Iñigo Martinez arrived at Barcelona to fill a glaring hole in a squad that lacked a left-footed centre-back. The Spanish international’s signing was made official by the club earlier this week, with the free agent signing a two-year contract.
In spite of ample options in defence and more pressing matters to deal with, Martinez has the hallmark of becoming a remarkable pickup for Barça this summer.
Here are four reasons why the La Liga champions might have secured the services of the former Athletic Club talisman.
Upgrade on Barcelona’s back-ups
Inigo Martinez provides the best of both worlds. The seasoned veteran is capable of lending his services in a variety of situations. From increasing purpose in possession to valiantly defending without the ball, he has exceptional diversity in his game.
Barcelona, in the past season, utilised Marcos Alonso and Eric Garcia in the absence of their nailed starters.
Alonso, as a makeshift center-back, mostly excelled in certain game states. Often deputizing in defensive set-ups, his grit to hold out narrow leads allowed Xavi to make use of his burly figure in a low block. Garcia, who was counted as a cheat code progression-wise, lacked the guile to survive repeated onslaughts from the opposition.
However, Martinez boasts a more complete resume. The Spaniard may be lower in the pecking order but is battle-hardened in low blocks as well as a high line.
At Athletic Club, the defender was acclimatised to defending slim advantages. Putting his body on the line to thwart attacks while emerging successfully aerially, he was able to halt a bombardment of crosses.
At the same time, his solid ball-playing abilities mean he can act as a pivotal progressor. The 32-year-old’s diagonal long balls from deep are capable of cutting lines seamlessly, with such attributes suited to an expansive brand of football.
Martinez’s proficiency in a plethora of situations renders him a complete asset. Xavi, over the past season, emphasized swift progression from the first phase, along with defending leads when push came to shove. Martinez ticks both boxes. As a backup, he offers immense value.
Martinez oozes charisma. Having led Athletic Club’s backline for several years, he has undeniably earned his status as a leader at the back. The 32-year-old has recorded a whopping 357 appearances in La Liga, which explains Barcelona’s desire to add him to their relatively young defensive unit.
Barcelona lately have suffered psychological lapses on the grand European stages. These were particularly observed last season as well, with the Catalans suffering in times of distress.
Despite beginning with positive sensations, lapses in concentration led to mental capitulations in big games. As soon as adversity strikes and the moment unexpected hurdles crop up in the race toward the finish line, indecision rises.
Acting as a mentor to a young squad, the Basque central defender can help keep Barcelona focused and not lose their bearings when setbacks strike.
“My job will be to try to lead the defensive line. I have a lot of experience, I’ve played a lot of games. I have no doubts. I’m convinced that we’ll do very well.” the Spaniard said after officially being revealed as a Barca player.
In addition to the tangible sporting benefits of acquiring Martinez, his presence as a leader who has ample experience in weathering storms will suit Barcelona in knockout competitions.
Beefing up the depth
Competition is the perfect antidote to complacency. Recruiting a defender as renowned as Martinez will surely help erase the feeling of security in the starting XI for many of the current Blaugrana defenders.
The Catalan giants are unlikely to demote either one of Andreas Christensen or Ronald Araujo as starters, but with competition lurking in the background, motivation to perform consistently will be ever-present.
Martinez’s arrival certainly engenders competition in the squaad. And it will also prevent injuries from derailing the season.
With congested fixture lists, a great deal of burden can be lifted from the regulars. Moreover, the defender will manage to adequately replace the starters for prolonged periods in the worst-case scenarios.
In the previous Champions League campaign, Barcelona’s group-stage exit could be attributed to the absence of their main defenders. Injuries proved to be the real culprit, and the arrival of Martinez will help alleviate such hiccups.
At a time when finances have hardly favored Barca, free agents are turning out to be a hot commodity in the market for the club. Smart acquisitions over the years, like that of Andreas Christensen, have prompted Barcelona to keep looking for such deals in the market.
A low-cost operation elevates the club’s chances of also fetching a fee for the player later down the line.
Compelled to work with monetary limitations, the club must think strategically and sustainably. Franck Kessie, who has been rumoured to hit the exit door for a fee of around €30 million, largely encapsulates the utility of such free-agent signings: frugal risk.
Barcelona needed to take full advantage of the free agency market given their dire financial condition, and they have done just that by signing both Ilkay Gundogan and Martinez.