Another transfer window, another Ajax player being linked with a move to another (normally Premier League) club, you can set your watch to it.
This time the player in question is Ajax and Argentina defender Lisandro Martinez, who was initially being linked to Manchester United (where former boss Erik ten Hag is the new manager) and now more recently Arsenal.
In order to find out everything about Martinez we got in touch with Kevin van Nunen from Eurosport Netherlands to give us the entire lowdown on Martinez.
How has Martinez’s Ajax career gone? What are his strengths?
The now 24-year-old Martinez has been a very reliable player for Ajax. It was bullseye transfer! He came over in the summer of 2019 from the Argentinian team Defensa y Justicia which is why nobody knew him in The Netherlands. He was the second player from Argentina in a short time, after Nicolas Tagliafico, who became one of the key players in the 18/19 season, so there was confidence in him being an addition. At first, there was however a bit of hesitation as well: is Martinez a full back, a centre-back or even a midfielder perhaps? He played several positions, but when he eventually played as a central defender his strengths came to light. And what strength he has!
Martinez hardly loses one on one, he is such a strong player. He plays hard but fair and just doesn’t seem to know the word ‘pain’. I’ve never seen him in pain, not after a collision, not after a tackle, not after… anything! He gets up and goes again! Besides this, he’s also technically skilled. He can pass a ball and doesn’t hand the ball off to a team-mate as soon as he can to ‘move’ the problem. He can adjust the problem and find a solution himself.
Yusuf Yazici of Lille OSC, Lisandro Martinez or Ajax during the UEFA Europa League match between Lille OSC and Ajax Amsterdam at Pierre Mauroy Stadium on February 18, 2021 in Lille, France.
Image credit: Getty Images
And Martinez brings quality defending. There’s of course a lot of talk about Jurrien Timber, but Martinez is just as good. Ajax started to get in trouble this season after Onana needed to make his return because of injured goalkeepers, but also because Martinez missed a few games because of injury.
During the first 15 games in the Eredivisie with Martinez at the back Ajax just conceded only 2 goals. And all six games in the CL group stage were won. Martinez did great and the supporters voted him Player of the Year. When you’re voted Player of the Year at Ajax, as a defender, in again a title winning season, you must have done something special to caught the eye of the supporters.
Ajax have put a big price on his head, would he be value for money?
I think the sum of €40 million is justified, although Ajax said it doesn’t really want to sell Martinez or really crazy money must be offered, €50 million has been mentioned. And to be honest, if you can get so much money for a defender… you should take it. Martinez was (recently and before) also linked to FC Barcelona, but when you look at the trouble over there I just can’t see how Barcelona are going to pay for him. But I understand why they would want to, as they can use a player like Martinez. Arsenal and Man Utd can use him very well but if you want quality, you have to pay. And as Martinez is under contract until 2025, a big fee must be paid, it’s as simple as that. That’s just how it works when you don’t lurk him away soon enough and Ajax decides to renew his contract. Like they did last October.
Was there an adjustment period when he arrived from Argentina or did he just settle in?
He fitted in straight away and of course Ajax/Ten Hag had to find out how Martinez could be used best, but as soon as this was clear, Martinez delivered. He played quite a lot in his first season, which is not always a given, and the ever-critical Ajax fans were also happy with his performance, but after the corona break (season 19/20 was never completed in The Netherlands…) something strange happened… Martinez was benched.
He was benched like… really benched. He hardly played any minute. Not as a starter, not as a substitute. It was really strange and nobody understood what had happened. Ten Hag’s explanations were also very vague, like always…
Erik ten Hag
Image credit: Getty Images
Ajax was number one in The Netherlands, but didn’t play very well and after a disappointing run the difference with PSV was only one point. In January 2021, with lots of top matches, Ajax strengthened the team with striker Haller, but also got new fighting spirit… thanks to Alvarez and Martinez!
Martinez was back like he was never gone and never ever went out of the starting eleven again. The spirit was hauled as one of the reasons Ajax suddenly bossed the Eredivisie again. Now another title was won.
What type of player is he and what is his best position?
You should really regard Martinez as a centre-back and he can play defensive midfielder as well, but he isn’t really a full back. He played there at Ajax shortly after his arrival and before the period when he suddenly was a substitute Ten Hag said Martinez was a direct rival of Tagliafico for the position of left wingback, but the fans really laughed about that straight away and they were right, as was confirmed later when Martinez fought his way back in the time as a centre-back. Strange things needed to happen in a match or squad before Martinez would play full back again. I cannot even recall the last time when he really had to…
Is the Premier League the right move for him? Would his height be an issue?
If you ask me – like you do! – I can only say that Martinez is a really reliable defender. Also in the air. he is very good in the air. If you ask ten Ajax fans about his height, I think nobody realises he’s a little bit smaller than the average defender. Maybe it’s an Argentinian thing, I don’t know, but Tagliafico is also small but he reigns in the air. Tagliafico jumps very high, Martinez maybe played a little bit more with his body, but Dutch football fans will be surprised when they look up Martinez’ height and find out he’s only 1.75m. If this will hamper him in the Premier League… it’s up to Arsenal and Man Utd to decide, but apparently they have enough faith it won’t.
Lisandro Martinez, recrue de l’Ajax venue d’Amérique Latine qui tarde à s’imposer
Image credit: Getty Images
Obviously he has played under Ten Hag at Ajax but would Manchester United or Arsenal (or someone else?) be a better fit for him right now?
I think Man Utd needs players like Martinez to raise their level, while Arsenal plays a bit more in the Ajax style. Arsenal likes to play football, real football. Winning is not enough, the style of play has to be nice. If you look at this, Arsenal maybe would be the better fit. If they are okay with their midfield and attack and now need to bolster their defense, Martinez is a safe play.
But Ten Hag knows how to use Martinez and extract the best of him, as long as he doesn’t regard him as a full back again or puts him on the bench for whatever unclear reason. Both clubs could use Martinez, especially as part of their (ongoing) renovation.
I don’t know if both are interested, but then it would be up to Martinez to decide and what feels better for him personally.
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