was.”

That fee, and the ex­pec­ta­tion around Mar­tial af­ter he scored a won­der goal against Liver­pool on his United de­but, have weighed heav­ily on him. He is a player who craves an arm around the shoul­der, some­thing Mour­inho has ap­peared loath to of­fer. He would have pre­ferred to have sold Mar­tial if it meant he could bring in a more durable, ex­pe­ri­enced player, such as Ivan Perisic from In­ter Mi­lan.

Mar­tial even be­came the only United player fined by the man­ager, af­ter go­ing ab­sent with­out leave dur­ing the tour to the United States to at­tend the birth of his son.

Things have un­doubt­edly changed. The like­li­hood is that, with an op­tion for one more year af­ter this sea­son, Mar­tial will sign a new deal. Maybe he has rea­soned he will out­last Mour­inho, maybe his re­la­tion­ship with the man­ager is bet­ter. Maybe both — and the fact United are adamant he will stay — have con­vinced him.

The most im­por­tant thing is that Mar­tial is just 22 and it ap­pears United have looked at prece­dent. Kevin De Bruyne left Chelsea un­der Mour­inho, as did Mo­hamed Salah. Both were a sim­i­lar age to Mar­tial, but Mour­inho wanted tried and tested play­ers. Mar­tial could be United’s equiv­a­lent if he were to leave.

With five goals in six games, Mar­tial is per­form­ing far bet­ter. Maybe Mour­inho’s ap­proach has worked, al­though he ap­pears to have soft­ened his stance.

“It was hard work with peo­ple like Luke Shaw and Anthony Mar­tial, for ex­am­ple, be­cause, for th­ese tal­ented play­ers to come to the level they are, it is a process,” Mour­inho said, which is maybe part of a re­al­i­sa­tion that he is not go­ing to catch the likes of Manch­ester City any time soon.

His form has earned Mar­tial an in­ter­na­tional re­call. “I hope he’s see­ing the im­por­tance he’s taken in Manch­ester,” said France coach Di­dier Deschamps, who did not take him to the World Cup. “It depends only on him, he can de­velop a lot more, he has to do it and has to change a lot of things to get reg­u­lar per­for­mances through a whole sea­son, or even sev­eral sea­sons.”

That tal­lies with Mour­inho’s think­ing. Mar­tial has power and pace, an abil­ity to beat op­po­nents and the skill of mak­ing dif­fi­cult fin­ishes look easy.

He does not work hard enough off the ball — the sta­tis­tics show he runs far less than Eden Hazard, Raheem Ster­ling or Sa­dio Mane, for ex­am­ple — which will an­noy Mour­inho, whose as­sess­ment that Mar­tial needs to de­velop from be­ing a “top talent” into a “top player” is right.

United are in­creas­ingly hope­ful it will hap­pen with them. Tele­graph

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