Lisandro Martinez suggested criticism from the likes of Jamie Carragher over his height shows more about them than it does himself, and named an Arsenal player as the toughest he’s faced since joining Man Utd.
Ajax received official bids from both Manchester United and Arsenal for Martinez over the summer. United fully intended to deploy the Argentine in his customary centre-back position if signed. The Gunners, meanwhile, reportedly planned to utilise him mainly at left-back.
A reunion with Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford was ultimately forged. As a result, the Gunners quickly ramped up a move for Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Martinez stands at 5ft 9in tall, a height that quickly caused a stir when the idea of playing centre-half in the more physical Premier League was poised to become a reality.
His United career began in dubious fashion when the Red Devils began the campaign with back-to-back defeats.
Brighton won on opening day, but worse was to come when Brentford thumped Martinez and co. 4-0 next time out.
Carragher gets Man Utd prediction all wrong
In the aftermath of that contest, Sky Sports pundit, Jamie Carragher, infamously stated (via the Daily Mail): “We should never judge managers or players too early, but I’m convinced this can’t work because the size of him playing in a back four.
“Maybe he could go play left-back, maybe he could play in a back three, but in a back four he cannot play there in the Premier League.”
Martinez has since gone on to form one of the strongest centre-half pairings in the league alongside Raphael Varane.
The partnership has been the bedrock of a United team that are challenging for trophies on four fronts and ahead of the EFL Cup final on Sunday, Martinez has fired back at his doubters.
“To be honest, I put my full focus here,” Martinez told the Telegraph on criticism from the likes of Carragher. “I can’t control that [what people say], you know, it’s just an opinion.
“I understand when people say that – they show me who they are, you know? It’s not my problem. I’m really happy, the people are happy with me as well. That’s the most important thing.”
The Argentine continued: “In the beginning, in Argentina, it was the same. But it’s normal because, in football, it’s not normal to play as a centre-back with my height.
“It’s not easy as well, you know – you have to work very hard. You have to be very clever on the pitch, you have to be sharp in every situation but if you’re smart you can win the duels.”
On rebounding from United’s rough start to the campaign, the notoriously tenacious Martinez concluded: “It was a tough [start] for sure. The way we lose, the attitude was really bad.
“We spoke in the dressing room, we said everything [we had to]. We looked at … how do you say it? … the badge and said, ‘Guys, this is not possible. We have to change this’.
“Directly, we started to change everything – the energy, in the training, fighting. And then we showed another spirit, another energy, another [level of] team work.”
Martinez wowed by Arsenal frontman
Elsewhere, while not verbalised in quotes, the Telegraph noted Martinez revealed the toughest opponent he’s faced since joining Man Utd is Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus.
The most recent meeting between the two English giants saw Arsenal emerge victorious via a 3-2 scoreline.
Jesus did not feature in that contest due to his ongoing recovery from knee surgery. As such, Martinez is referring to the first clash between the clubs on September 4.
Man Utd ended Arsenal’s five-match winning streak to begin the campaign when securing a 3-1 win. Regardless, Jesus -who was in red-hot form in the season’s early going – clearly made a big impression on the Argentine.
Jesus has bagged five goals and six assists in his 14 league outings for the Gunners so far. However, his impact on Mikel Arteta’s side runs far deeper than simple statistics.
His hold-up play has risen to new heights since finally being afforded the chance to play centrally each and every week.
His link-up play with the likes of Martin Odegaard was mesmeric at times, while his willingness to hustle and harry made him an opposing defender’s worst nightmare.
Eddie Nketiah has performed admirably in Jesus’s injury absence. However, the Brazilian has recently returned to light training and if he can rediscover the early-season form that wowed Martinez, Arsenal will fancy their chances of roaring to a first league title since 2004.