Athletic Club made headlines back in January when they paid the €32 million release clause for Real Sociedad captain Iñigo Martinez. The move was in response to losing Aymeric Laporte who left to join Manchester City, and Real Sociedad fans were not happy seeing one of their most loved players join their rival club. Now, just a few months later, Martinez conducted an interview with AthleticTV and opened up about the fact that he has been an Athletic fan since he was little and that it is very special to play for Athletic.
“I have been an Athletic fan since I was little. In my town, the Basque town of Ondarroa, almost everyone are Athletic fans, my family and my friends, and then I went to Real Sociedad. I was there for many years and grew to love the club. It’s a normal thing, but now I am here at Athletic. For someone from Bizkaia, it’s always special to play for Athletic. They have been a reference point for Real Sociedad and other clubs. I’m from Bizkaia and I’ve always dreamed of all of this. Since I was a kid I dreamed of playing for Athletic and I’ll always be proud to be a part of this family. I have always kept the photos of when I was a kid wearing the Athletic shirt because you never know what can happen and now look where I am today. Of course, I am happy and content.”
Martinez went on to reveal that when he joined Real Sociedad as a kid that it soon felt like home and that he was happy. He went through years of learning to play different positions, but would never let himself think that he was close to becoming a professional. In the end, he has come back to the club he loved as a child, but knows that making the decision was really difficult and for some it is hard to understand.
“When I joined Real Sociedad I was still young and soon it felt like home, but time has a way of putting people back in the right places. Now I am back here and very happy to be here. When I was a child I started playing as a left-back. Then at Real I changed to a defensive midfielder. Years passed and little by little my position evolved. I got called up to the Primera to play as a center-back. I had been playing for years at a good level and you just try to give your best in each match and demonstrate your worth with humility and passion. When you are young you never think it is going to be your year or that you are close to becoming a professional footballer. At least that didn’t happen for me. When I was told that I would play the preseason with the first team, it was a dream. Every player wants to become a professional, but the moment you start to think you are close is when you slow down. You have to give it everything you have in every moment.”
Many Real Sociedad fans wondered why Martinez accepted the offer to join Athletic. For years he had been outspoken about never wanting to switch sides and that is exactly what happened. The 26-year-old revealed that he wasn’t completely happy at the Anoeta anymore, presumably over contract disputes. He had openly stated at one point that he didn’t feel valued by the club, while now saying that Athletic President Josu Urrutia made him feel important by being willing to pay his release clause.
“I felt that my stage at Real was over and that in that moment I needed a change because I wasn’t completely happy. I had to make an important decision for my career and my life. I was completely sure that making the change would make me completely happy. There were many factors in the move. Knowing that Athletic were willing to pay my release clause showed that they trusted me one-hundred percent. I will always be grateful to President [Josu] Urrutia. He has shown for years that he is a great president, and I will always be grateful that he bet so strongly on me and here I am. Now I have to give all that I can for Athletic.”
The center-back admitted that he felt right at home on his first day with Athletic Club because of his teammates and the coaching staff. Even though he had already been playing in La Liga for several years, he was still nervous on his debut and wishes that the result could have been better as the Lions fell 2-0 to Girona.
“From the first minute I joined the team I integrated myself very well because they gave me the confidence that is needed when joining a new team. Both the players and the coaches made me feel confident and welcome, and that is something a player notices. I also felt comfortable because Athletic plays more to my style of football. I think I have shown that in every match. Even though I’ve been playing in the Primera for years I had some nervousness in my debut. It was not a dream debut, because it was not one of our best matches, but despite everything I knew that this was my team because of the intensity put into every game, every training session. I saw myself reflected at all times in my teammates.”
In closing, Martinez said that he knew the fans would immediately welcome him at the San Mamés and that he feels their love every time he plays. He wanted to thank the fans for all of their support. When asked if he is anxious to score his first goal with the Lions he responded by saying that it would be nice, but that he is only focused on playing the best defense that he can to help his team.
“I knew that once I got to the San Mamés that the fans would be with me, that they would welcome me into the team. I see that and I feel it every time I step onto the field. It’s something I want to thank the fans for, because every player wants to have the support from the fans. What I have to do it respond by playing my best and showing that I am deserving. I have to play at the highest level. Anxious to celebrate my first goal? Hopefully it won’t be long before the goal comes. We all like to score, but as a defender, at least for me, it isn’t something I think about. My role is to defend and to do it in the best possible way. From there I have to contribute everything that I can.”
Since joining Athletic Club, Iñigo Martinez has been one of the best players in the team. His leadership and maturity in the backline has been obvious and fans have already taken notice of his willingness to sacrifice his body to make a big play. He has quickly slotted right into the team and his transfer looks to be an absolute steal despite the fact that he became the most expensive player in Athletic Club history. Martinez and Athletic will be back in action on Monday when they will host Levante at the San Mamés.