Anthony Martial transfer: Martial arts not in doubt but £36m is huge gamble by Manchester United

Frenchman has pace, power and skill but, as with all teenagers, it is hard to know how he will develop

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When Manchester United signed Radamel Falcao from Monaco this time last year, they paid a £6m loan fee while covering his £265,000 per week wages. That gamble did not pay off, as Falcao struggled for form and fitness and scored just four goals for Louis van Gaal’s side.

At the end of this window, in far greater need of striking reinforcements than they were last year, United have gone back to the Principality to take an even greater gamble. While Falcao was a proven striker, if past his peak following a knee injury, Anthony Martial is a very different prospect.

The £36m fee – more than United paid for Luke Shaw last year – makes Martial the most expensive teenager in the history of British football. It is a remarkable sum of money for a player who does not turn 20 until December and who has scored only 11 senior Ligue 1 goals. Martial is certainly talented and has been compared, in terms of his talents and his style, to a young Thierry Henry.

There is no doubt, from watching Manchester United this season, that they need a player with some of Martial’s characteristics. He is quick and can play out wide or as a centre forward, always stretching opponents with his runs in behind. He is technically excellent, a dangerous dribbler, efficient in tight spaces and a good finisher.

After the departures of Falcao and Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez’s proposed deal to Bayer Leverkusen, United do need far more in their front line. Despite Wayne Rooney’s hat-trick in Bruges last Wednesday, he has struggled for form in the Premier League and cannot be expected to lead the line – at least not very effectively – in all competitions all season.

How quickly Martial will settle, and how well he will develop, are the £36m questions. There are not many guaranteed strikers on the market and if United wanted Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema or Edinson Cavani they would have had to pay a similar fee, and probably before 31 August. United, then, are left hoping that Martial will grow and develop into the role, becoming a world-class forward, justifying his fee or even worth more than it.

That is the calculation that Monaco made two years ago, which in this case has been emphatically rewarded. Back in the summer of 2013, when Monaco were spending more than £100m on Falcao, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho and the rest, they also spent smaller sums on talented youngsters. Among those was Martial, then a 17-year-old on the fringes of Lyon’s first team, who they signed for £3m.

Martial made steady progress in his first year at Monaco under Claudio Ranieri, starting eight league games and scoring twice. In the summer of 2014, though, Ranieri was replaced by Leonardo Jardim, whose work with youngsters at Sporting Lisbon had impressed Monaco.

Jardim trusted Martial, a teenager of growing maturity since becoming a father, and Monaco’s youngsters rewarded their coach with an impressive season. Martial scored nine league goals as Monaco finished third in Ligue 1. In Europe, Monaco reached the Champions League quarter-finals, and it was Martial’s powerful run down the left wing which set up Dimitar Berbatov when Monaco famously won 3-1 at Arsenal in the last-16. Martial can drift out of games, but he is also capable of delivering decisive moments.

This summer Monaco lost their Champions League qualification game with Valencia, sending them into the Europa League and prompting another sale of their youngsters. Layvin Kurzawa, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Lucas Ocampos, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and others have gone, but Monaco have brought in more than £100m in transfer fees. That Martial signed a contract extension in June, to deter £18m interest from Tottenham, has been long forgotten.

Martial leaves Monaco with just one full season of first-team senior football under his belt. He has performed well there, and those who know him best believe that he may well develop into one of the best strikers in Europe. Martial has the pace, strength and skill to do that, and if he learns the consistency and application required then soon enough he will be worth at least what Manchester United are paying for him.

But when it comes to teenagers there are few guarantees, and United have left themselves in a position, at the end of August, when a gamble is their only option.