By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
Javi Martinez is a man in demand. Last summer, the Athletic Bilbao midfielder captained Spain's under-21 side to European Championship success in Denmark and then signed a new contract to stay at San Mames until 2016. This summer, following more continental cheer with La Roja's senior side at Euro 2012, he now seems unlikely to fulfill it.
A host of clubs have looked at and been linked with the 23-year-old World Cup winner, but Barcelona have moved ahead of Bayern Munich, Manchester City and the rest as they look to add another Spanish international to their ranks. The Catalan club, however, have earmarked Martinez as an all-purpose acquisition. Should he arrive at Camp Nou, the Spain star will likely operate in both defence and midfield. Two for the price of one.
Perhaps that is why the Blaugrana are prepared to make an exception to their frugal spending strategy. Barca president Sandro Rosell recently claimed the club coffers for summer signings totalled €40 million. But Javi costs that alone - after his release clause was set at that figure last summer - and Barca have already splashed €14m on Valencia left-back Jordi Alba.
However, Rosell revealed that the Catalans could delve into next year's funds if special circumstances called for an additional outlay. Now they do. Barca's failure to bring in back-up for captain Carles Puyol last summer proved costly. Puyol suffered again with injuries in 2011-12, while Gerard Pique struggled for fitness and form. Midfielders Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets, meanwhile, were shown up on occasions when asked to fill in at the back, and Eric Abidal is still sidelined following his liver transplant.
D.O.B: September 2, 1988
Martinez is a midfielder also, but the 23-year-old featured heavily in defence for Athletic last term and offers Barcelona something different in midfield, too. His box-to-box style is unlike any player currently on the books at Camp Nou and his pace and power would bring incoming coach Tito Vilanova a useful tactical variant. Above all, however, he is seen as a long-term replacement for Puyol, still sidelined with a knee problem and reaching the twilight of a brilliant career at the age of 34.
The Spanish press have recently reported that Martinez is prepared to take the next step in his short but already successful career, with Bayern said to have 'leaked' the player's willingness to move on this summer.
The midfielder came through the youth system at Osasuna, not Athletic, and does not hail from the Basque Country but neighbouring Navarre (they also qualify to play for the Bilbao side). He has always claimed to be content at San Mames, but continually left the door open to a future move and told Catalan daily Sport in June that Pep Guardiola's Barca side were the best ever.
"The football that [Barcelona] have played these last few years has been spectacular," he said.
"We have enjoyed [watching] them a lot, they have been one of the best ... why not say it? The best team in the history of football."
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Many a midfielder started in defence under Guardiola, with Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano both filling in at the back last term.
Gerard Pique spent much of his early career in the holding role, while new signing Jordi Alba is a converted midfielder and Dani Alves spends most of his time playing as an unorthodox winger, not as a classic full-back.
"Any interest of this type is flattering. That the world's best teams think you can help them is something stimulating."
Now it could be reality, especially given the uncertainty over the future of Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa. After having his resignation rejected by the club's board on Friday, he is still by no means guaranteed to remain at San Mames for next season. The Argentine's possible departure could see many of the club's finest footballers move on, too, with Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain, Martinez and more all attracting interest from across Europe.
Should Martinez sign for Barca, the Catalans could conceivably field a whole team of current Spanish internationals: Victor Valdes in goal; Puyol, Pique, Alba and Javi himself at the back; Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Busquets in midfield; Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and David Villa further forward. Add Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Dani Alves to that, and it is quite a team.
Martinez had previously seemed more suited to Real Madrid, on the lookout for a midfielder ever since Jose Mourinho took over at the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2010. But the capital club have now switched their attentions to Tottenham's Luka Modric and with Bayern unwilling to pay up for Martinez, plus the midfielder said to be unconvinced by a move to the Premier League at this stage in his career, Barca are now in pole position.
He may be expensive, but signing Martinez will more than compensate for the loss of Seydou Keita, who announced he would leave the club on Saturday evening, while freshening up a defence which buckled at times in 2011-12.
With Javi, Barca will be getting two players in one - and the 'double' deal may mean the Catalans do not have to sign anybody else this summer. At 23, they will also be signing a player with much of his career still ahead of him, as well as a high re-sale price. Expensive? It's all relative.
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