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Euro 2016

Martial the newcomer off France’s football assembly line

Les Ulis (France) (AFP) – Les Ulis is not a chic suburb of Paris but it deserves a monument as a nursery of French football talent, after producing Thierry Henry, Patrice Evra now Anthony Martial.

It could have been different for the Manchester United star however as he prepares for the European Championship finals. A sign at the entrance to the Janvier tower, the public housing block where the Martial family lived, declares: “Ball games forbidden.”

Now the district is a draw for football pilgrims. “That’s where Anthony Martial lived,” said Gaye Niakate, a neighbour who told of the regular visits. “Once it was three English journalists. I had to pass the phone to my wife who speaks English,” he laughed.

Martial has only been an international star for a few months. “But we have been talking about ‘Toto’ for a long time,” added Niakate, using the teenager’s childhood nickname.

Niakate’s brother, Mahamadou, is deputy sporting director of the Club Ominsport des Ulis. “He was always way above the others,” the club official said of Martial’s rise. And CO Les Ulis should know.

Before Martial brought the spotlght on the club, it produced French football legend Henry and Evra, who left Manchester before Martial’s minimum 50 million euro ($55 million) transfer from Monaco last year.

Martial, 20, played at Les Ulis from 2001 to 2009 before signing with Lyon, then Monaco and now Manchester.

“I’m not going to say that I expected him to go so quickly to such a club, but I am not so surprised,” said Mahamadou Niakate, sat in Les Ulis club house amid jerseys worn by some of the most famous past players.

Martial is a “source of great pride for Les Ulis, an example of success for the young,” said the town’s mayor Francoise Marhuenda.

The footballer has kept strong links to the town, just 30 kilometres (19 miles) southwest of Paris.

He returned to Les Ulis to coach the new generation before its annual gala on May 23. Patrice Evra — who will also be at Euro 2016 — was also present and was the star draw. “Martial is young and has a long career ahead of him,” said Niakate.

– Football El Dorado –

But even the club’s assistant sporting director cannot explain how it produced as many stars with standing of Henry, Evra and Martial.

Yaya Sanogo, another product off the Les Ulis conveyer belt, is at Charlton Athletic in England. Sega Keita is at Troyes in Ligue 1.

“That is the big question,” he said of the club’s success.

“There are football pitches everywhere in Les Ulis. But then there is the quality of the coaches and the club’s family side. Everyone contributes and everyone knows everyone: the coaches, the players and the parents.”

But they all knew that Henry, Martial and Evra were special.

“The honest relations that we have with the parents means there is a climate of trust and they don’t go looking elsewhere.”

Lyon made an accord with Martial so that he would not negotiate with other teams, said the Ligue 1 side’s recruitment chief, Gerard Bonneau.

“He was young so we let him stay at Les Ulis another year with special training, especially for school.”

Bonneau said Martial was surrounded by “an extraordinary family atmosphere” with parents who were more worried about the youth “than his future career.”

Martial is the youngest child in a family of footballers. One brother Johan is a defender for Troyes. Dorian, is captain of the Les Ulis team in the regional league.

“When he was smaller he had a special character, there was a lot of fuss,” said Dorian Martial. “But our parents were behind us with their strict discipline.

“We know that he is sensible and anyway, my father and I are there to remind him about things.”

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