Inigo Martinez has made a name for himself during an impressive spell for Real Sociedad since making his debut for the club back in August 2011. After coming through the academy at the Basque club, Martinez made his debut as a 20-year-old in the 2-1 win over Sporting Gijon on 27 August 2011 and has been a mainstay in central defence ever since, making a total of 222 appearances at the time of writing. Martinez form for La Real has also seen him gain international experience by representing Spain at the 2012 Olympics as well as winning the 2013 U21 Euros. Due to La Real’s collective success, Martinez has also been given the opportunity to enjoy Champions League football with his club in the 2013/14 season.
Martinez was also given a full international debut in August 2013 when he replaced Sergio Ramos as a second half substitute in a friendly against Ecuador. In the midst of his rise to the top and impressive performances for Sociedad, Martinez has prompted interest from bigger clubs than the San Sebastian-located club. This summer, FC Barcelona, have been confirmed by Sociedad as making an approach to sign the centre-back. Therefore, we take a look at the player, his strengths, and weaknesses prior to a prospective move to the Catalan giants.
Modern football coaches value central defenders who are comfortable in possession and capable of progressing the play through either passing the ball or dribbling into space. Inigo Martinez has the capacity to do both. Under head coach Eusebio Sacristan at Sociedad last season, the team played in a style which valued the progression of possession from the back and Martinez was a key component with his quality in both short passing but specifically long passing. Martinez left-foot is really impressive and he resembles a quarterback when he sweeps long, raking passes over the opposing defence to a teammate running into space or when he pings accurate crossfield-passes to the right wing. Martinez could also be seen dribbling with the ball into any vacated space ahead of him, prompting opposing midfielders to engage in a pressing action which would free up midfielders whom Martinez could then find with a pass.
While this quality in possession is vital to Barcelona and their style of play, Luis Suarez would be a main beneficiary of Martinez long passing in behind the opposing defence, there should be no illusions on what Martinez main focus is. He plays in central defence and he is a proper defender.
Martinez is a tough and uncompromising defender who seemingly enjoys the physical battle with forwards. He’s often seen slide tackling opponents and is extremely aggressive. Sometimes this leads to the Basque being too rash with his decisions, highlighted by nine yellow cards last year, which is something he needs to improve upon but the positives outweigh the negatives as he often bullies forwards with his sheer strength and aggression. Martinez could still improve his aerial game which is the glaring weakness of his defensive qualities, but he is by no means poor in the air. Martinez is by nature a front foot defender who reads the game well and loves to step in front of forwards to win the ball back and this style fits perfectly with a style of play where you’re expected to dominate possession and need to win the ball back quickly to stop counter-attacks. Sounds like a perfect Barcelona defender, right?
When defending close to his own goal, Martinez is concentrated and composed and controls his entire defensive line. Look at the two clips below when he first makes a clearance before pushing his fellow defenders up to minimize the space between themselves and their midfielders. This type of pushing the defensive line up will be something utilised by Valverde at Barca and if signed, Martinez will already have experience of playing in this way.
To become one of the best defenders around, Martinez needs to evaluate situations a bit better to remove unnecessary fouls and bookings from his game. His aggression is one of his biggest strengths but it just requires him to be a fraction late with his tackles for them to result in bookings and sending offs. If he can find the right balance between aggression and control, his quality could see him become one of the best in Europe. At 26, this is probably the perfect time to make the move to a giant like Barcelona. Capable of playing in both a back four, a back three or even in defensive midfield, his versatility would be appreciated by Valverde and he would provide stern competition for Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, and Samuel Umtiti. Maybe even for Lionel Messi considering he can produce this from free-kicks.
To conclude, Inigo Martinez is an excellent defender both in the attacking phase and the defensive phase. His intelligence, aggression, and technique makes him a perfect defender for a club like Barcelona and it would be a very smart signing for the Catalan giants to increase competition for places in defence with the signing of the centre-back from Real Sociedad.