As usual during the mid-summer months, the talk surrounding Manchester United became increasingly incessant.
If it wasn’t the Alvaro Morata-Romelu Lukaku saga, it was Jose Mourinho signing Nemanja Matic from his former club Chelsea. There was even a bomb scare during their tour of Los Angeles.
But one of the most meaningful conversations that took place during pre-season happened away from prying eyes and nowhere near the glare of the media spotlight.
It was when Mourinho invited Anthony Martial for a chat about the Frenchman’s future at Manchester United in the wake of a disappointing campaign last season and yet more money being spent on the club’s attacking unit.
It was unclear where Martial, who started just 18 Premier League games last term, would fit into the first team at Old Trafford.
In many ways the 21-year-old has resembled a striker trapped in a winger’s body and Mourinho’s system, with Lukaku as the lone forward, was threatening to miss him out.
His explosive first campaign in England, when he scored 11 goals in 31 appearances including three in his first two Premier League games, was beginning to seem like an incredibly long time ago. In fact, it was not unthinkable that they would ship him out with reports indicating that both Tottenham and Inter Milan were interested in buying him.
But Mourinho and Martial’s heart-to-heart seems to have had the desired effect if two goals in two substitute appearances, totalling just 25 minutes, is anything to go by.
Mourinho said: “We had a conversation about the future he has here and I think he has a good connection on the pitch with Paul [Pogba], with Romelu.
“I think he’s coming. He’s growing in confidence and, of course, two periods off the bench and he’s scored two goals. For his confidence there’s nothing better.”
After coming on and scoring at West Ham in their opening game of the season, Martial once again made a firm impact from the bench at Swansea. United were 1-0 up thanks to Eric Bailly’s goal on the stroke of half time and reasonably in control when he was introduced 16 minutes from time, but it was his direct pace and power which turned a close victory into another rout.
He was instrumental in United’s second, driving forward before feeding Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who teed up Lukaku to score 10 minutes from time. Pogba made it three with a sumptuous dinked finish 78 seconds later before Martial himself got in on the act.
Again Lukaku and Pogba combined to release Martial, who drove at Alfie Mawson before cutting onto his right foot and steering beyond Lukasz Fabianski.
So will it become difficult for his manager to keep leaving the 21-year-old among the substitutes?
“No, no, no,” Mourinho said. “We are using him well and he’s coming with the right attitude.
“For me it’s simple, I cannot play Premier League, Champions League and cups with 11 players. I need a squad.
“Of course he wants to play, of course he wants to start, of course he wants to be selected for the national team, of course he wants to go to the World Cup.
“He is working well. Maybe that French-language little group we have – [Marouane] Fellaini, Paul, Lukaku – it’s a group where he’s very well integrated now. They bring him up and his professional level has improved. He is working much, much better.
“We are very happy. We have lots of hopes for him. He has to be happy now and he can only improve.”
That will also come as good news for the French national team, whose young squad could well blossom into another golden era for Les Bleus.
As well as Martial, they have Kylian Mbappe (18) and Ousmane Dembele (20) in their astonishingly promising frontline.
Eyebrows were raised when United spent a reported £36m to prise the little-known forward away from Monaco two years ago but, in the day of the £198m footballer, Martial could become one of the Premier League’s great bargains.
It is unlikely, however, that the same will be said of Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Icelandic midfielder who left Swansea for Everton last week in a staggering £45m deal.
Without their talisman, Swansea lacked any real craft in midfield here and struggled to create throughout. In fact, after failing to do so at Southampton on the opening weekend, Swansea are still waiting for a meaningful shot to hit the target this season.
Fabianski 6; Fernandez 6, Bartley 6 (Narsingh 66) , Mawson 5; Naughton 6, Fer 6, Mesa 6 (Routledge 66 6), Olsson 6; Carroll 5, Abraham 5 (McBurnie 82), Ayew 6.
Subs not used:
Van der Hoorn, Nordfeldt, Rangel, Fulton.
De Gea 6; Valencia 6, Bailly 7, Jones 6, Blind 6; Pogba 7, Matic 6; Mata 6 (Martial 74 7), Mkhitaryan 7 (Herrera 84 -), Rashford 6 (Fellaini 74 6); Lukaku 7.
Subs not used:
Lindelof, Smalling, Lingard, Romero.
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