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Antony’s Manchester United career has been a mess across all levels

Antony looking glum - Antony's Manchester United career has been a mess across all levels
Antony has been shown up by Garnacho so far this season - Manchester United/Ash Donelon

Imagine Erik ten Hag’s reaction if he had been told back in September 2022, after making Antony the second most expensive player in Manchester United’s history, that the £85 million winger would not been trusted to start a Premier League match in two-and-a-half months.

Imagine the United manager’s reaction if he had been informed that, come the onset of spring in Antony’s second season at Old Trafford, the player would be approaching a year without a goal or assist in the league.

Imagine Ten Hag’s reaction if he had been told back then that he would be turning to two unproven youngsters in Omari Forson and Amad Diallo before Antony in a league match at home to Fulham that United would lose.

And imagine the response if it had been explained while the ink was still drying on that five-year contract Antony signed after leaving Ajax that his only goal involvements by mid-March of the 2023-24 campaign would come against League Two Newport County in the FA Cup.

The top clubs pay the mega money for players they believe will be game-changers and match-winners and Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final clash between United and Liverpool at Old Trafford is the sort of occasion where, ordinarily, you would expect an £85 million signing to take centre stage, to leave a lasting impression.

Yet Antony’s United career is at the point where he cannot even be sure to start – and supporters are steeling themselves to once again be disappointed and underwhelmed when the 24-year-old does.

His only starts for United in 2024 have come in the FA Cup but there are no guarantees that will continue with title chasing Liverpool – one of Europe’s most in-form and fearsome teams – to face.

Indeed, it has taken Alejandro Garnacho’s switch to the right flank to show Antony more of what United should be getting from a winger and the Argentine is still a teenager Ten Hag is having to overplay because he is routinely showing up more senior players for whom consistency is an abstract concept.

Garnacho hammering home a shot
Garnacho offers United the kind of attacking threat that was supposed to be Antony's speciality - Getty Images/Alex Dodd

Antony’s work out of possession is one of the reasons Ten Hag has favoured him in his system. No player in the Premier League has won possession more times in the final third this season than Antony, for example. But on the ball he is an enigma – horribly one-footed, predictable, unable to beat a man on the outside and, despite Ten Hag’s insistence that there are few quicker over 10 yards, constantly checking back or inside having been unable to escape his marker’s attentions.

It has not helped Ten Hag that Antony’s torrid season – on and off the pitch – has coincided with the collapse in Marcus Rashford’s form.

But you need only to look across the Premier League at the array of wingers who are delivering for their clubs to recognise just how badly United got it wrong with Antony.

United are likely to come up close and personal with Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz this weekend who, at £34 million and £37 million rising to £49 million respectively, cost more or less the same fee combined as Antony.

Leon Bailey, who is excelling on the right wing for Champions League qualification chasing Aston Villa, cost £25 million. Arsenal paid £27 million for Brighton’s Leandro Trossard five months after United’s capture of Antony. Tottenham snapped up Dejan Kulusevski for £25 million last summer.

Anthony Gordon has made a big impact at Newcastle after his £40 million transfer from Everton. Michael Olise, still only 22, has become one of the Premier League’s most coveted wide players since his £9 million move to Crystal Palace a year before Antony’s Old Trafford switch. Cole Palmer, Chelsea’s £42.5 million recruit from Manchester City, has been one of the league’s standout performers this season. City paid Rennes £55 million for Jeremy Doku and, even though £100 million man Jack Grealish may be having an injury-plagued third season at the Premier League champions, he played an integral role in their Treble success last term.

Ten Hag said last month the assault claims against Antony that led to the player taking three weeks’ paid leave in September to fight the allegations he strenuously denies had impacted on his form earlier in the season. But even the Dutchman, Antony’s staunchest supporter, eventually reached the point where he could not continue to indulge his presence and has admitted publicly that the player needs to start delivering.

The question, though, is can he? For a club that insisted it would not be held to ransom in Ten Hag’s first summer in charge, the £85 million fee United paid for Antony was a failure on so many levels and more than £50 million higher than the player was valued at by scouts who watched him during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure.

It is also a huge target on Antony’s back and looks all the more absurd when you consider what Arsenal and Bayern Munich have been getting from Declan Rice and Harry Kane respectively for not a great deal more this season.

Telegraph Sport reported this week how the ongoing police investigations into Gabriela Cavallin’s claims against Antony could severely complicate any moves to sell the player this summer unless the case is dropped before then. United, at least at this stage, are not actively trying to offload Antony but it is also hard to escape the feeling that the player’s future could be directly linked to the future of the manager.

Until then, United fans can only hope they see more of the talent that Ten Hag insists is there over the next couple of months.

Jamie Carragher

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