French forward Anthony Martial became the most expensive teenager in football history on Tuesday when he signed for Manchester United for a reported 36 million pounds ($55.5 million), in the latest deadline-day deal by the English club.
United is taking a gamble on the 19-year-old Martial, who has been compared by some in France to the great Thierry Henry despite making just 29 senior starts in spells at Lyon and Monaco and only earning a first call-up to his national squad last month.
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“He has all the attributes to become a top football player,” United manager Louis van Gaal said. “However we need to give him time to adjust to his new environment and the rhythm of the Premier League.”
Marouane Fellaini (2013) and Radamel Falcao (2014) were expensive United signings on the final day of the last two summer transfer windows and Martial is another last-minute purchase, taking the spending under Van Gaal in barely a year at the club to more than 250 million pounds ($380 million).
United moved to improve its attacking options after scoring only three goals in four games to open the new Premier League season. Wayne Rooney was left as the only senior striker in the squad after Monday’s departure of Javier Hernandez to Bayer Leverkusen, and hasn’t scored a league goal since April 4.
Martial can play as a winger or as a central striker, and has played at all youth levels for France. He scored nine goals in 35 league matches last season and with his speed, technical skills and liking for cutting in from the left, he has many of the same attributes as Henry – France’s record scorer.
“Can he score a lot of goals? I don’t know because he’s only played 52 games,” Henry said on Sky Sports. “It’s a massive gamble, which you need to take if you are in the situation Man United is.”
It completes a remarkable rise for Martial, who joined Monaco in 2013 for 5 million euros. Many outside France will not know much about him.
“Wayne Rooney came to speak to me and asked me who Martial was, because the English press had started to speak (about the transfer),” United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin said at France’s training base at Clairefontaine on Monday. “I told him he’s a great player with great potential.”
Martial said he doesn’t feel the pressure of his big price tag.
“I know there is pressure,” Martial said, “but I’m ready for it.”
The signing of Martial took the spending of Premier League clubs to about 860 million pounds ($1.3 billion), passed its previous record of 835 million pounds set last summer, according to football finance experts Deloitte.