The Athletic Bilbao midfielder is in action against Manchester United on Thursday in the Europa League as he continues to gain admirers in both Spain and England
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
The €6 million Athletic Bilbao paid Osasuna to sign Javi Martinez in 2006 made the midfielder the third-most expensive signing in the history of the Basque outfit.
Nothing strange about that, you may think ... except that Martinez was only 17 at the time. And although he was considered among the country's finest prospects for his age, the youngster had never made a single senior appearance for the Pamplona-based outfit.
But Osasuna's loss was Athletic's gain, as the Basque side saw their investment blossom brilliantly over the next few seasons. Not only did Martinez become a first-team regular and crowd favourite in his first few campaigns at San Mames, but he also became a fully fledged Spain international, too. Indeed, when he put pen to paper on a new long-term contract in the summer of 2011, he did so as a World Cup winner.
Athletic wisely moved quickly to secure the services of their midfielder ahead of the European Under-23 Championships in Denmark last summer, where a host of scouts were waiting, and witnessed Martinez captain Spain to the title with a series of mature displays in the centre of the park.
Teams from all over the continent cannot have failed to have been impressed with what they saw. But it was too late: Javi's new contract was signed in May of 2011 and his release clause set at a massive €40m.
D.O.B: September 2, 1988
So is he worth it? Release clauses are often inflated and do not truly reflect the market value of a player in question, often seen as a prohibitive ploy to protect the club from having to sell up. But while Martinez himself claims he is not worth €40m, in today's market such a sum seems reasonable for a player of his considerable talents.
Tall, strong, fast, athletic, intelligent and technically excellent, Martinez is a complete modern-day midfielder. The 23-year-old also exudes a calm character beyond his tender years, aided by the experience of having already turned out over 200 times in the famous red and white of Athletic.
And this season, the midfielder has featured heavily in defence for Marcelo Bielsa's side, showing a flexibility which has reportedly made him a top target for Real Madrid this summer. Martinez would be ideal alongside fellow Basque Xabi Alonso in Jose Mourinho's midfield, with his ability to track back and burst forward making him the perfect foil for the former Liverpool man.
But Martinez's boundless energy and box-to-box style make him ideal for the Premier League as well. Previously tracked by Manchester City, prior to interest from Liverpool and United, the midfielder looks to have all the attributes to succeed in the English game.
|I admired him because he was a complete player. He did everything; he attacked, defended, won possession, he passed, he shot. I would be happy to be even a quarter of what he was
- Javi Martinez on Patrick Vieira
Those signs, however, were always there. Jose Angel Ziganda, a former Osasuna and Athletic forward, saw Martinez emerge during his time as coach at the Pamplona-based side and it was he who recommended the youngster to the Basque outfit in 2006.
"I have got Patrick Vieira in my youth team," Ziganda would boast, unaware that the Frenchman was one of Javi's idols.
"I admired him because he was a complete player," Martinez later said of Vieira. He did everything; he attacked, he defended, he won possession, he passed, he shot - he was a total footballer. We are similar because of the position we play, our height and our stride, but I would be happy to be even a quarter of what he was."
Modest words, but Javi Martinez is already much more than that. And as with Vieira before him, Premier League greatness looks set to await.
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