Deadline day is happening right now and even though it hasn´t been announced yet, Man United are expected to confirm the signing of Anthony Martial from AS Monaco before the actual deadline. There´s been some variation in the quoted transfer fees, but the consenseus seem to be that United will pay around 36M£ right away with the deal potentially rising to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 55M£, making Martial the most expensive teenager ever.
So, who is this guy that United is going to spend a fortune on, and more importantly, how good is he? To me, that´s a really good question.
Martial is a French striker who will turn 20 in December. To date he has played 2590 minutes of Ligue 1 (as a comparison,John Terry played 3420 minutes last SEASON) football according to WhoScored, scoring 10 non penalty goals and providing six assists for a total of 0.35 NPG90 and 0.21 Ass90. The goal scoring numbers are about average for a striker in the top 5 divisions, which given his age is an encouraging sign, even though Ligue 1 is considered the weakest out of the five leagues.
The chart below shots the location of all open play shots taken by Martial last season. He takes the vast majority of his shots inside the penalty area and close to the center. Rather than being an allround Sergio Agüero/Robert Lewandowski type of player, Martial looks more like a presence inside the penalty area, judging by his shot map.
When looking more closely at the underlying shots numbers from last season, it is clear that Martial is not the finished product. His Expected Goals per 90 minutes played is significantly lower than both Falcaos and van Persies, two former world class strikers now in decline that no longer belong to the club.
Clearly, Martial isn´t bought solely on his current abilities, but because of his potential, as is the case with pretty much any 19 year old. Given the hefty price tag, that potential needs to be something else. I´ll admit to seeing very little live action of Martial, so let´s try and look at a few more numbers to try and gather what to expect.
The first two tables are from a summary post I did in Swedish on Ligue 1 2014/2015. Martial turns up in the top 15 for both NPG90 (15th) and ExpG90 (13th) in Ligue 1 last season.
The good news is that Martials goal scoring up to this point looks sustainable according to the Expected Goals Model, and that he is already measuring up with the senior players in Ligue 1, beating both Lacazette and Gignac in ExpG90. The bad news is that it is again made clear that he is not the finished product. He might become a world class striker, but he isn´t one right now.
So the key to this transfer is undoubtedly potential. So how unique is it for a player of his age to produce these kind of numbers at a senior level? The following tables are from a piece I did (in Swedish once again) late last season on attacking players under the age of 21. Please note that the numbers are slightly outdated as they were first posted a few weeks before the end of last season.
Martial shows up in the top 15 once again, but as was the case in Ligue 1, he doesn´t make it all the way to the top of the list. He is very good for his age, but not the very best, the biggest concern being the modest shot volume of 2.34 shots per 90 minutes. An interesting side note is the amount of players on the list above that have already been picked up during the transfer window.
To sum it up, United are paying a heck of a lot of money for a player that has less than a full seasons worth of minutes under his belt, and is currently producing average offensive numbers. The people that have seen Martial play a lot more than I have seem to be impressed, but for that amount of money, I remain a little skeptic given how little he has actually played and achieved. Not all 19 year olds develop the way you hope, and who knows what a 55M£ price tag will do to you.
The decision to loan Januzaj (and possibly Wilson as well) out and get rid of Javier Hernandez for peanuts (in comparison) leaves United somewhat dependant on a 19 year old kid who´s never played in the Premier League, La Liga or Bundesliga before. Quite baffling.