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French Connection: Gelson Martins proving Monaco's saviour

10:28 SAST 2019/02/22
Gelson Martins Monaco 2018-19
The winger has been decisive time and again for the Stade Louis II side since arriving from Atletico Madrid and is leading them away from the drop

For five long months, Monaco sat in the Ligue 1 relegation spots. Defeat after defeat seemed to follow, with the Principality outfit dipping to lows that few believed were possible.

Drastic action was taken in January, with an extensive transfer campaign married to a change of coach that saw Thierry Henry replaced with Leonardo Jardim.

Perhaps the greatest single decision the club made, however, was to sign Gelson Martins on loan from Atletico Madrid.

Since making his debut in the Coupe de la Ligue semi-final against Guingamp - a match that Monaco ultimately lost 5-4 on penalties - the 23-year-old Portugal international has been a shining light.

He grabbed two assists on his debut, then another in the 2-1 win over Toulouse that followed – incredibly, his team’s first home league win of the season. His first goal followed a week later in Montpellier, where it was also his shot that Radamel Falcao snaffled home the rebound to en route to a 2-2 draw. But Martins wasn’t finished there, getting the winner against Nantes last weekend.

It’s not been single-handed by any means, but it is fair to say that had he not been involved, Jardim’s side would not have leapt from 19th to 16th ahead of a clash with in-form Lyon this weekend.

Like his club, Martins had a wretched first half to the season. Mired in controversy as he terminated his contract at Sporting CP, where he had grown through the academy since joining up as a 15-year-old, he struggled to find his best form at Atleti, who had wasted no time in snapping him up as a free agent.

He mustered only 12 appearances for the Spaniards, largely from the bench, and did little to justify the compensation of €100 million that Sporting were asking for him.

A new start was required for a man once hoped to become the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Luis Figo, and he has found that in Monaco.

It is not, however, to the Portuguese icons to whom he has looked for inspiration, but across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil and Robinho in particular.

“I saw him on TV and I tried to copy everything that he did,” Martins told the Portuguese FA. “I was fast like him. I always pretended to be him on the street.”

Gelson has proven himself a worthy successor and possesses all of the tricky dribbling characteristics required to be a top wide player, allying those to his speed and agility that make him a nightmare to stop when in full flow.

Even the normally ultra-conservative Portugal boss Fernando Santos – a man criticised for his lack of trust in youth – was forced to take a gamble on the youngster when he broke through into the Sporting first team, where he established himself for three seasons before moving on after a group of supporters attacked players on the training ground.

If the move to Atleti has thus far not worked out, that has been of benefit to Monaco, where the player has hit the ground sprinting, clearly with a desire to show what he is truly capable of.

“I knew the club and certain players that are here, and that’s helped me integrate,” he said. “The situation of the club is an additional source of motivation for me. I came with a lot of desire to help the team and I hope we can win our next matches to get out of this position.”

There is little danger of Monaco sinking back into trouble if their new ace, who has joined up with countrymen such as Rony Lopes and Adrien Silva at Stade Louis II, continues along his stellar path.

Perhaps the only concern now for Monaco is how they get him to stay. Despite reports of a buy-out clause in the loan deal, the player has denied its existence and every match-winning display is only adding to his value.

Given the club’s position, though, it is a problem Monaco are delighted to have.