Iñigo Martinez “I Did The Right Thing Coming To Athletic And I’ll Never Regret That Decision”
It’s been nearly one year to the day since Iñigo Martinez joined Athletic after the club paid his €32 million release clause. The signing was, and still is, the most expensive transfer in Athletic history and it’s safe to say that it has all turned out very well. The 27-year-old has established himself as one of the most important players in the team and was a guest on the Fuera de Juego radio show on Thursday night where he was quick to highlight the improvements that have been made over the past month.
“When the results come, there is more confidence. We have had several good matches in a row. We are fighting every game and we are seeing a different Athletic. Now you’re seeing the Athletic that I saw when I was at Real…defending well and taking advantage of the chances, focusing and finishing. It’s something similar to what Athletic did before. Lately we are seeing a San Mamés plugged in and the fans support with desire. On Sunday we have another final against Betis.”
Athletic seemed to have another three points wrapped up last weekend when Iñaki Williams scored the winning goal close to the final whistle, but VAR would rule the goal offsides despite many replay angles showing that it looked like a clear goal. Martinez admitted that he thought it was offside when the play happened and was critical of the review.
“Even the referees are not so clear. There are times when they also doubt and generate that tension that also causes confusion. These are millimeter plays. You are waiting in the field and they don’t say anything. On the field I saw that Cordoba’s pass was late and it seemed that Yuri had gotten offsides. At the time we all thought it was off because Villarreal stopped and in the end, unfortunately, it was.”
The club parted ways with Eduardo Berizzo on 4 December when Gaizka Garitano was promoted as the first team manager and the team is doing much better under his leadership. That being said, the players still feel responsible for what happened with Berizzo, although Martinez definitely believes Garitano’s system fits the team better.
“The dismissal of Berizzo was something we all disliked. The main culprits were us. We feel it and we will continue to feel it. With Berizzo’s system you had to get everything right or it would hurt you in many moments of the game. With Gaizka we feel more organized. The defenders see that if you are not compact, little by little, you are turning your head and that is what you should not do…Now you see that the help arrives and you feel strong.”
When Martinez was signed last January the team was in a difficult place with then-manager Kuko Ziganda in control. Now the defender believes he is playing his best football for the club and says that Athletic can compete for Europe if they continue playing at the level they have been under Garitano.
“I arrived at a time when things were not going well. It was difficult, it wasn’t easy. Now this may be the best I’ve played since I joined Athletic. I feel comfortable and confident. We are doing well and if we continue like this I have no doubt that we will end up fighting for those positions that we all want.”
Despite the struggles since his arrival, Martinez has absolutely no regrets about his decision to join Athletic. He says that it was the best thing for him and that he needed to make a switch because he was unhappy at Real Sociedad due to various issues.
“The best thing for me was coming to Athletic. I did the right thing, I will never regret that decision. If someone isn’t happy in his team, he should look for happiness. That was the main reason for my departure and move to Athletic. I won’t forget what I lived at Real. I made my debut there and I will always be grateful for everything that I experienced there. I will take it to the grave.”
Years before Martinez stated that he would never sign for Athletic. He told Fuera de Juego that he meant that at the time, but things change. He still has a good relationship with his former teammates, but the President and Board of Directors at Real Sociedad knew that he was going to leave and did nothing to try to stop him. Now he’s happy to be at Athletic Club. La Real then responded by launching an initiative called “He’s History” where they welcomed fans to turn in jerseys with Martinez’s name for a free replacement of another player. Being written out of the club’s history didn’t sit well with the 27-year-old who says he will always cherish his time at the Anoeta.
“I stand by what I said about never joining the other side. I was young and at that time and I wasn’t planning to leave. I felt at ease, then different times followed. I don’t regret anything I’ve said or done. My relationship with my former teammates at Real has been the same as when I was there. Since I left I have not had any contact with any of Real’s leaders. They didn’t like my exit, it caught them in a hurry and hurt them. They knew what was going to happen and neither Aperribay nor anyone else on the Board called me. It bothered me that Real changed the shirts with my name. I think it was portrayed, for what I know, in a specific way by Aperribay. Everyone knows why. I won’t forget what I lived at Real. I made my debut there and I will always be grateful for everything that I experienced there. I will take it to the grave.”
Athletic are currently preparing for Sunday’s match against Real Betis where a win could bring the team into the top half of the table and within striking distance of the European zone of the standings. Six days later the Lions will travel to the Anoeta for a massive Basque Derby against Real Sociedad in what will be another challenging and special game for Iñigo Martinez. The dramatic switch to Athletic is still fresh in everyone’s mind, but Martinez is enjoying life at the San Mamés.