“In Argentina, not everyone is brought up with enough resources. Sometimes you can’t even eat. As a child I suffered from hunger. When I step on the pitch I think back on the times I couldn’t even buy shoes. This is why we are so combative. Argentinians kill to win. If I have to step over dead bodies I do it. I want to win every 50-50 situation because I know that I am fighting for food for every member of my family and for my friends.”
Lisandro Martinez is not your usual central defender. He is one that beat his diminutive height – 1.75m – to achieve greatness. 2022 has been an astonishing year for him, first being subject to a €53 million transfer from Ajax Amsterdam to Manchester United, then being only one game shy of becoming a world champion with Argentina.
It is a story that went again all odds, a story of proper motivation, that everything is possible and achievable with the right amount of grit, the right amount of will and the sheer desire to overcome all challenges to become a mainstay in the teams he plays in. Watch Martinez on the pitch and you will understand that his nickname is perfect for his displays.
“El Carnicero” – aka “the butcher” – will not steer clear of leaving any amount of energy on the pitch, trying to do whatever is best for the team he plays in and with an unparalleled motivation to become great, in spite of his modest upbringing, which left a lot to be desired.
He started football playing at age four and as he got older and older, started to see the game not only as a passion but as a job. At 15 years old, he got the chance of playing for Newell’s Old Boys, a team where Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi had their first steps in football.
Yet Martinez was definitely not as talented as the two Argentina idols, rather than being a very strong teenager, despite his short frame. While he made his debut for Newell’s and played a single game, his ascension started at Defensa y Justicia, a team that also made current Argentina teammate Enzo Fernandez.
In only two years, Ajax Amsterdam, a club renowned throughout the world for scouting young players saw Martinez’s talent and identified him as a player with an excellent upside, both as a central defender and as a defensive midfielder.
For €7 million, Martinez left his native Argentina and dove head first at Ajax, trying to make a name for himself, despite being only 21 years old and speaking exclusively Spanish.
“Lisandro is sharp, fierce and rock hard when needed. He has a real winner’s mentality, and stays calm but quickly hits the switch when things need to be brighter or sharper. Always everything at one hundred percent,” said an Ajax scouter in a report published on the official website of the Dutch powerhouse.
Boasting an excellent technique for a defender and never shying away from contact were also two important qualities that Martinez had in his arsenal and which really impressed Ajax. Soon, the Argentina defender became a mainstay on everybody’s lips at the Dutch club, where his stock rose through the roof.
It was not easy, at first, though, with Martinez finding it difficult to settle in Amsterdam both on and off the pitch. But his famous “grinta”, the never-say-die attitude, help him bounce back.
“In the first three weeks, I had a horrible time. It is totally different. Another intensity, other controls. Other passes. Another game read. At first I wanted to go home and cry. I felt bad. I am a player who likes to have the ball, but when they played me with a touch or two quick touches, they killed me,” said Martinez for “La Nacion”.
Slowly, but surely, he became an idol in the “Johan Cruyff Arena” and Ajax cashed in on their investment receiving the amount paid for Martinez eightfold when Manchester United came calling.
“El Carnicero” is now far away from his humble beginnings, when he even failed to buy new shoes to play football. Yet the grit and desire are always there, following him whenever he enters the pitch.
For Argentina, he has become an excellent role player, delivering good performances time and time again and being substituted late in the games, when he can contribute by stopping the opponent’s attackers.
“I remember when my parents gave me the national team shirt and I was so happy I was going to play ball in the neighborhood imagining I was one of the players. I am infinitely grateful to the most important people in my life who know that they are always in my heart! Let’s all come together and more united than ever,” concluded Martinez.