Anthony Martial may have completed the greatest short-term comeback since Lazarus.
When he burst onto the scene against Liverpool two years ago, many Manchester United fans spoke of a player who would make the number eleven role his own, a creative talent destroying defences apart with just one flick of a switch in his footballing library.
Comparisons with Thierry Henry, Ryan Giggs, and Cristiano Ronaldo reverberated across the walls of the local pubs and clubs. A new star was born, one who would defy the critics of his transfer fee and style of play.
For the first few months, the Frenchman did just that, proving his worth after finishing off a sublime team counter-attacking move against Stoke City, while he showed the difference in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton with a 90th-minute winner.
When Louis Van Gaal left Old Trafford, and Jose Mourinho arrived, it looked like Martial would press on and become an even better player. But with arrivals of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic Martial did not continue to be the household name, and with the signing of Henrik Mkhitaryan and the emergence of Marcus Rashford, he was even left out the first eleven.
Mourinho is well known and somewhat respected for his treatment of players, albeit it could be argued that the primary reason he was sacked at Chelsea was the failure to win over the dressing room.
Yet the way he has moulded Martial into a decisive, thorough and forward thinking winger can be labelled as nothing short of genius.
The Frenchman is now more consistent, whether that be off the bench or from the start of any match. Now happy to let Rashford take his place in particular games, Martial understands that his pace will be crucial later on in the match when defences became tired and worn out.
When he starts the winger has the potential to dazzle and demoralise team’s rear-guards, and that’s what he did against CSKA Moscow last night.
In a dominant Red Devils’ display, Martial registered one goal and three assists. A calm and collective penalty taker, his crosses, and movement prove a nightmare, so it was not a surprise that Lukaku and Mkhitaryan benefitted last night, the former pouncing twice in the box and the latter sliding in the rebound of Martial’s initial shot to put the game beyond any doubt.
Involved in five of United’s last six goals, and the majority of his contributions last night were in the first half an hour, putting the result in no doubt quickly and efficiently.
There’s a sense of expectancy which has returned to United, one where fans realise that they have not just become irresistible to watch but can encapsulate a generation of new football prospects.
Innovation has become a centre-piece for Mourinho’s project at Old Trafford, and if there is one player who optimises that aspect of the beautiful game the most, it is Martial.