Prodigal Martial courts Manchester United fans after Falcao disappointment

Strikers tend to be thrown in at the deep end when they join Old Trafford. Most prove strong swimmers, but some start by sinking.

At 19, Anthony Martial is Manchester United’s most expensive striker and will be looking to make a good first impression on his debut. Franck Fife / AFP
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It promises to be a momentous occasion. At some stage against Liverpool today, the most expensive striker in Manchester United’s history should debut. Anthony Martial cost an initial £36 million (Dh203.5m), a fee that could rise to £58.8m.

If his tender age of 19 dictates that a forward with a mere 11 league goals to his name has been signed for the long term, the reality is that first impressions count.

Not so much with the Old Trafford crowd, who were unfailingly supportive of the last attacker United recruited from Monaco, the ill-fated Radamel Falcao, but in the context of a career.

Because, no matter how or when they are introduced, strikers tend to be thrown in at the deep end when they join Old Trafford.

Most prove strong swimmers, but some start by sinking. Their forwards can generally be divided into two categories: those who excelled from the off and flourished and those who really did not.

At one end of the spectrum are the unfortunate pair of Diego Forlan and Garry Birtles.


The Uruguayan waited 28 games to score his first United goal. Birtles, who was United’s record signing when he joined from Nottingham Forest in 1980, finally got off the mark in his 30th game, by which time the narrative that he was a waste of money had been established.

Birtles’s antithesis was Wayne Rooney, who marked his United debut against Fenerbahce in 2004 by scoring a hat-trick.

That was exceptional, but debut goals are comparatively frequent occurrences. Danny Welbeck marked his first league appearance with a spectacular strike against Stoke City.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set the tone for a footballing life as United’s favourite replacement by scoring six minutes after first coming off the bench.

Javier Hernandez, his successor as a lethal substitute, struck without knowing much about it, losing his footing and contriving to nonetheless head the ball in against Chelsea in 2010.

The “Busby Babe” Tommy Taylor struck twice in his opening game after costing what then seemed an exorbitant £29,999.

Denis Law, who joined in 1962, started repaying his British record transfer fee of £115,000 after seven minutes.

Mark Hughes was only 20 when he first donned the United shirt in competitive action but he, too, marked the occasion with a goal.

Like Martial, United’s costliest striker of an earlier generation debuted against Liverpool. Ruud van Nistelrooy scored in that 2001 game, the first of 150 goals in five years of predatory marksmanship.

Robin van Persie did not find the net in an initial cameo, but scored 10 minutes into his first start and delivered a match-winning hat-trick on his second.

Dwight Yorke, another who acclimatised swiftly to life at Old Trafford, scored twice on his second start.

That was the occasion, too, when Eric Cantona and Andy Cole first registered United goals. Brian McClair’s first strike came in his third game.

The only real exception was Teddy Sheringham, who missed a penalty against his former club, Tottenham Hotspur, in his league appearance and did not find the net until his fifth game. But Sheringham, as a 31-year-old striker with more than 200 goals to his name already, could find reassurance in his record.

Falcao’s past seemed seemingly promising.

But though he was rapturously received by the United public when he took the field against Queens Park Rangers a year ago, his debut was more notable for the reaction in the stands than anything that happened on the pitch. QPR goalkeeper Robert Green parried one shot from the Colombian.

It is tempting to wonder if he may have acquired the momentum to become a success at Old Trafford had that gone in.

Instead his first goal came in his fourth game – which, in fairness, was better than his ratio over his stay in Manchester – but his second did not come for another two-and-a-half months.

Without impetus, he looked uninspired. A slow starter never regained the initiative and if history offers encouragement to Martial, he represents one of its warnings.


Key battle: Daley Blind v Christian Benteke

Benteke has yet to impress for Liverpool, but his physical presence should test Blind.

Past meetings

United won both of last season’s meetings, 3-0 at Old Trafford and 2-1 at Anfield.

Probable teams

Manchester United (4-5-1): De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw; Mata, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Depay, Herrera; Rooney.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Mignolet; Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Gomez; Can, Henderson, Milner, Lucas, Firmino; Benteke.

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