Iñigo Martinez “Gaizka Fully Trusts Us And We Trust Him”
Iñigo Martinez appears to have solidified his place in the Spain National Team. Ever since Gerard Piqúe retired from international football the Athletic defender has been a regular in Luis Enrique’s squad. On Friday he discussed the situation with Rodrigo Errasti of El Correo, saying that he hopes to help the team qualify for EURO 2020.
“I don’t know if I would call it fixed, but I’m lucky enough to have been called several times in a row and that means a lot. It’s happening because I’m doing well and Luis Enrique trusts me. That is appreciated and I hope to continue coming because I’m very happy being here. It’s a pleasure for me and a pleasure to share a team with these players. I hope to continue coming to the National Team to give what I can. Qualifying for EURO 2020 would be special. It would be nice to play at San Mamés, at home. We hope to qualify with good feelings.”
With the EURO qualifiers starting this weekend Martinez believes that the team can win the title, but to do that they must start on the right foot. He’s also confident that he can defend well on the biggest stage and takes pride in his ability to win back possession.
“We believe that Spain can be up there at the top. We have that illusion and ambition that is needed. There are many young players and a good future awaits us. We are going to play our game, dominate the opposition in their field, create chances, and score several goals quickly to be able to play more calmly for the rest of the game. It’s fundamental to start on the right foot in the qualifiers. I’m good at defending and, when I have to win the ball, I do that well too. That has always been one of my strengths. I’m also left-footed and there are few. I’m one of those who gives 100% on every play.”
Turning the attention to his club, Martinez admitted that it was difficult at Athletic after making the move from Real Sociedad. He knew the risk of joining a team that was battling relegation at the time, but says he has no regrets about the decision.
“It was difficult after arriving at Athletic. I also knew the risk I was taking by going to Athletic in the half season that remained. It’s a great club whose name is heard all over the world, but at the time the team wasn’t doing well. You have to take risks in this life. I needed a change. I needed to live another kind of experience, to be with other people. I keep repeating it, I will never regret the decision I made. It wasn’t easy for me or my family, but here we are. It’s been a difficult year but the team has turned it around.”
Athletic struggled under Kuko Ziganda last year and again this season with Eduardo Berizzo leading the team. Everything changed when Gaizka Garitano took over and Martinez said the team’s devotion to organization has made all the difference.
“Yes, the change was radical. When you see yourself in those positions, so low in the table, and you can’t overcome it, it’s difficult. We suffered. It wasn’t easy for the team or coach Berizzo. Now we play a lot more organized and that’s why we are controlling matches and getting better results. It’s good for us to be with Gaizka. He fully trusts us and we trust him. There have been more beautiful matches and more entertaining.”
With Garitano now at the helm, Athletic are controlling games and picking up solid results. The Basques have climbed out of the relegation zone and are now just 3 points off of 7th place in the table. Athletic could potentially qualify for Europe, but they know it will be difficult.
“With Gaizka we are raising our heads. We are lucky that when the team doesn’t do well the fans still support us and that is a great point in our favor. We hope to continue like this, controlling matches and being high up the table at the end of the season. Now the fans are getting more excited. Recently we were near the bottom of the table and it seemed that we were going to sink. Now, after very few games, you see that there are options to finish much higher. We are going to go into every game showing that we can finish near the top at the end of the season. It won’t be easy because there are a lot of good teams.”
Martinez is still the club’s most expensive signing, though he doesn’t feel any pressure about it. For the defender it’s simple. He has to give his best in every game and by doing so he will have the support of the fans.
“No, I don’t feel pressure as the club’s most expensive signing. I already know what I can give and if the club paid that much more a footballer it’s because he’s worth it. I have a clear conscience. Since I arrived I’ve tried to give my best every game. If you do that, the fans will thank you. They won’t think about the price. The key is to give your best each game and try to enjoy the fans also.”
As expected, leaving Real Sociedad for Athletic caused a massive fallout. Martinez eventually posted a picture of himself as a child wearing an Athletic shirt which caused even more drama. Speaking candidly about it all, he explained that he gave his all for Real while at the Anoeta. He was fully devoted where he was, but now he’s an Athletic player.
“I’m from Bizkaia and I’ve always said the same thing with a lot of pride. I left a town in which the majority, around 90%, are Athletic fans including my relatives. It’s normal for me to love Athletic. That doesn’t mean that when I joined Real at 14 that I didn’t fight for the club. Why? Because that was my job and I had to defend the shield and my shirt at the moment. Now I had to defend another shield where I feel very comfortable and happy. I need a goal. I’ve normally scored three or four per season and now it’s been hard for me at Athletic. Well, there are a few games left and I hope it comes. Scoring a goal to put us in Europe would be perfect.”
In closing, Martinez took a moment to reflect on the difficulties of qualifying for Europe. He believes that Athletic can do it, but other teams in La Liga are competing for the same thing. The league has been more balanced than ever before and Athletic have to show respect to every opponent and not take any match lightly.
“The objective of many clubs in the middle of the table and higher is always to qualify for Europe, but this season is more complicated than usual. When you go to Getafe, Vitoria, or Eibar it’s difficult to dominate those matches. They are doing very well. They want to be up there too and they fight for 90 minutes. It’s hard to beat them. The key is to respect each opponent because we are seeing so much equality. Some who looked like they were going down are close to the top. That’s why you have to go into every game with humility and respect. Qualifying for Europe would end the year incredibly well.”
Iñigo Martinez is confident in Athletic’s ability to finish in the top four and they will try to pick up another 3 points on 29 March when they travel to Girona. In the meantime, the defender will try to help Spain qualify for EURO 2020. He and Iker Muniain will be in action for the Selection on Saturday in a match against Norway at the Mestalla.