If Jose Mourinho had got his way in the summer of 2018, Manchester United would have sold Anthony Martial and landed Ivan Perisic as his replacement.
After two years of inconsistency, Mourinho was willing to let the France international go. He didn’t have the patience to persevere, to give the player time to develop. In his eyes, he had a weak mentality and fragile attitude. When you’re trying to assemble an army of 6 foot something soldiers, that’s not what you need.
Perisic was always rated by Mourinho. He wanted Manchester United to sign the Croatia international the previous year but Ed Woodward’s stinginess – he refused to pay the full £48m that Inter Milan wanted – stopped a deal from happening.
The Glazers, however, never wanted to let Martial go.
The France international is a favourite of the United owners, Joel Glazer in particular. In their eyes he was too good an asset to let go.
And so he remained. Now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is reaping the benefits from their transfer call.
The jury remains out on Martial. He’s still yet to evolve into the Ballon d’Or contender that United thought he would be when they splashed out £36million to bring him to Old Trafford four years ago.
But the signs are that, finally, he’s back to his brilliant best.
A month ago Solskjaer appeared a dead man walking. After the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle, many were tipping him for the sack.
But Martial’s return to the side has coincided with United enjoying their best spell under the Norwegian so far this season.
In his first start since coming back from injury, the 23-year-old found the net as the Red Devils battled their way to a key Europa League win over Partizan Belgrade.
He then followed that up with a sublime chip in a 3-1 win over Norwich, where he also missed a penalty.
Martial was benched for the 2-1 Carabao Cup win over Chelsea, coming on with just 24 minutes left on the clock.
But he was back on the scoresheet for the 3-0 win over Partizan Belgrade at Old Trafford, producing a sublime piece of footwork for his goal.
And, against Brighton on Sunday, the France star registered two assists as United produced their most-convincing performance of the season.
Even before his recent run of form, Martial was beginning to rediscover his mojo.
He scored in the 4-0 victory over Chelsea on the opening day of the season – and against Wolves eight days later.
And he assisted Daniel James’ strike in the 2-1 defeat against Palace before injury cruelly cut short his season.
United are better with Martial than they are without him. The stats back that up, too.
With him, they have won 73.3 per cent of matches under Solsjaer. When he’s missing, that drops to an alarm 27.8 per cent.
And the Glazers’ decision to block Mourinho letting him go is why Solskjaer’s job is suddenly safe again. A lucky man, given how dreadful things were looking a month ago.