When Lisandro Martinez was substituted for Harry Maguire after 90 minutes during Manchester United’s 2-0 win against Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday, the referee indicated that he should leave the pitch by the goal line. That was fortuitous for the central defender since it was right in front of the 600 travelling United fans.
“Argentina! Argentina!” they hollered into the warm Moldovan air, just as they had sang the same for Juan Sebastian Veron, Gabriel Heinze and Carlos Tevez. The players loved it; they didn’t expect to hear their country’s name shouted in a land which fought Argentina in a 1982 war. United fans also waved Argentina flags.
“It makes me feel very proud, I’m really happy to feel this love from the fans,” Martinez, 24, said after the Thursday's Europa League game in Chisinau. “It is amazing every game they sing ‘Argentina, Argentina’ because that is my country. I love my country and if they say that it makes me feel very emotional.”
The raffish, organised noise fan culture at football games in Argentina makes that of England appear tame, but Martinez is impressed with atmosphere at English stadiums.
“I was surprised to be honest because I had never been to England before and I really love the passion of the people,” he said. “It’s not just Manchester United, it is every stadium. It is amazing, that passion, it is amazing to play like that. Every stadium you can feel the atmosphere and that is great for me because I want to play every game at 100 per cent.”
So his first impressions have been positive, and fans are warming to him and his efforts. Martinez could have gone to Arsenal and lived in London, but opted for Old Trafford after three years at Ajax under Erik ten Hag.
“I chose Manchester United because it is the best club in the world,” Lisandro said of his decision to transfer to Old Trafford for a fee of £48 million plus £8.5 million in add ons. “That is it. It was that simple for me. It is the best club in the world. Every game you can feel the support of the people. I always dreamed of playing for this club. Everyone knows about Manchester United; it is not because of now that they are so big, it is because they have a lot of history you know.”
Though he’s an Argentina international with Champions League experience, coming from the Dutch Eredivisie to the Premier League, he points out, is still a significant step up in speed and physicality.
“Well, the Premier League is the best league in the world because it is very physical and you are playing against the best players in the world every game. You have to prepare; you have to be ready for that.”
United lost their opening two league games and critics started to take aim at United’s number 6, citing his lack of height compared to other central defenders.
“I think, at the beginning, it was a bit hard but like every step I have had to take in my career, you have to work hard, you have to keep going,” he said. “Now we are doing well.”
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One of the reasons United are doing well, with four straight Premier League wins, is because of Martinez’s partnership with Raphael Varane.
“Everyone knows how good he is,” Martinez said of his defensive foil. The pair complement each other. Martinez has quick feet defending around the box, he also covers for full-back Tyrell Malacia when he moves forward, giving United another man in midfield.
Varane is playing his best football since joining United, with perfect positioning. He reads the game so well and has players around him who also complement him and allow the Frenchman to drop off.
“He is a legend for me,” Martinez said of Varane. “I’m really happy to play with him at the back, but every player in the team is ready to play. Every player is doing well and working hard. That’s the important point. It’s not just Varane, it is Harry [Maguire], it is Luke Shaw, it is Donny van de Beek, it is everyone. Everyone is ready, that is the good point [of where we are] as a team.”
United don't play again until the Manchester derby on October 2, but with a five wins from their last six games, go into the international break in a much better place than a month ago.