Anthony Martial: The making of Manchester United's star

Anthony Martial as a youngster at Les Ulis and at Monaco and Manchester United
Martial (in the middle of the top left photo) has gone from talented youngster in Paris to a shining star in Manchester

Eyebrows were raised when Manchester United paid £36m for a largely unknown French teenager called Anthony Martial on transfer deadline day.

He has since scored five goals for his new club - and on Sunday will play in his first Manchester derby when United host City at Old Trafford.

But none of this has come as a surprise to the two coaches who nurtured Martial during his formative years.

Aziz Benaaddane and Mahamadou Niakate worked with Martial from the age of six until 14 at a small club in a south-eastern suburb of Paris called Les Ulis.

Remarkably, French World Cup winner Thierry Henry and former United defender Patrice Evra also played for Club Omnisports des Ulis.

Niakate played with Henry and Evra while Benaaddane is a close friend of Martial's family and was one of the first to spot his talent.

Both are still coaches at the club where it all started for Martial - and here they explain why they always knew the teenager would succeed as well as revealing that he once trained with Manchester City.

'We saw Anthony's talent, we felt it, and we pushed it'

Aziz Benaaddane: "My first memory of Anthony? He was very young - maybe six - and with the ball he would run in a line straight to the goal. We've got 400 youngsters playing for us but a talent like that arrives only once every five or six years. We felt it, we saw the potential and we pushed him.

Shirts from Martial, Evra and Henry hanging on the wall at Les Ulis
The signed framed shirts at Les Ulis are a reminder of the club's famous old boys

"When Anthony arrived we nurtured him and looked after him, we protected him and we did everything to make him come out of his shell because there was real talent there. We knew from the age of nine or 10 that he would be a top, top player in European football. He worked hard; he had good people around him who helped him too.

"Here we have a habit of telling the other players, 'Do it like Anthony'. Because Anthony is an extraordinary player."

Mahamadou Niakate: "We saw his talent very quickly. He was here at six and he could already do what a kid of eight should be doing. Even when we put him into more advanced age groups he was quicker than the others.

"We maybe didn't see that he had the personality to be a top footballer until he was 12 or 13. From that age you could see that he absolutely wanted to become a footballer.

"He is from a family of footballers. His dad was a footballer; his 25-year-old brother Dorian plays with me here in the senior team at Les Ulis. There's his brother Johann, who plays for Ligue 1 club Troyes. Above all he is from a very good family and he had a good education. School and football. That makes for good kids."

Martial hated losing so much it made him cry

Benaaddane: "Martial was very demanding - he would train every day (including) two days with the under-13s and two days with the under-15s. He hated losing, really hated it - it was a key trait of his personality. When he was young he would cry when he lost a game. He was very emotional.

"He is quite shy, doesn't talk much. He's very simple, a private person. It was very fun to coach him because he was always happy to play football, like a baby, always with a smile. He liked 'taking the mick' out of his friends."

Mahamadou Niakate (top left) in a junior team that included Thierry Henry and Aziz Banaaddane
Niakate (top left) in the same junior team as Thierry Henry, and Banaaddane at the current training pitches

Niakate: "The first memory I have is that Anthony Martial had the same characteristics as Thierry Henry. A goalscorer - intelligent, fast and a winner.

"He was shy but he was a winner on the pitch. He always absolutely wanted to win. But he was a hard worker. Don't think that here at Les Ulis we did all the hard work. Yes, we've helped make some great players, but they already had great qualities. Anthony already had great qualities but he liked working hard and he always wanted to go a step further.

"If he lost a match he would have a face on him, but he rarely lost matches."

Martial went to look at Man City when he was 12

Martial visited Manchester City as a 12-year-old but did not leave Les Ulis until he moved to Lyon at the age of 14. He remained at Lyon until he moved to Monaco in 2013. Current club United play City in Sunday's Manchester derby.

Niakate: "Anthony visited Manchester City at the age of 12. City were really interested in him. All the big clubs were really interested in him.

"Man City were the smartest and invited him to visit their facilities. I don't know why it (a deal) never happened. But here we only found out about it afterwards. We learnt about it in the papers and we were all stunned.

"What's great about Anthony is that we didn't see any change in him. He went to visit the facilities in Manchester, came back and started training. No change. He didn't get a big head. He stayed the same and kept his feet on the ground. That's Anthony's strength."

Benaaddane: "It was not only Manchester City - a lot of clubs came here to watch him. In France all the best clubs wanted Anthony Martial and he chose Lyon.

"He went to Manchester City to see because they invited him, so of course the father said, 'Yes, we will have a look', just to see and compare England and France. And because Anthony was very, very young the father chose to stay in France. Anthony enjoyed his visit but he didn't tell anyone. No-one."

They made Martial wear Evra's boots

Anthony Martial (left) and Patrice Evra
Evra (right) closely followed Martial's progress as a youngster at Les Ulis

Niakate: "There's a friend of mine called Thiemen who visited Patrice in Manchester and sometimes he would give us some kit to take back to Les Ulis - shirts, boots etc. One morning we thought we would get Anthony to play in Patrice Evra's boots to see what it's like. So we said, 'Hello Anthony, we're going to give you these boots'. He was tiny. He was only 12 but he put these boots on.

"I would go to visit Patrice sometimes and talk to him about a little kid from Les Ulis called Anthony Martial. After that Patrice followed his progress and after Anthony went to visit Manchester City, Patrice heard about this through the press.

"Patrice follows all football really closely and he's really attached to this club. As soon as Anthony got a call-up to the France national team, Patrice welcomed him like a little brother arriving from Les Ulis to the France team.

"I'm two years older than Patrice. He's my good friend, we trained together and with Thierry Henry we were in the same team. You can see a photo of us up on the wall at the club.

"I played with Thierry Henry for a year - and in that short time I saw he was super fast, a good dribbler, a good finisher and a winner. Then as if by chance, a few years later I saw exactly the same characteristics in Anthony. The comparison between the two players is totally legitimate."

United? They haven't seen anything yet

Martial scored on his United debut, coming off the bench to help secure a 3-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Anthony Martial scores against Liverpool
Martial came off the bench to score against Liverpool on his Manchester United debut

Niakate: "We weren't shocked by the move to Manchester United. Maybe the transfer fee is a talking point but seeing him scoring goals on the TV and at Manchester United hasn't shocked us."

Benaaddane: "We knew he'd be a top player and I know that this is just the start - he's going to be special. When he was playing at Monaco we could see that he wasn't playing with freedom. But now at Manchester United, you can see in his game that he is blooming. You can see it. We know him. He takes the ball and he goes straight for the goal. At Monaco he got the ball and gave it away. Now he takes it to goal.

"He has been really welcomed by the other players - by Wayne Rooney, by Memphis Depay. Players like that have really welcomed him and you can see it on the pitch. He's happy, he's laughing.

"It's a simplicity of play that he has always had. Since he was small, as soon as he gets the ball he runs straight for goal. Same as now. His first goal for United against Liverpool was exactly like that."

Material gathered by BBC World Service's John Bennett. Edited by Paul Fletcher.

You can listen to the feature 'The Making of Martial' on World Football on BBC World Service.

And there's also a podcast available.

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