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According to Steve Bates of the Sunday People (h/t the Sunday Mirror), United manager Jose Mourinho is a big fan of Willian, having previously worked with the player during his second spell in charge at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are said to be admirers of Martial, too, and Bates’ report noted that the Red Devils would be interested in a possible swap.
“Old Trafford chiefs would only consider selling him [Martial] to the Londoners if Willian is part of the deal,” said Bates. “…[Mourinho] is a fan of the 29-year-old Brazilian’s speed, team ethic and strong mentality, but faces a battle to persuade his former employers to let him go.”
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According to the report, Mourinho has been trying to bring Willian to United since he was appointed as manager in the summer of 2016. The Portuguese brought former Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic in ahead of this term, too.
While Chelsea haven’t been at full flight this season, the Brazilian has been one of their most consistent performers. Jack Pitt-Brooke of The Independent was full of praise for him earlier this season:
Jack Pitt-Brooke @JackPittBrooke
Willian seems to have hit a new level of performance in the last few weeks. So impressive given he wasn’t even in the team earlier on this season. Not many players out there like him.
At his best, Willian can be such a force in the final third. The Chelsea man has a little bit of everything to his game, as he’s strong on the ball, blisteringly quick and technically outstanding.
What sets him apart from a lot of forwards is his application, something you sense appeals to the pragmatic nature of Mourinho. Willian is adept at playing across the front line and always willing to put the hard yards in for his team.
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United may be on the lookout for a new forward too, as rumours continue to gather pace about Martial potentially moving on. According to Dominic Fifield of the Guardian, Chelsea are interested in the Frenchman.
While he hasn’t been in the team much recently, Sam Pilger put Martial’s figures into context:
Sam Pilger @sampilger
Psst, Jose… Cristiano Ronaldo: Third season at #MUFC 24 league starts & 9 goals Antony Martial: Third season at #MUFC 17 league starts & 9 goals
Despite the clear talent he possesses, Martial has found it tough to get in the United side ahead of the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford in the second half of the campaign. Unsurprisingly, when he has been handed a sparing appearance, he’s been rusty.
Bleacher Report’s Rob Blanchette doesn’t believe the 22-year-old fits the manager’s blueprint at Old Trafford:
Rob Blanchette @_Rob_B
Martial – only 22, not a starter, and scored 10 goals this season, with seven assists. Fans are too quick to burn a youngster. The main fact is he isn’t a Mourinho player. He’d thrive at City or similar. #MUFC
While swap deals are mainly rare in modern football, United were involved in one in January, when Henrikh Mkhitaryan moved to Arsenal in exchange for Sanchez.
Throughout his career, Mourinho has tended to make signings with the short term in mind. Given his age and his experience in the Premier League, Willian would potentially have a brilliant initial impact at United, although he’s unlikely to be around for years and years to come.
Martial is a player who, with time, patience and astute coaching, could become a world-class operator. But Mourinho is not a manager renowned for developing these unpolished diamonds.