Javi Martinez “I Could Never Say No To Athletic”
Javi Martinez was a rising star at Athletic before leaving for Bayern Munich back in 2012. The move was met with anger and frustration from fans, but Martinez still has a special place in his heart for Athletic despite the negative treatment he received. The midfielder recently sat down for an interview with Robert Basic of El Correo where he opened up about it all and even likened the two clubs to one another.
“Many times I’ve compared Bayern to Athletic because it’s a family and a club of tradition. It has its own Lezama, Säbener Straße and many times they have offered Bayern to move to a better place and they’ve always refused. They say that it’s a tradition of the club and that the sports city doesn’t move. My parents taught me values and the importance of keeping them.”
When discussing the differences between the two countries, Martinez explained that the overall population isn’t as passionate about football in Germany like they are in Spain. Everyone in Bilbao knows the players and it’s a special feeling.
“Bayern is one of the top three clubs in the world but there isn’t as much passion in Germany. In Bilbao you walk down the street and a 75-year-old grandmother knows you and calls you by name, a 7-year-old boy knows your name. Everyone follows Athletic, but not here. The fans are very fanatical but many people don’t follow football, unlike in Spain.”
Martinez still regrets not being able to win a title at Athletic. He considers it the greatest failure of his career and would return immediately if he knew he could help the team lift a trophy.
“If they guaranteed me that we would win a trophy I would go back. We were runners-up and that was special. It’s too bad we lacked the spark in the final in Bucharest. The season was long. We reached two finals. It was a tough year and we ended up very tired. They were two incredible finals and the greatest impotence of my life.”
Looking back on his time at San Mamés, Martinez admitted that he had to grow up quickly. His first year saw the club fighting relegation and it wasn’t an easy time. From there the Lions improved and returned to being one of the best teams in La Liga.
“The first year was an intense time of maturity. I remember now, when Athletic is up, because not so long ago we fought to avoid relegation. It was a very hard year and we were saved on the last day. I didn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t leave home because we were in a situation where I didn’t feel like going outside. I grew up four or five years in that season. Then we went on an upward trajectory.”
Martinez has lived his childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer. It took a lot of work and the 31-year-old was open about the fact that he decided to leave Athletic to have more opportunities to win titles. The move was never about the money, he shared.
“I have fulfilled my life’s dream. I always wanted to be a footballer. I have fought a lot and my family has fought almost more than I have. What is success? For me, succeeding is reaching the goals you have set for yourself. That’s one of the reasons why I came to Bayern. When I was at Athletic, Bayern was a team that bet very hard on me and gave the opportunity of getting all the things that football players dream of.”
It was natural for fans to be upset with Martinez. Many believed that the midfielder had quit on the team and he knows that his decision was hard to understand. Put simply, the midfielder chose to leave in order to challenge for things that weren’t possible at Athletic.
“How players get to compete in the Champions League? Very few, that’s why the change happened. Many people didn’t understand. Beyond the money, there wasn’t much different, what made me want to change was that I could aspire to do things here that I couldn’t at Athletic.”
Martinez returns to Bilbao on a regular basis because he loves the city and the people. Athletic is still one of his great loves, but he doesn’t know if he will come back to the club. Right now he’s an important player at Bayern and isn’t thinking about the future.
“I return to Bilbao very often as a lover of the city and the people. I don’t know if I will return to the club. I’m 31 years old so we’ll see. I have two years left on my contract and when I talk to the President and coach they tell me that I’m important for the club. There hasn’t been any contact from Athletic.”
Athletic have yet to contact Martinez over possibly returning, but if the call ever comes the 31-year-old said that he wouldn’t be able to turn it down.
“I’m very grateful to Athletic. Who knows? I lived there for six years and it was wonderful. When something has been so wonderful you can never say no. I could never say no to Athletic. It’s also true that I can always be called about spending a couple years in another part of the world. If Athletic calls me? I don’t know. First it would have to happen, that they call me. Then I would think about it.”
As Martinez reflected on his career, he was quick to share that losing the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals were the worst moments he experienced. However, his first goal with the Lions is the moment he will never forget.
“The most unforgettable moment of my career was when I scored my first goal with Athletic. A few days before a friend of mine had died and I wanted to score a goal to dedicate it to him. It’s wrong to say it, but it was a great goal. I haven’t had another one like that in my life. The worst times were the finals that we lost at Athletic, no doubt, and my knee injury.”
The Bayern Munich midfielder never expected to be still playing football at this age and he’s not thinking about retiring now. When that day does come, he would like to coach young players at Lezama if possible.
“I’ve been a professional for 15 years. I look back and I’m proud. I remember telling my brother I would retire at 28 or 30 and now I’m 31 and I want to continue playing. When I do retire I would like to continue working in football. I wouldn’t like to be a senior coach, but I would enjoy working with kids. I’d love that, and being able to coach kids at Athletic would be the best.”
Athletic President Aitor Elizegi and Sporting Director Rafa Alkorta have both publicly stated that the club would love to sign Javi Martinez, but didn’t pursue him over the summer because Bayern weren’t interested in selling. This season the 31-year-old has featured in just four matches, without a single start, which makes a return to San Mamés much more possible.