It’s harsh to criticise a player who, in his debut season at Manchester United, has scored some spectacular and crucial goals. A player, fresh off his 23rd birthday, who has curled in howitzer strikes against Manchester City, Arsenal and, most notably, the winner against Barcelona.
But then the standards for any new United signing have always been sky-high. And in the class of 2022-23, Antony has some stiff competition given how fellow new boys Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen, Casemiro and former Ajax teammate Lisandro Martinez have fared since touching down in Manchester.
Erik ten Hag identified some key weaknesses within the United squad in the summer, with Casemiro and Martinez in particular providing ready-made solutions.
They have given previously soft-centred United a hard shell, an aggression at the back that was alarmingly lacking when the team of 2021-22 conceded a record 57 goals in the season, finishing on a record low United points tally of 58. Some dubbed them “the worst team to ever finish in the Premier League’s top six”.
The right-wing slot became a problem at United when the Mason Greenwood situation arose, and again when it became clear Sancho did his better work from the left.
Ten Hag wants balance in his attack and hence he chose to splash £86m on his former Ajax player Antony – even when Cody Gakpo was available from PSV Eindhoven for half the price. The reason? Antony’s wand of a left foot. With either Marcus Rashford or Sancho cutting in from the left, Ten Hag wanted a left-footer doing the same on the opposite flank.
Yet Antony’s left foot appears to be both his biggest strength and greatest flaw. He scored another trademark goal – cutting inside, curling into the far corner – with it against Real Betis last week. But he’s often too predictable, refusing to go round the outside on his right foot, which has attracted criticism.
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand has been one of Antony’s more vocal critics in recent weeks, suggesting he has failed to live up to his price tag.
“I think Antony, if he looks at his game and if he had a crystal ball before the season started and looked at where he is now he’d probably go ‘I’m not where I want to be and I’m not doing what I thought I’d be doing right now’,” Ferdinand said on his FIVE podcast this week.
“Yeah, he’s scored a couple of goals here and there but if he is honest with himself, he’d say there is more to come from me and we have to be patient with that as a fanbase.”
If Antony is honest with himself, he’d say ‘there is more to come from me, I’m not where I want to be’.
Four of Antony’s seven United goals (in 29 appearances) have come in the cup competitions.
He needs to do it in the Premier League, and he needs to create goals as well as score them. He’s assisted just one goal in a United shirt. Flickers of talent aren’t enough at the sharp end of English football.
Time is on Antony’s side, but he won’t get an unlimited amount from an impatient Manchester United fanbase who are itching for their big money signing to spark into life.