When Bayern Munich obliterated the all-time Bundesliga transfer record to sign Javi Martinez back in August 2012, many thought this would herald the start of a new era in Bavaria.
The club were recovering from the trauma of losing the Champions League Final at their home stadium to a much-depleted Chelsea side, but many thought their weakness lay in a blunt attack rather than a lack of midfield resources.
But Bayern keen to depart with €40m to activate the release clause of Martinez at Athletic Bilbao, where he had starred across 240 appearances and six seasons. He debuted for Jupp Heynckes’ men on his 24th birthday and went on to become a pivotal figure of a side who went on to conquer not just Germany, but all of Europe.
Martinez’s and Bayern’s defining moments of the campaign came in their 7-0 humiliation of Barcelona over the two-legged Champions League semi-final. He was lauded as expertly breaking up the play, disrupting the ‘tiki-taka’ style of football and of thwarting the efforts of compatriots Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
He complemented Bastian Schweinsteiger perfectly, with both offering attacking threats and fluidity, alongside the ability to shield and guard the defence.
Pamplona native Martinez was an integral part of a Bayern side that shattered record after record as they breezed to a unique treble, while he continued his fine form under Pep Guardiola the following year.
However, he showed his adaptability within the side as Guardiola broke up his midfield partnership with Schweinsteiger and instead deployed Martinez at centre-back, and occasionally in a deep-lying midfield role. Guardiola’s tactic was not always a popular one, many believing that this limited Martinez’s effectiveness and changed a formation that had shown to be hugely effective. Not that Martinez’s performance levels dipped – indeed many believed him to have eclipsed Sergio Busquets in this role.
However, disaster struck at the start of the 2014-15 campaign, as the midfielder tore the ligaments in his left knee in the German Super Cup clash with Borussia Dortmund. That resulted in a nine-month layoff, with only two cameo substitute performances at the season’s end.
Fitness concerns persisted over the summer months, with his first full 90 minutes in 14 months coming in October in Bayern’s 5-1 triumph over Dortmund, a fitting opponent on a personal level for Martinez.
He has since established himself once more as a regular in the side, with no further question marks over his fitness with his knee seemingly fully recovered. In fact, Martinez has seemed reinvigorated this season and hungrier than ever, seemingly desperate to make up for lost time.
Without an international appearance since his injury two years ago, he is very much an outside bet for this summer. But his quality, desire and tactical understanding have never been in question, Spain will be a weaker squad without his presence.