Erik ten Hag’s first day at Carrington has put a spring in the step of everyone at Manchester United as excitement builds ahead of another fascinating season. The arrival of a new manager brings with it huge potential and promise for the future, and even if that goes unfulfilled, right now United supporters have plenty of reason to dream about happier times ahead.
Under the guidance of Ten Hag the possibilities are endless and, with so many changes on and off the pitch in the off-season, it really does feel like a summer of seismic change.
Yet amid all the change, it could be those who have remained at the club this summer who have a key role to play in the new era under the Dutchman.
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Images of United’s first session under Ten Hag soon went viral on social media as supporters devoured the feel-good content, more so than usual, perhaps because they felt starved of transfer dealings.
The lack of new arrivals has only further fueled the possibility of a player already at the club emerging from the shadows to become a leading star as part of a new regime.
Donny van de Beek is the obvious candidate given his previous work with Ten Hag at Ajax, though this week Anthony Martial appears to have gained lots of attention again, with smiling images of him at Carrington teasing fans about a possible redemption story.
The Frenchman’s stock might have failed like an unregulated cryptocurrency over the last year, but he still retains a sizeable following, many of whom believe that if the set-up is right, Martial can unleash his arts again.
The 26-year-old is the embodiment of a modern football trend, which sees a player’s reputation grow enormously when they are not playing, as if they represent some untapped potential on the bench.
Yet in recent years, such hype has diminished with every appearance he has made, and remarkably, ahead of his eighth season at Old Trafford there is once again the possibility of Martial being handed another chance to prove just how good he really is.
Only at a club as dysfunctional as United could a player last that long and still not have offered clarity on their true level of quality, though this summer there is at least some excuse, given they are open to selling the Frenchman if an appropriate offer comes in.
Martial has scored just eight goals for United in the last two seasons and flopped during a four-month loan spell with Sevilla earlier this year. Sources have confessed “nobody is breaking the door down” to sign the former Monaco man this summer, and Ten Hag acknowledges he might need to find a spot for him in his squad next season.
The Frenchman needs to feel loved if he is to perform at his best, and Ten Hag should be well aware that keeping the forward happy would be far more favorable than having him sulking if he ends up staying at Old Trafford beyond deadline day.
United’s own transfer stance could well work in his favor as well. The club are in the market for at least one forward this summer, but the preference is to sign a versatile one capable of playing on the right wing.
It means United could well head into the next season without a direct replacement for the departing Edinson Cavani, with Martial and Marcus Rashford instead tasked with occupying the back-up roles to Cristiano Ronaldo as a central striker.
Such a role could still suit Martial heading into the new campaign, given he’d likely get regular playing time in the Europa League as well as domestic cup competitions, while he’d likely be a regular in Premier League squads as another striking option from the bench when required.
Although it is not the starring role he envisaged when he joined United seven years ago, he should be grateful for even being in consideration on the back of a disastrous individual campaign.
United’s preference is still to get rid of Martial if they can do it this summer, but with no viable offers on the table and few other strikers at the club, he might well get the last of his final chances.