From League Two to World Cup: Emi Martinez’s extraordinary journey – News
As Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez was preparing to be loaned out to Oxford United from Sky Bet League Two, the country’s stalwart captain Lionel Messi broke records as Barcelona’s all-time top scorer.
And it just underscores how his journey has been full of twists and turns. Later in the day, Martinez will compete alongside his national team-mate in a World Cup final.
Martinez – who was then played by Damian Martinez – had his first taste of first-team football at Oxford in May 2012 when the stopper was called up on a single-game emergency loan that ended in a 3-0 loss to Port Vale .
Just 24 hours after he joined Oxford on loan from Arsenal, U manager Chris Wilder called him into the starting XI just 24 hours after arriving at the club, who were in dire need of a number one due to injuries to senior stoppers Ryan Clarke and Wayne Brown.
Wilder made no secret that he wanted a better figure between the sticks, as the U’s needed no fewer than three points if they had any chance of keeping their playoff hopes alive.
“It’s obviously a huge game and ideally we’re looking for someone with experience in league football,” Wilder said at the time.
The now 55-year-old tried to approach Arsenal in a bid to bring soon-to-be Watford saver Manuel Almunia closer to Oxford’s curtain, with Wilder declaring the club had a good relationship with the Gunners but when he couldn’t come up with it , he got the relatively unknown Martinez instead.
A post from the club’s official Twitter feed summed up Martinez’s introduction to league football perfectly: “Martinez looks solid. However, it was smashed within the first few minutes. Welcome to League Two.”
Martinez looks solid. However, it was smashed within the first few minutes. Welcome to League Two. #fanpowerstadium #martinez
— Oxford United FC (@OUFCOfficial) May 5, 2012
It was something of a learning curve for the 19-year-old, who was thrown in at the deep end when Oxford dashed his promotion ambitions through Port Vale. In the end, the U’s finished the season in ninth place, four points ahead of Crewe Alexandra in seventh place.
And as if that wasn’t enough of a whirlwind experience for Martinez, between the full-time whistle at Vale Park and his next loan move, he was involved in a no less than 12-goal League Cup thriller.
After making his Arsenal debut, his next engagement was the club’s famous 7-5 win over Reading in a third-round tie which still stands as the highest-scoring game in the history of the competition.
And it prepared him for the ups and downs of what was to come.
His second loan spell beckoned later that month and it was a significant step up to the Sky Bet Championship with Sheffield Wednesday.
Although he only signed for the Owls on a 28-day contract, much to Wednesday’s delight, he extended his stint through the end of the 2013-14 season, finishing the tenure with 15 appearances and making his first shutout in a 1-0 triumph over Watford in December.
And it was in South Yorkshire that he made his mark when Martinez joined Rotherham United for the second half of the 2014/15 season.
Before denying the Netherlands a place in the World Cup semi-finals, the stopper kept Middlesbrough away for Rotherham in the 92nd minute in the championship.
Martinez did his part in helping the Millers maintain their second-tier status and he perfected his craft from the spot – scoring two saves from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis to help his country win that To reach the quarterfinals of the tournament in front of more than 88,000 spectators – in the middle of the relegation battle.
Coincidentally, Martinez met his former loanee Club Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday when he bowed out for Rotherham in a local affair in March 2015 and although it ended in a 3-2 loss for his new temporary team, it ended in high spirits as Steve Evans’ side narrowly avoided the drop with one play.
Martinez, who made three Premier League starts and eight first-team appearances when he joined with Rotherham, impressed then-boss Evans, who highlighted his “very impressive CV” for his young age when he signed.
Evans said at the time: “We’ll see Emi at the Match of the Day in six to eight months. I know perfectly well that he’s wanted by some top-flight clubs in Spain who want him on loan for the whole season. So it wouldn’t surprise me that if we don’t see him in the Premier League, we will see him against Barcelona and Real Madrid. That’s how respected he is.”
Little did Evans know that not long after leaving AESSEAL New York Stadium, he would see him perform on an even bigger stage.
The following season, Martinez was loaned back to Championship mates Wolverhampton Wanderers and despite an impressive 71% save rate, his time at Molineux was largely marred by a hamstring injury that prevented him from playing more minutes than he would like to have.
However, he has had more success at Reading, which he joined in the January 2019 transfer window, turning down offers from abroad following a stint at Getafe in favor of an EFL return.
The royals were seated on May 22nd place when he arrived in Berkshire, and it was an end of the table that Martinez was all too familiar with. The keeper added five goals to his tally and helped Reading escape an unfavorable fate.
And it was Martinez’s attitude and dedication to the cause that made him so popular with the royals that he received Club’s Player of the Month honors and a handful of Man of the Match awards in February, with one in particular 2-1 away win over Ipswich Town and a 2-2 draw against high-flying Norwich City.
@ReadingFC thank you 🙏 pic.twitter.com/JgOMQa6x4q
— Emi Martínez (@emimartinezz1) April 22, 2019
“I’ve also played in Spain and Argentina, but the championship is the toughest league I’ve ever played in,” he explained at the time. “I’ve also played in the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Premier League but the league is one of the toughest.
“You can see that when you play well in this league, everyone talks about you. I said it in another interview, but I can play at any stage, on any team, and I will perform.
“For me on loan from Arsenal everyone is talking about next season but I don’t care – I just want to help keep Reading going.”
Now Aston Villa’s Martinez has to prepare for a big tournament and the Copa America winner could come home from Qatar with a medal and trophy in tow, but his time in the EFL has helped make him the player who he is today. a budding world champion.