Adam Digby1 Comment

JORGE MARTINEZ: THE MALAISE OF EL MALAKA

Adam Digby1 Comment

Adam Digby on the curious case of Jorge Martinez.

It shouldn't have been this way. In May 2010 Catania winger Jorge Martinez was effervescent as he helped the Sicilian side to a remarkable season in which they finished comfortably in 12th place. His impressive displays also ensured his place in Uruguay's provisional 26-man squad ahead of the World Cup in South Africa.

The league campaign could not have gone better as 'Gli Elefanti' - under Siniša Mihajlović - had played an attractive up-tempo style that won them many admirers. Wins over Juventus and both Milan sides brought the attention of Serie A's bigger clubs, particularly after dancing his way through the Inter defence to seal an incredible 3-1 win against the Champions with a superbly taken goal.

His year took a strange turn when Óscar Tabárez cut the former Nacional man - along with Jorge Rodriguez and Alvaro Gonzalez - as he trimmed his squad down to the required 23 before the tournament began. Given the player had featured in both their warm up matches it was a surprising omission.  

Yet he would soon receive a major boost as Beppe Marotta decided Martinez had a role to play in Gigi Delneri's new look Juventus. While the €12 million fee - spread over three years - looked slightly high, the deal made sense to regular watchers of Italian football, with 25 goals (an impressive strike rate of 0.29 goals per game) in his three seasons at Catania.

Occasionally his form was erratic but with a great change of pace, intelligent distribution and an ability to protect the ball well when in possession, he was among the best wingers in the league which is exactly what Delneri's style and system demand. Martinez was clearly pleased with the move, as he told the Juventus Channel;

"I’ve come to a team who did not do very well last season, but Juventus is Juventus and they will return to being the team they have always been - good football, a winning spirit and many champions. We hope to have a beautiful season. It’s a dream to be here, I’m very happy."

However, from the outset - and perhaps more than anyone else at the Turin club - he would prove to be a disappointment. Some players, like Marco Motta, put forth the effort but lack either the technical ability or mental fortitude to thrive under the pressure of playing for a truly great club. The Uruguayan's greatest flaw has actually been himself.

Injury and even poor form are often unavoidable, but Martinez committed perhaps the greatest professional sin; he arrived at Juve's pre-season training camp at Pinzolo not just out of shape but physically unfit to play football.

You would imagine an expensive transfer to one of Europe's most prestigious sides and having just missed the World Cup, a player would carry a burning desire to prove the doubters wrong. Yet Martinez spent the first month of pre-season trying to burn only calories.On the opening day of the campaign, Delneri was forced to play Fabio Quagliarella, who only arrived the day before and had not completed a single training session with the squad.

Martinez would make five appearances, mainly as a second half substitute and only once completing 90 minutes before being named as a starter away to Milan in late October. There he would suffer a broken foot, an injury that would keep him out for three months and further injuries and poor form would limit him to a total of nine starts and eleven substitute appearances in all competitions. Those figures alone are cause for concern, yet worse still is the fact in those appearances he averaged just a little over 40 minutes per game and had neither a goal nor an assist to his name.

Many would question his suitability to a coach that predominantly favours 4-4-2, yet for most of the latter part of the season Delneri switched to a 4-3-3, the very formation under which Martinez had previously thrived. Even when fit however, he still missed out, to players like Alessandro Matri and Simone Pepe who possess few of the traits needed to play a wide role up front and balance the width provided by Milos Krasic on the opposite flank.

Preferring to play one of those two speaks volumes of just how the player came to be regarded. With such a poor season behind him, Antonio Conte has arrived, and while clearly his teams look to dominate play and rely far less on counter-attacking than Delneri's, it would seem that little will change for Juventus in terms of formation.

Martinez seems to be headed for the exit as a number of replacements have been linked to the club and just this week his former club made clear their desire to bring him back to the Stadio Massimino. Catania's Sporting Director Pietro Lo Monaco told Gazzetta dello Sport; "It is true, there is an ongoing negotiation and Jorge might return".

Perhaps the best option for Juventus however would be to try insert him into a part-exchange with another Serie A club, with Lazio, Cagliari and Palermo all more than willing to entertain such deals. Panteleo Corvino of Fiorentina has made a career of such projects and may well be enticed into another with the Uruguayan. Away from the pressures of Turin, in a shirt that weighs a little less heavily upon his shoulders, el Malaka may once again thrive, it has been too long since we saw Jorge Martinez dance in celebration.

Adam is a regular contributor to IBWM. Follow him on Twitter @Adz77

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