It&aposs safe to say 2022 was quite the year for Lisandro Martinez. A league title triumph with Ajax, a massive move to Manchester United, a great start to life at Old Trafford all topped off with the world&aposs juiciest cherry in winning the grandest prize of them all.
The World Cup winner is yet to see much football since the remarkable final triumph over France – in fairness, some of us might never have recovered from the hangover he surely suffered – and only made his return in the final two minutes of this week&aposs victory over Bournemouth but fans were giddy for his return.
Martinez was welcomed back onto the field by a raucous standing ovation, befitting of a cult figure who has been at the club for a decade. Not barely half a year. It displays just how enamoured, besotted, supporters have become with the Argentine.
It&aposs reminiscent of Nemanja Vidic&aposs arrival in Manchester, this very week a whole 17 years ago now. How time flies. Vidic was signed for quite a bit less than Martinez in a 10.5million move from Spartak Moscow as a relative unknown but his impact would soon be seismic.
Just like Martinez, their times at United actually started poorly, though. While Martinez was criticised for his stature following embarrassing defeats to Brighton and Brentford, Vidic&aposs debut was a 4-3 loss to Blackburn Rovers.
“It might surprise you to hear that Nemanja was not the powerful centre-back he became. There was nothing of him when he arrived. He was skinny and relatively easy to push off the ball,” Paul Scholes wrote in the Independent in 2015. “Like Patrice, he took a battering in his first few weeks at the club in training as well as matches.
“His league debut was a 4-3 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, with Rio Ferdinand playing in midfield and later sent off. Nemanja must have realised quite early on that he was not strong enough to play in the centre of defence at that time, so he did something about it.
“For the next year, every time I walked past the gym, I would see Nemanja in there lifting weights. He turned himself into a big, strong centre-half who was capable of knocking strikers out of the way. He always had a great ability to head the ball, but allied with his strength he became unbeatable in the air. Throughout his United career, we would play away at difficult grounds and it would be Nemanja heading crosses and set pieces when the team were under pressure.”
In fact, even before that, Vidic, with fellow newcomer Patrice Evra, put in a stinker for the Under-21s as they attempted to acclimatise to English football. “After 45 minutes, Rene [Meulenstein] told me and Patrice to have a shower,” he told Stadium Astro. “We did not play well. He was really shocked. Patrice and I looked at each other and said wow.
Once Vidic had acclimatised he would go on to be the Premier League&aposs most fearsome centre-back, forming a partnership more solid than Elon Musk&aposs misplaced sense of righteousness with Rio Ferdinand. The towering brick outhouse went on to make 300 appearances, captain the club, win five league titles, the Champions League and more as well as scoring many crucial goals along the way.
He might not be from Serbia and be about to murder the opposition but the Butcher of Buenos Aires appears to be on a similar path. Like Vidic, Martinez has quickly made himself a fan favourite thanks to his full-blooded commitment and those sly antics that infuriate opposition supporters but only endear a player to the ones that matter.