Uefa Champions League: Javi Martinez worth every penny at Bayern Munich

Spanish defender Javi Martinez came over with a pretty price tag but has made quite an impression in first year with Bayern Munich, writes Andy Mitten.

Javi Martinez, right, is part of a Bayern defence that allowed 18 goals in 34 league matches. Frank Augstein / AP Photo
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Fernando Llorente is more than entitled to curse and wonder what might have been.

A year ago, Llorente, one of the two brightest stars on the Athletic Bilbao squad which lit up the Europa League last season, announced that he wanted to leave, angering fans, especially as he had turned down a €4.5 million (Dh21.3m) offer which would have made him the best-paid player in Athletic's history.

That anger has ebbed and flowed ever since and Llorente has stayed at the club, running down his contract and being largely ostracised.

The other star was midfielder Javi Martinez. His case was viewed slightly differently because he did not come through the Basque's youth system like Llorente, but was signed from neighbours Osasuna in 2006.

Both wanted to leave the club, though Athletic did not want or need to sell either.

Barcelona wanted Martinez, but baulked at his wage demands and the €40m asking price which would have used up their entire transfer budget. They settled on Alex Song from Arsenal instead.

Athletic are wealthy enough to turn down offers and played hardball, even when Bayern Munich made a firm €40m bid, the highest fee ever offered by a German club. Athletic accused him of talking to Bayern without permission.

Martinez moved, the fuss died down and the midfielder began to adjust to life in the Bundesliga.

He was not daunted, since he had been with the big boys before. Along with Chelsea's Juan Mata, Martinez played for Spain's Under 21 side, which won the European championship in 2011, a year after being part of the senior squad which lifted the World Cup.

He had also broken into Athletic's first team at 18, after signing from Osasuna. He played 200 games for Athletic before deciding it was time to move to a club where he might win trophies. The move to Bayern raised as many eyebrows as the fee.

"They may be used to big transfer fees like that in England, but we're not in Germany," explains Hans-Jorg Butt, the former Bayern goalkeeper who retired a year ago after being involved in three Uefa Champions League finals with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern. "It's not like Bayern were signing Messi or Iniesta. Not many people had heard of him."

A versatile midfielder who can also play as a central defender, Martinez was never going to be an instant hit with fans and endured a slow start.

"He wasn't used to the more physical demands of the Bundesliga, compared to Spain, and took a few months to get used to it, but when he did, he was fine," Butt said.

Martinez has blossomed since those awkward first few months.

"He's not a player who plays for the fans, like Frank Ribery or Arjen Robben. He's in the background compared to them, yet he's probably the most important Bayern Munich player," Butt said.

"You don't even see him on the ball so much, but he's very intelligent strategically. He reads the game very well and closes the space between the attack and defence, giving a balance to the team."

If there was a criticism of Bayern a year ago, it was that they made unforced defensive errors. Now, their defensive record is the best it has ever been, with just 18 goals allowed in 34 Bundesliga games.

Second-place Borussia Dortmund, who are 25 points behind, have yielded 42. Martinez's influence has been significant.

"His personality gives the other players confidence and this gives the team stability," Butt said. "He's calm when he has the ball and he's calm when players run at him. He was, in many ways, the perfect signing for Bayern Munich.

"He is a player without a weakness. This isn't a midfielder like [Zinedine] Zidane, who attacks. Bayern had enough of them and they will get another with Mario Gotze. Martinez is about making them better from the back, a player at the heart of the game."

Martinez has been at the club less than a year, but he's become part of their spine alongside Dante, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller, who were outstanding when they destroyed Barcelona in the semi-finals.

"He's even good in the air," Butt said. "I've spoken to people at Bayern about him. They're very impressed by his professionalism.

"He's not shy, but he's quiet and keeps the right distance between himself and the fans. He doesn't seek adulation and he's integrated well, learning German."

The two Spanish giants were knocked out at the semi-final stage, but Spain has a giant of a player in the final at Wembley. Another, Llorente, will be wishing his former teammate well, but wondering what might have been had he, too, forced through a move away from Athletic.

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