Man United star Anthony Martial reacts badly to slight – but what did we expect?

A young sports star just making his way in the world of the elite is always confronted with a new and different vista. It’s no longer simply enough to be brilliant at your chosen sport, you now have to be a businessman and a marketing expert: you have to manage your brand.

It might a rude awakening for a 20 year-old who just wants to play football, but Anthony Martial has been adeptly building his “am9” brand around his success in his debut season at Manchester United. So when his club announced the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and took the number nine shirt off Martial and gave it to the new signing, you can understand the youngster’s ire.

What he did next was probably exactly what you’d expect when you disrespect a 20 year-old footballer in such a way: he unfollowed the club on social media and plastered his Facebook and Instagram accounts with photos of himself in his number nine shirt and promoting his am9 brand.

“A lack of taste, tact and consideration,” said one French journalist on Twitter. It’s hard to disagree, even if Martial’s reaction does seem a little petty, and most football fans are probably wondering why he can’t just put up with his new number and focus on playing football instead.

The truth is, though, that honing a brand has become incredibly important for sportspeople, especially in football, and doubly so when you play for one of the biggest, most recognisable teams in the world.

Football teams have become huge corporations, and their players are now assets; visible, marketable, appendages of a worldwide brand. And not just any brand – a brand that inspires an emotional and in many cases unconditional loyalty among many followers. In marketing terms, it’s a goldmine.

So why shouldn’t Martial be upset that he’s spent his first year at the club playing his way into a starting berth in the first team and winning an FA Cup only to have his own personal ambitions curtailed in such a way? Sure, he can market “am11” instead, but he’s spent a year building his own personal brand at a club who boast an Official Global Noodle Partner. Try telling him there’s no hypocrisy involved.

Perhaps marketing yourself and creating a brand around your position at a football club is not the point of sport, but that’s exactly what footballers have been doing over the past years, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s CR7 brand the most obvious example. Ronaldo has gone on to sell his own branded underwear range and Nike football boots with the branding on it.

Footballers, like musicians and actors now need to be media and business savvy as well as excellent at their jobs. There’s clearly a cut-throat edge to this world, too. Sport became bigger than sport while we weren’t paying attention, and look at it now.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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