Liverpool and Rafa Benitez have apparently been following the progress of Athletic Bilbao’s young attacking midfielder Javi Martinez for a long time. Last summer, Martinez was rumoured to be the long term replacement for Xabi Alonso during the Spaniard’s protracted move to Real Madrid. Rumours of a move died down after the Reds’ acquisition of Alberto Aquilani from Roma but in recent days, speculation has grown again over a possible move to Anfield for the 21 year old this summer. The Daily Mirror reported yesterday that Benitez was a long term admirer of the powerful midfielder and that he was one of the players on a summer hit list to shake up the squad in the close season. Rumours have arisen over a move for Martinez once again because Liverpool scouts were present at the match between Bilbao and Atletico Madrid last Thursday and the Basque club were well aware of the interest, shown by the comments of Bilbao manager Joaquin Caparros after the match when he mentioned the midfielder’s talents: “Javier is a monster of a player and can go very far.”
So if the speculation is to be believed, who is Javi Martinez and what sort of player would he be if he moved to Liverpool? Martinez has been courted from a very young age due to his precocious talents and was signed by Osasuna Juniors at just ten years of age after a successful trial with the Pamplona club. A native Basque who was born in Pamplona, Martinez impressed during his first season with Osasuna B in 2005 and scored 2 goals in 32 matches. By this time, the then 17 year old was being tracked by Athletic Bilbao, and with their policy of only signing Basque players, the club knew they had to get their hands on this talented young midfielder before another club came in for the player. So before Martinez had even played a first team match for Osasuna, Bilbao shelled out a hefty €6million for the midfielder in the summer of 2006. It wasn’t going to be €6million they would regret paying though.
Martinez became an instant hit at Bilbao in his first season, scoring three goals in 35 appearances, the highlight of which was a fantastic double away at Deportivo la Coruna in December 2006 helping the team to a 2-0 victory. At 6ft 3, Martinez has a rangy style which means he can eat up the ground in midfield and is a true “monster” as his manager Caparros says. No doubt he will be compared to Patrick Vieira but there is also something of the Steven Gerrards about him, in the way he makes forward runs. He is still only 21 but his star is rising fast in Spain. Since his first season with Bilbao, Martinez has been a regular in the first team, helping the Basque team to the Spanish Cup final last season with a goal in the semi-final against Sevilla. He couldn’t however prevent the side losing to Barcelona in the final. It was his most prolific season in front of goal though with 6 goals and he has tallied 4 goals in the current campaign after 27 appearances.
The midfielder is on the cusp of getting his first cap for Spain after making his way through the country’s youth ranks to become a regular at Under 21 level and Rafa is probably looking to buy the player before his star rises any further. The real stumbling block to any move will of course be the price. It is said the 21 year old has a minimum fee release clause of £17.1million but back in January Manchester City were said to be considering a £25million offer for the player. I think we can safely say that if the value is at that level then Rafa would probably have to shell out all of his transfer budget on one player. Perhaps a big risk on an unproven talent such as Martinez.