When Atlanta United opens its third season against Herediano in the Concacaf Champions League about two and a half weeks from now, all eyes will be on its new signing. And, right away, there will be some amount of pressure for Pity Martinez to not only live up to the reported 8-figure transfer fee Atlanta paid for him, but to surpass - or at worst match - the success his predecessor at the midfield position had in two seasons with the club before being sold to Newcastle United. But while Martinez’s star has shone bright prior to his arrival, it hasn’t always been that way.
Peter Coates knows a thing or two about Martinez’s career: he covers Argentinian football for his site Golazo Argentino - you can follow him at @GolazoArgentino to get insight, analysis and match coverage from across the country. He was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions about Martinez’s ascent from a skilled, 18-year-old prospect at Huracán to his status as the top player in South America, and now as a 25-year-old hoping to make a similar impact in North America.
This is an already established, elite talent that has made his mark on South American football - and instead of going to Europe, he’s chosen North America. Twofold question here: a) How does a move like this benefit not just Atlanta, but all clubs? b) What do you feel were some of the factors that maybe kept some European sides from expressing serious interest?
The benefit to Atlanta is enormous. As you noted, Martinez is an elite South American talent (not elite European level, I should note), so it is getting a player just voted the continent’s player of the year and who is finally reaching a level of consistency that had made him so effective for River. However, it is perhaps this consistency that put certain European clubs off - River were not willing to budge on his release clause, and for some of the clubs linked, it was still a sizeable fee. Pity will be 26 this year, and for many Euro scouts, that is entering an age bracket that they are no longer looking to invest in. That isn’t to say it’s a negative for Atlanta, but merely that they were able to take advantage of European clubs not matching their offer.
Nothing’s official, but word is that Atlanta paid a $14-$15 million transfer fee to land Martinez. If that’s true, they’ve spent the two highest fees in MLS history. What does that say about the quality of player he is, and why did it seem like Atlanta were the only club in the league willing to bring him on board?
As I said, it tells you that Martinez is one of the best talents in domestic South American football, has been voted by journalists for a prodigious award as such, just played a vital role in winning the biggest competition and made his Argentina debut last year. My explanation for why Euro clubs didn’t match that, I’ve mentioned, and in terms of other MLS clubs, there are very few that have the same level of ambition as Atlanta and who also have a very clear business plan.
Sticking on the money portion for a little bit. One thing that Carlos Bocanegra noted in the team release is that this is a “long-term contract”. How does this act as a nice bargaining tool for Atlanta if and when he is in a position to make that move to Europe in a few years?
Yes, of course it does, and after the club paid that amount they would want the security of tying Pity to a long term deal. However, if Atlanta were to make a major profit on the player, he would need to be sold within a year or two in my opinion. He isn’t a kid like Barco, so with every passing season, his appeal to European clubs will likely diminish.
You’ve seen a lot more of Martinez than I have. What are some of the key moments that really stood out to you during his career with River, and what were some of the catalysts that led to his move form his boyhood club of Huracan to a club with River’s profile?
He was widely regarded as a major talent at Huracan and showed flashes of his talents and his wonderful left foot upon reaching the first team. It was this that prompted River to spend a relatively large amount of money, and in many ways led to the problems that Martinez had during the first year or two at the club. Expectation was huge and Pity struggled for form, leading to supporters jeering him. During this period, after a goal he scored at the Monumental, he celebrated with a finger over his lips. That could have gone either way as the initial reaction from supporters was anger, but it seemed to be a turning point in which Pity won them over. Certainly the key moments in this process were his goals against Boca; Pity became something of a Superclasico hero and will be remembered forever for this.
What has been the reaction of River fans in the wake of Martinez’s transfer?
Concern. Supporters know that they have lost one of their main creative players, one they as of yet have failed to adequately replace. However, it was widely known that he would be going, and frankly, no clubs triggering the clause earlier gave River an extra year that they probably didn’t expect.
At the end of the day, how do you feel Martinez’s adjustment to MLS will go? He certainly has the capability to become one of the league’s top players, but there’s always that possibility that the transition doesn’t go as well. Is that a concern with you for him?
It is a concern with any transfer. Certainly, Martinez wasn’t an instant success at River, but he was a kid when that move came about and has since developed into a far more complete player. All the indications over the past year are that Pity will take little to no adjusting and should prove to be one of the best players in MLS - certainly a player capable of filling the sizeable shoes of Miguel Almiron.