Iñigo Martinez “We Can’t Lose Our Heads And Think We’re Better Than Real Madrid”
It’s been over a year since Iñigo Martinez made the switch from Real Sociedad to Athletic. The defender has been through a lot since then including seeing the Lions struggle in the relegation zone and now battling for European qualification. Martinez recently sat down with Alfonso Herrán of AS where he admitted that he’s really loving living in Bilbao and raising his family.
“I was lucky to find this team and fans. When things have gone badly they have encouraged us. It’s very appreciated. We have come from the bottom in part because of them. They helped us improve. I enjoy the city a lot. The most beautiful change has been having my daughter. The best thing in life is having a child and she is from Bilbao. When I decided to take the step of coming here I knew that things weren’t good. The fans were just as upset as the team. This year we started badly and then we saw the union that’s here. I don’t like losing. I was born with a winning soul and when I lose I think about what I did wrong. I’m not the only one.”
Despite the move, Martinez is proud to have played for Real Sociedad. Now he’s enjoying being back in Bizkaia where his entire family are Athletic fans. He says that the fans have shown him incredible affection since joining the club that’s helped him find his rhythm at San Mamés.
“I was born in Bilbao and I lived for many years in Bizkaia. I am Bizkaian and my family has always been Athletic. The years put everyone in their place. I defended the Real Sociedad shield for a long time but when I came here that changed. It’s our job to defend the Athletic shield. The club has given me the love that a player needs and that made it easier to integrate.”
Joining Athletic wasn’t an easy decision for Martinez. He truly was happy at Real Sociedad but that quickly changed and he will never regret the decision to leave. His friend Xabi Prieto was sad to see him leave the Anoeta, though that was a natural reaction from the La Real legend.
“It wasn’t an easy decision but there came a point when I knew that I needed a change. I needed a change, another team, other people. I lived very beautiful moments there that I won’t forget. I also contributed a lot for them and I left them with important money. I will never regret the decision I made. I had to leave, I couldn’t continue like that. Xabi Prieto is a friend and it’s normal that it bothered him. Apart from that, he wished me the best and I’ve always put him on an altar. He’s the best captain I’ve ever had.”
Martinez went on to reveal that a move to Barcelona was also a possibility. Ernesto Valverde was interested in signing the defender but a transfer never materialized. Athletic soon followed with an offer and Martinez knew that accepting was the right decision for his career.
“Barcelona was another serious option. It would have been a big jump and a good place to go. The Mister knew me, Ernesto Valverde, and that was a bonus. It would have been a challenge to know if I could play there. I remained focused on Real and then Athletic came. When a club pays so much for a player it’s because they need you. When someone pays €32 million for you it’s because there is money. Now that isn’t very much and prices keep rising.”
The beginning of the season wasn’t easy for Athletic. After finding themselves in a battle against relegation Martinez says that the squad dedicated themselves to fighting for better results. Gaizka Garitano took over as manager in December and everything changed.
“We saw things black and began to fight. Football is about going through streaks. We had a terrible time. Every time we dropped points we didn’t want to look at the table. Then came a change of coach and now there is even the option of Champions League. Now, if you don’t perform well, you will pay dearly because there are many teams competing for the European positions.”
No one knows what the future holds, but Martinez has no plans to leave Athletic. He’s bought a house in the city and is happy raising his family in Bizkaia. Still, he understands that every player has to make their own decision for their careers.
“Everyone has their own ideas and you always have to respect the decision a player makes. When I was with Real I defended Illarramendi’s decision (to go to Madrid). There are players that aspire to reach the top and others who want to make the journey with their own team. I’m comfortable here but you never know what the future holds. It’s not in my mind to leave, especially now that I’m settled in the center of Bilbao with a home and family.”
Athletic will travel to the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday for a huge game, but history isn’t on their side. The Lions haven’t beaten Real Madrid on the road in 14 years and Martinez never did it with Real Sociedad either. The 27-year-old admitted that Los Blancos aren’t at their best right now, though the Basques can’t expect anything to be easy.
“You can say that I have been lucky to draw at the Bernabéu because it’s a difficult place to play. It always seems like you are dominating but if you don’t finish your chances or take advantage of them Madrid will kill you. Of course, there is less fear without Cristiano Ronaldo, emotionally as well. The team still has a lot of stars and when things aren’t going well everyone looks out for themselves. That is when you start to make errors. They have always been fighting for something and that affects them. We are going with respect. We can’t lose our heads and think we’re better.”
Martinez will be tasked with slowing down Karim Benzema who has been lethal in front of goal this season. The defender called the Frenchman one of the best strikers in the world at the moment and believes that teammate Aritz Aduriz is still in that discussion as well.
“Anyone who is confident that we are going to win is confused. We all have to go together because if we make any mistakes there will be a backlash. Benzema is a great player who is doing well. The fans have whistled him at some moments, but I think he is one of the best in his position. We all hold Aduriz on a pedestal too. He has done great things for Athletic. He’s an emblem. It’s a pity that he’s been injured so many times this year.”
Once again Martinez was asked about his thoughts on VAR and he hasn’t changed his mind. “I’m a defender and I’m going to tell you that I don’t like it”, he answered. “There’s a magnifying glass on you each game and the smallest touch in slow motion seems like a strong impact. What a referee thinks also comes into play. Sometimes it’s good but other times it generates many doubts.” Hopefully there won’t be any controversial decisions at the Bernabéu on Sunday with Athletic needing a positive result to keep pace in the race for Europe.