A target for Manchester United last summer, the Spaniard has recently attracted the attentions of Liverpool. Paul Wilkes profiles the Sociedad stopper...
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- Date of birth: May 17, 1991
- Place of birth: Ondarroa, Spain
- Height: 5ft 11in
- Position: Centre-back
- Club: Real Sociedad (151 apps, 11 goals)
- International: Spain (2 caps)
Born in the north of the Basque Country, Inigo Martinez has risen through the ranks of local side Real Sociedad. He helped the B side gain promotion from the fourth division in 2009/10 before making his senior debut at the start of the 2011/12 campaign.
Just six weeks after he made his full debut for Sociedad, he scored a memorable first goal in the Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao from inside his own half. Less than two months passed before he proved it was no fluke and repeated the feat against Real Betis. This time it was the deciding goal in stoppage time of a 3-2 victory. Perhaps this trait is harnessed in San Sebastián – fellow graduate Xabi Alonso demonstrated his capability of beating goalkeepers from long range on more than one occasion. It's not just within his own residence that Martinez has been gaining plaudits. Spain is rife with talented footballers, but the lack of depth at centre-back is apparent. Martinez has been trying his best to disprove this theory and has been on the radar of a number of top clubs for many years.
His international prospects have been harmed somewhat by the established partnership of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique. The two world-class operatives have ensured that Martinez has just two full caps to his name, although this will probably improve with a transfer to one of Europe's top destinations.
Why you need to know him
With Barcelona banned from signing anyone this summer and Real Madrid well stocked in the centre of defence, the likeliest outcome is a move to the Premier League. Manchester United were heavily linked with Martinez last summer and Liverpool have watched him several times in the past few months.
Under David Moyes' leadership at La Real, the defender has continued his development. He has now restored his tackle and interception ratios back towards the levels he was at when he first burst onto the scene, and he's making fewer fouls than at any stage of his career.
"It's true – it's been a mixed season with certainly more negative moments, despite the odd time when things appeared to be going our way," Martinez told Spanish newspaper AS.
"The early part was difficult. Then we had a change of coach when Moyes came in with the aim of improving and changing things, but it hasn't worked out so well."
His quotes appear to be an admission that he expects better from his team, and that he certainly isn't sold on the methods of his Scottish manager. The organisation and authority that Martinez possesses on the pitch is a vital component that would be severely missed should he depart.
He acquired Champions League experience at the Anoeta in 2013/14, but there's no suggestion that he would only be willing to listen to offers from sides in next season's competition. But regular European football would unquestionably assist his progression alongside the demands of a historically larger club.
Martinez has been likened to Barcelona's Carles Puyol in the past due to his speed and strength. His natural ball control means that he's comfortable dribbling up the pitch in order to initiate attacks and make long-range passes over the top of opposing defenders for pacy strikers to run onto.
He may only be 5ft 11in but he isn't afraid to use his head if the circumstance dictates. Whether it's making clearances (he managed the second most in La Liga last season behind Valencia's Nicolas Otamendi) or attacking from set-pieces, the 24-year-old is extremely competent in aerial situations. He also made the second-most blocks of any player too... once again, behind Manchester United target Otamendi.
Martinez isn't the most proficient tackler, as he prefers to use his positional ability to intercept the ball and force opponents away from the danger area. This isn't a major problem, as he doesn't dive into tackles and has this year picked up his lowest number of cautions in a single campaign (six). His pass-completion ratio has dropped, which is mainly down to his attempts to switch play or release wingers on the counter-attack. Moyes's style of football has to take some responsibility for this change in effectiveness.
"He is a Real player and we hope he will give his all for us, and from there we are prepared. Has there been an offer? We have had indication," said sporting director Loren when Madrid were previously interested.
Did you know?
Martinez scored a 30-yard own goal with a backheel while playing for Spain's U21s. Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Makaridze's hopeful punt upfield was met unfortunately by the Sociedad stopper, who could only watch on with horror as the ball sailed straight over the head of David de Gea. Thankfully the goal mattered little, with La Roja already leading 6-0 before eventually winning 7-2.
What happens next
The reported £14 million opening bid from Liverpool is some way off his £21.5m buyout option, although there's every chance that the Merseyside club will try their luck with an increased offer shortly. However, Real Sociedad aren't desperate for the money having sold Claudio Bravo, Antoine Griezmann and Asier Illaramendi in recent summers. "Do you think I would want to sell him to Liverpool? We've not had any contact and it's pure speculation," Moyes protested. The coach won't have any choice should his release clause be met, though, and while the Scot would like to keep the player, a decent transfer fee would certainly be welcomed if it can be reinvested into his squad for next season.