According to reports in the Spanish press, Javi Martinez’s much-rumoured move to Bayern Munich is far from a done deal, which means there’s still time for Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs to renew their interest in him and meet Athletic Bilbao’s £32m asking price. That’s if Barcelona, the player’s preferred destination according to one of Spain’s late-night football shows, don’t get in there first.
At first sight that valuation might look a touch steep for a 23-year-old deep-lying midfielder who played a mere supporting role for Spain in their 2010 World Cup and EURO 2012 triumphs and has just a handful of caps to his name. Yet, there are some very good reasons why the classy Bilbao grafter comes with such a hefty price tag, even if he modestly protests he’s worth nowhere near it.
Firstly, there’s the fact that the Basque club have never been keen to flog the family silver, particularly when the possession is as prized as Martinez, for whom they paid Osasuna £4m when he was just 17. Hence the £32m get-out clause that forms part of his contract, which runs until 2016. Bilbao president and former player Josu Urrutia has stubbornly insisted that fee is not negotiable, while Bayern, who have the cash but have never spent so much of it, have made a point of announcing they will not meet that price.
Martinez is also one of the next cabs off the rank for Spain, a perfect fit in the doble pivote currently formed by Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso
Secondly, Martinez is a central plank of Los Leones’ future plans under their Argentinian coach Marcelo “El Loco” Bielsa, who renewed his contract for another year at the end of last season. For the upcoming campaign he has set his sights on a UEFA Champions League place, an objective that would be far easier to achieve with the player around than without him.
On top of that, Martinez is also one of the next cabs off the rank for Spain, a perfect fit in the doble pivote currently formed by Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso.
Finally, there is his huge potential, and not untypically for a young Spanish player, his versatility.
Martinez was instrumental in Spain’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship win last year and was one of seven Roja players to feature in the Team of the Tournament. Operating in a holding role in midfield, he greased the wheels of the Spanish tiki-taka machine. When he wasn’t receiving the ball from team-mates and distributing it with precision and assurance, he was stealing and shielding it from opponents. Not for nothing is he regarded as one of the finest young midfielders in the world today.
Many Bilbao fans believe his talent is wasted in the centre of defence
Noted for thinking outside the box, however, Bielsa spied Martinez’s defensive and aerial qualities and frequently deployed him in a central-defensive position last season, one he also occupied for Spain in last September’s friendly with Chile. Despite a shaky outing on that occasion, he generally looks the part there too, capable of bringing the ball out of defence with the assurance of a veteran, as he showed in surging forward from his own box to tee up Fernando Llorente for a stunning breakaway goal at the Bernabeu in January.
Though Martinez was a driving force in the Basques’ run to last season’s Europe League final, there are many Bilbao fans who believe his talent is wasted in the centre of defence. They say that his influence is diminished there, and that his power, vision and ability to make late runs into opposition boxes make him better suited to midfield.
Wherever he plays, and the fact is that Bayern’s promise of the midfield position he favours is a major incentive for making the move to Munich, Martinez is a player who combines silk and steel in equal measure, qualities he will be displaying for his country at the upcoming Olympics.
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