Anthony Martial has had a mixed season for Manchester United, going through spurts of excellence, before being dropped from the team and not producing when given the opportunity.
He started the season with five goals in his opening eight appearances, suggesting he had turned a corner after his disappointing first season for Jose Mourinho.
Martial then scored an important winning goal against top four rivals Tottenham Hotspur just 10 minutes after being substituted on, with him and Marcus Rashford taking it in turns to start.
The Frenchman started 2018 well too, with three goals in four games, but he last scored at the end of January, going eight games without a goal.
Reports have suggested that Mourinho is running out of patience with the forward and is interested in selling Martial so he would have the funds to bring in Gareth Bale from Real Madrid.
Bale is the finished product, a world-class player who can play in any of the forward positions, like Martial, and if he could stay fit, would likely be a good player for United.
In the summer of 2015, had United fans been offered the choice of signing Bale or Martial, they would have unanimously opted for the former. The Frenchman was relatively unknown and newspaper headlines were calling him a waste of money before he had even kicked a ball.
Yet since then, the 22-year-old has shown that United were right to fork out the sum they did for him, with him scoring plenty of important goals during his time at the club. Many have a soft spot for him.
From his goals against Liverpool, to his late winner in the FA Cup semi-final, to the goal that clinched the win over top four rivals Spurs this season, Martial has shown he isn’t overawed in the big moments.
Yet his form has been inconsistent, with him very much relying on confidence and a run of appearances to get the best out of him. He scored 17 goals in his debut season but has struggled to recreate that sort of return since, but that isn’t all of his own making.
Louis van Gaal played him week in week out, while Mourinho chops and changes the forward line so often, with Martial often one of the players to miss out. With Juan Mata getting older, the Frenchman may have more opportunities next season, although he now also has Alexis Sanchez to compete with.
Some fans have claimed that he’s lazy while others have called him moody, so would be open to selling him if it meant bringing in a world-class talent like Bale.
While there’s no denying that Bale is a better player than Martial now, the potential transfers of both players aren’t that simple.
Bale will be 29 by the summer, while Martial has only just turned 22. Bale misses large chunks of every season through injury and you imagine that record will only get worse as he gets older.
When United signed a 29-year-old Robin van Persie in 2012, the deal made perfect sense and was worth the gamble, despite him getting on a bit and having a poor injury record in the past. His goals won United the title that season.
However, Bale will cost a fortune and his arrival would mean the exit of a player who could, potentially, be one of the best in the world in a few years time. If Mourinho uses him properly, there’s no limit to what Martial could go on to achieve. Martial could potentially outlive Mourinho too and a more attack-minded manager could make him in to a world-beater in the future.
The idea of losing a talent like that, only for him to prove his ability elsewhere once he’s matured and learned more, is worrying.
It’s worth remembering that Bale has turned United down several times too, choosing to spend his peak years elsewhere, only prepared to move to Old Trafford for a huge pay day now that his best years are behind him. And that is if Bale is ready to give up on his Real Madrid dream, where his ambition certainly had been to replace Cristiano Ronaldo as the main man at the Bernabeu.
Bale has scored 81 goals in 180 games for Madrid and has won three Champions League titles, scoring in one and in the penalty shoot-out of another. He’s won the league title and a further six trophies. Yet injuries have prevented him from reaching the heights he would have imagined for himself when making the move from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
If United are to lose Martial, there are certainly worse replacements than Bale and the transfer certainly feels like one that Mourinho would go for. He’s all about success now and chances are that Bale, if he can stay fit, would add more to United’s title ambitions next season than Martial would. But what about in two seasons time? Three seasons time?
Bale has made 30 league appearances for Real Madrid in just one of the five seasons he’s been there. To lose Martial to bring in Bale would be a huge gamble and one many United fans could only live with if the Welshman could guarantee success, which he can’t. Yet supporters shouldn’t be surprised if this is a deal that Mourinho will approve, even if many will be disappointed to see Martial leave.