Lisandro Martinez is known in Holland as ‘The Butcher of Amsterdam’ – and Ajax’s Premier League-bound defender loves to live up to his nickname.
The ruthless Argentine international, who is at the centre of a £43million battle between Manchester United and Arsenal, was hewn from the toughest of upbringings. Mum Silvia was a road worker, who laid tarmac on the highways of the family’s hometown of Gualeguay – and still loves to play football. Dad Raul was a cleaner, who also grafted long hours to put food on the table.
So, while Martinez may only measure up at 5ft 9in, he was used by Erik ten Hag as the man who added steel to his silky Ajax team. Now, Ten Hag wants him to do the same at Old Trafford – and the 24-year-old will be up to the task.
Martinez explained: “Yes, I am called the carnicero – The Butcher of Amsterdam. We Argentines do everything with passion and when I go out on the pitch, I fight for every ball. 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. That is the feeling I have – and every Argentinian has. It is the kind of motivation I cannot explain.
“I got my talent from my mum. Next to her work, which was a really hard job, she is also a good footballer. She still plays! She is a fantastic midfielder, honestly. She is older now, but she is still playing.”
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Martinez left home at 14 to join small Buenos Aires club UAI Urquiza before moving to Newall’s Old Boys and Defensa y Justicia prior to Ajax snapping him up in 2019. Despite being small for a centre-back, Martinez bases his game on Fabio Cannavaro, the Italian legend who is the only defender to have won the Ballon d’Or. He insists he would rather have his attributes than the physical size of Liverpool’s brilliant Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk.
Martinez said: “Cannavaro was comfortable on the ball. And, despite his lack of height, he challenged for every ball as if it was the last tackle to win the game. I loved that style – and I am just like him. I would prefer not to be like Virgil van Dijk. His height is certainly a big plus, but when you don’t have the other qualities, it is worth nothing.
“My favourite position is definitely central defence. I started out as a midfielder, but I learned all the qualities for a central defender who plays in an attacking team under Ten Hag. I can look after myself. When I left home as a boy, it was really hard because I had always been very close to my parents.
“I had to leave them behind. I had to get to know new people. It was a shock. At that age, you are not ready to leave home. You’re not a man yet, but I did it. I learned to be responsible for my own life and to take care of everything for myself.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is as desperate as Ten Hag to land Martinez – but the Gunners have already had two bids turned down. And the defender’s admiration for Ten Hag may be the key to his future. Martinez will make a decision with the World Cup in mind.
He said: “I am so proud of what I have achieved at Ajax and under Ten Hag. I grew as a player and became an Argentinian international, thanks to my development at Ajax.
“And I even got to wear the captain’s armband for my country. That was the day my father cried, it was very emotional. My mum cried, too, my uncles, aunties, cousins, everyone.
“The World Cup is definitely my goal. We have great players and we must all be ready for it. We won the Copa America together and can do it again.”