Last summer, with Manchester United desperate to sign a striker, Anthony Martial arrived for £36.9 million.
And, all things considered, he was a success.
United struggled, but the young Frenchman scored goals and generally looked lively during a debut season in the Premier League.
United fans were optimistic – it seemed like a Red Devils legend had been born.
Upon arrival at Old Trafford, Martial had been given the number nine shirt – the number usually given to the principal centre forward at a club – and despite the big responsibility that comes with that billing, he thrived.
But now he’s lost it.
Zlatan has arrived, and Martial’s had to shift to 11.
Turns out the Frenchman isn’t very happy about it.
If reports are to be believed, Martial was not informed that Zlatan was to be given ‘his’ number nine shirt, and has ‘unfollowed’ the club on Twitter in protest.
— TheSPORTbible (@TSBible) July 23, 2016
It goes without saying that if Jose Mourinho wants to keep Martial, he’s going the wrong way about it.
We all know that many footballers have big egos – perhaps none more so than Zlatan himself – and the reality is that shirt numbers are a big deal to a lot of them. Think Beckham at Real – he couldn’t have the seven shirt, so he wanted something ‘special’, something ‘different’ and something that set him apart.
He’s not alone. It is a big deal. And Mourinho’s behaviour will not have gone down well in the Martial camp.
A seemingly inconsequential act, but one that could actually result in Martial wanting a move away.
You see, the fact that Martial has lost his shirt to a man aged 34 will not have been lost in him. The Frenchman is only 20, and he’s got his whole career ahead of him, whilst Zlatan is a superstar at the very end of his. Martial is well within his rights to suggest that this decision may indicate Mourinho is not particularly bothered about preserving Martial’s services.
It’s going to be a bit awkward when Anthony Martial and Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrive at Manchester United training. 9️⃣ pic.twitter.com/uoe23genRI
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) July 24, 2016
Now on one level you can understand Mourinho and United’s decision. After all, it’s the worst kept secret in the world that Zlatan was bought (at least partly) for the shirt revenue. And it’s a reality that a Zlatan shirt with 9 on the back is more attractive, and therefore a higher revenue generator than a Zlatan shirt with any other number on the back.
Clearly it makes sense from a financial point of view.
But from a player harmony point of view, it makes a lot less.
Unless Mourinho wants Martial out, he’s taken a big risk here, one that may yet backfire. Time will tell.