Lautaro Martínez: Inter’s New Raging Bull
Lautaro Martinez feature Image designed by AS Argentina – Diario AS
Inter Milan’s ties with Argentine strikers are nothing short of inseverable. From Diego Milito’s masterful brace to sweep aside Bayern Munich in the 2009-10 Champions League final to current skipper Mauro Icardi notching up the highest goal tally (29) in a single campaign since Antonio Angelillo in 1958-59 (33).The acquisition of Lautaro Martínez from Racing Club for 20 million pounds could pay homage to this recent history and signal Inter’s road to redemption.
Likened to a certain Sergio Aguero for his diminutive frame and low centre of gravity, the 22-year old’s career trajectory seemed destined to intertwine with that of the Manchester City forward’s as a move to Atletico Madrid was gaining momentum in 2017. After an initial 12.75-million-euro bid was snubbed by Racing, the Rojiblancos sunk their teeth into luring one of Europe’s most sparkling striking prospects with an unauthorized medical. The incident was understandably met with the wrath of Racing Club president Victor Blanco.
“Lautaro came for an operation on his foot and what they (Atletico Madrid) did was an X-ray or examination of how he had been in the operation. It was bad for the people of Atletico to do it because he should have at least asked us for permission, which we would have given him.”
However, this was not an isolated incident of an attempted liaison by a Madrid club with “El Toro” (The bull). The stocky striker was a high priority name on Los Blancos’ summer wish list back in 2015. While the prospect of donning the shirt for either Atletico or Real Madrid is too sultry a temptress for South American players in particular, Martínez’s maturity beyond his years shined through. The starlet wanted to further hone his craft in the first division, instead of taking a rash misstep and eventually falling by the wayside at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The young buck has a good head on his shoulders, with a culmination of a relentless will to improve and abundant talent making Martínez an all-around gem of a prospect. An archetypal South American striker, the former Racing man is gifted with pace and the ability to glide past opponents. Despite standing at only 5’7, he does not shy away from aerial battles, racking up an impressive average of 1.5 duels won per match and relishing the nitty gritties of facing towering centre-halves. This tenacity is both a boon and a bane for Martínez as he commits 2.5 fouls per game. The youngster will have to become a savvier customer as he learns the tricks of the trade.
Much like Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Martínez is excellent at dropping into deep positions and stitching the attack together to foray forward. Link-up play is crucial in any striker’s game and the youngster’s footballing intelligence and mobility is clearly evident due to this trait. Most importantly, he is an expert finisher. He can be a nightmarish prospect for the man between the sticks in both one-on-one situations as well as from his oustide the box piledrivers. The boy has ice in his veins and his abilities as a born goalscorer are what put him on the radar for a host of the European elite.
Martínez’s dearth of experience at the upper echelon of European football cannot be refuted. However, there is one thing that sets the Bahia Blanca-born frontman apart from other prospects belonging to his age group such as Alexander Isak and Borja Mayoral. While the aforementioned wonderkids are subjected to playing second fiddle to superstars at their respective clubs, Martínez etched his presence in the Racing first team in 2016/17. The prodigy enjoyed a breakthrough season and ended the campaign with 9 goals in 23 league appearances
He continued this rich vein of form into the 2017 South American Youth Football Championship. Lautaro spearheaded the Argentina U-20 team to 4th place after finishing as joint top-scorer with 5 goals. In the process, he helped Argentina secure their qualification into the U-20 World Cup.
However, Martínez was soon to get a harsh reality check. The U20 World Cup was a disastrous tournament for the Albicelestes as they went crashing out in the group stages. It was an uninspiring competition for Martínez. He also faced the ignominy of being sent off against England. (the first player in history to be shown a red card via VAR).
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Martínez showed his minerals in times of adversity post the World Cup. He brushed aside the heartache of the early flight back home and delivered a clinical 2017/18 campaign. The 21-year old cemented his credentials as one of the most sought-after young strikers in the world, scoring 20 goals and assisting 4 in 29 matches in 2017/18. To provide further context, household names in Gabriel Jesus and Marcus Rashford’s combined goal contributions just about match the Argentine’s influence at Racing.
The gulf in class between the Premier League and the Copa Libertadores is undeniable, however, Martínez’s penchant for emerging as a true difference maker at such a tender age deserves all the plaudits.
It is this meteoric rise to fame amongst the Argentine faithful that ignited the interest of Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli. He handed Martínez his first senior call-up for friendlies against Italy and Spain in March 2017. The precocious sensation received his debut against the latter, coming on as a substitute for Gonzalo Higuain in the dying embers of the contest.
Martínez was a surprise inclusion in La Albiceleste’s preliminary squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, however, he missed final 23-man squad. There should not be any reason to feel aggrieved considering Argentina boasts an arsenal of the most potent attacking weapons in Lionel Messi and Co. to nitpick from.
As Martinez put pen to paper and signed for Inter in July, the ex-Liniers forward hit the ground running during pre-season with strikes against Lyon and Zenit St. Petersburg. However, as the curtain has been raised to the Serie A show, a question that looms amongst the Nerazzurri faithful is: “Where will Martínez fit into the team?”
Hernan Crespo has lauded the youngster as a versatile forward who could have the San Siro support on the edges of their seats.
“He is very good and can play in many roles; on the wing, as a secondary striker or up top by himself as the main striker. He has a knack for scoring goals and he’s an intelligent guy.”
Hernan Crespo on Lautaro Martínez
While manager Luciano Spalletti fielded Martínez in the No.10 position behind Icardi in an underwhelming 1-0 debut defeat against Sassuolo, fans and experts have tipped the Argentine duo to operate up top in tandem.
With the likes of multi-functional wide players Sime Vrsaljko, Kwadwo Asamoah, Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva capable of providing a lethal outlet on the flanks and a host of good chances, the Icardi-Martínez partnership has all the makings for a burgeoning striking partnership in a wide variety of tactical setups. Lautaro’s broad set of skills mean that he will be comfortable playing alongside Icardi.
He could play as a second striker in Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1, supporting Icardi from slightly deeper and using his strength and skill to commit defenders in the centre of the pitch and open up space for his fellow countryman. Spalletti may also want to experiment with them as a more traditional forward partnership in a 3-5-2 although this would likely mean dropping Ivan Perisic as he is not best suited to playing as a wing-back.
Inter is the ideal step up for Martínez as he is most certainly not out of his depth at the Nerazzurri, a massive club that are currently on the wane, however with an influx of quality additions, 2018-19 could prove to be a renaissance campaign for the Northern Italians.
Only time will tell whether Inter Milan’s love affair with Argentine strikers ends in a holy matrimony or an ugly divorce as Lautaro Martínez eases into life at the San Siro.
Feature Image via AS Argentina – Diario AS
Racing Club Image via FedeNerazzurra
SAYF Championship image via Full Matches and Shows
Argentina debut image via Zimbio
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