Iñigo Martinez “I Want To Continue Giving Everything For These Fans That Deserve So Much”
Iñigo Martinez’s decision to leave Real Sociedad for Athletic two years ago remains one of the most controversial transfers in the history of the rivalry. Despite growing up an Athletic fan, Martinez was developed at La Real’s academy and was even the team captain before his departure. On Saturday, the defender answered questions from fans in a virtual press conference and spoke openly about the contentious move.
“I was not myself and my head told me that I had to make a change in my life. I came to Athletic because from the first minute I saw that they trusted me fully, that they loved me, and they gave me that affection that I needed at that moment to fight and have courage. My family already knew what it was to be Athletic because I supported the club when I was little. I knew that I was coming to a big family and they were going to welcome me very well. I’m so happy to be here.”
Even though Martinez was confident that joining Athletic was the right move, it didn’t make the transfer any easier. Although the move angered fans of La Real the defender still has friends at his former club.
“Leaving La Real was difficult for me and my family, but I made the decision with my head. It was the best thing I could do in that moment. There came a moment when I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t enjoying myself and I had to make a change. I left many friends there with whom I still have a relationship. It’s the best thing about football and I will always be grateful for what La Real has given me for many years.”
Not surprisingly, Martinez’s return to Anoeta later that season was met with a barrage of insults from fans. However, the 28-year-old said he expected the harsh treatment and that it didn’t bother him.
“Returning to Donosti with Athletic felt foreign. I knew what the reception was going to be, but I went with everything. I was ready to go there and face them. I consider myself very strong mentally and there are things that affect others but not me. I enjoyed it. After finishing the game I visited with my former teammates.”
Born and raised in Ondarroa, it was natural that Martinez would grow up an Athletic fan but he never attended Lezama. “The same year that I was coming to Lezama to do the tests La Real were the first to opt for me,” he responded when asked why he went to Zubieta instead.
Today Martinez is very happy to be an Athletic players and was asked what is different about the fans in Bilbao. “The way the fans treat the players,” he answered. “Those who are Athletic are loyal fans and the feeling of affection from the first minute was something special.” He was also asked to define Athletic in three words. “Unique, history, and family,” was his response.
Martinez is very happy with life at San Mamés but admits he doesn’t know what the future holds. For now, he would like to continue at Athletic and wants to win the Copa del Rey title and take out La Gabarra.
“No one knows where our careers will end. I’m delighted to be here and I hope to continue here for many years. I want to continue giving everything for these fans that deserve so much. My current dream is to win a title, it’s what matters most to me and would mean a lot. I have never been to a final and I hope to take full advantage of this one and being the Cup to Bilbao. I don’t rule out getting a special tattoo if we win the final.”
The Cup final is one of the biggest uncertainties given the current health crisis. Unlike the league, the final can take place much later in the year if needed but no one wants to play the match behind closed doors.
“That option, playing without fans, has been discarded by the clubs and the players. It can’t be a final without our fans. It would be strange and we aren’t considering it. We hope that everything changes and that we can live a unique and historic moment in our lives. Having as many opposing fans as ours would be impressive.”
The defender continued to pointing out the atmosphere would suffer significantly if fans weren’t allowed to attend the final. With this being a historic Basque Derby everyone is willing to wait until it’s safe for fans to fill the stands.
“Playing without the fans wouldn’t be the same. There’s no emotion, everything would be very strange, and it would feel like a friendly. The fans give us a lot. Hopefully everything will be solved in the best possible way and we can play again in front of our fans. Who knows when two Basque teams will play another final. It’s important to unite us all and enjoy the moment as a special derby.”
The final against Real Sociedad could very well be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry.
“La Real have their weapons and always try to use them. We know our strengths and what we must do. Playing them, especially in the final, motives us a lot and we will go for everything.”
For Martinez, there is added drama in facing his former club in the final. When asked if he’s thought about scoring Athletic against La real he explained that he just wants to win the Cup. “I don’t think about it much, but instead about anyone scoring a goal to win the game. I couldn’t describe what I would feel in that moment.”
It’s been just over two years since Martinez joined Athletic and he’s still waiting on his first goal. The defender is happy with his role in the team but admits he’s been frustrated to see opportunities go awry.
“We all want to score and it would be very nice. Fans are waiting for my first goal, they want it and so do I, but my role isn’t to score. I have to do everything I can to help the team win and if that means scoring a goal then fine, but what hurts the most is when I have a good chance and it doesn’t go in.”
Athletic’s path to the Cup final hasn’t been an easy one. The Lions have had to endure many difficult moments but Martinez says that he’s loved the challenge and which have shown the team’s strength.
“I have really enjoyed the Cup. Every game has been exciting and hard. Each game was a challenge with an early red card, going to penalties, and beating Barcelona at home. At one point against Granada we all expected the worst it became a moment of joy, an incredible moment that we were able to celebrate with our fans. It was something very beautiful. These games have shown the team’s hard work, solidarity, and character.”
Several times in the past Martinez has spoke glowingly of Gaizka Garitano’s defensive style of football. When questioned about the keys to Athletic’s way of playing he had high praise for a teammate. “Dani (García) is a fundamental piece in our system, in our style of football,” he responded. “He’s vital and shows it every time he plays. He sweeps up everything everywhere he goes.”
While everyone dreams about the Cup final and the possibility of celebrating another title in Bilbao, no one knows when the match will take place. Football has stopped in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and players are having to do what they can at home to stay in shape.
“Every day we have something to do. You have to adapt to what we’re doing at home. The break can hurt everyone because you’re inactive for a long time and not touching the ball. We have to get back to the rhythm of the competition quickly and for that we have to have a mini-preseason to be at our best. I will be excited when I can go to work again. We will go the Lezama where we are very comfortable because being at home so long makes you want to go out and kick the ball.”
Overcoming the current situation will take everyone working together. “It’s best to stay home until the health authorities tell us otherwise,” said Martinez. “We are football player and we have many followers. The main thing is to set an example.”
The football stoppage will also have a drastic financial impact on clubs. Athletic have been in talks with the players to come to an agreement on a possible wage reduction and Martinez is willing to help the club if there is need.
“We are here to help and the captains have a very fluid relationship with the Board. When the time comes decisions will be made, but in the meantime we are waiting to see how everything goes.”
Since joining Athletic, Iñigo Martinez has become a fan favorite at San Mamés and can further cement his legacy with the club by helping the team win the Copa del Rey. Whatever happens, the boy from Ondarroa is thoroughly enjoying life in Bilbao and is pleased with the difficult decision he made two years ago.