Lautaro Martinez: Inter Milan and Argentina forward joining Erling Haaland & Harry Kane as striking great14 November 2023
Once upon a time, European football boasted a plethora of strikers to admire, who finished with relentless consistency.
We can name Manchester City's Erling Haaland and Bayern Munich's Harry Kane, but how many others deserve to be mentioned in the same breath?
These days, teams in England and abroad have assembled squads that can create the chances, but often struggle to find the world-class forwards to finish them off.
Real Madrid are depending on midfielder Jude Bellingham, Chelsea invested heavily and still cannot find the perfect striker, while Juventus are having to rely on centre-backs to score their goals. So where have all the great forwards gone?
Lautaro Martinez is certainly making a case for himself.
Inter Milan sit proudly at the top of the Serie A table and have already qualified for the Champions League knockout stages with two games to spare.
The team's unity, depth, and the easy integration of summer signing Marcus Thuram have all contributed to their dominant start, but it is captain Martinez who deserves most praise.
Having scored 12 goals in 12 Serie A games, the Argentine forward is playing some of the best football of his life, earning plaudits worldwide and his first Serie A player of the month award for October's performances.
Breaking records and making history, Martinez became only the third player to reach double figures for Inter in the opening eight matches of a Serie A season.Lautaro Martinez became the first ever Serie A substitute to score four goals when Inter beat Salernitana 4-0 in September
'Alternating the sublime with the anonymous'
Martinez has always been an incredibly talented player, but his lack of consistency in front of goal has often raised questions. Alternating the sublime with the anonymous, one must ask, is he really that good when he can go two months without hitting the back of the net?
The World Cup was supposed to be El Toro's time to shine alongside some of the best players in Argentina. An opportunity to showcase his brilliance, Martinez was instead criticised by the team's supporters for his performances early in the tournament and suffered a very public crisis of confidence. In fact, the team's displays only really improved when he was replaced by Julian Alvarez, who helped propel Argentina to glory in Qatar.
"When I arrived at the World Cup, I couldn't even kick the ball, as my ankle was in unbearable agony. I was very happy to see Julian's extraordinary form, because he was able to give the squad something that at that moment I could not," said Martinez, who did score the winning penalty for Argentina as they beat the Netherlands 4-3 in a shootout to reach the World Cup semi-finals.
When allowed to operate on instinct alone, Martinez is spellbinding. Free of his thoughts, he sees every angle, knows how to control possession, create space for himself and beat his marker with ease. Capable of using both feet as well as being blessed with speed and ability to adapt his approach to goal, there is very little Martinez cannot do. Problems only arise when he begins to overthink his movements.
Should he start a match badly, the Argentine can spiral. One or two poor performances and it can be a challenge for the striker to find his way again for some time - hence why he is often referred to as a streaky player.
Last season, he missed a penalty against Spezia in early March and went nine games without scoring a goal. More pertinently, his overall performances in several of these matches were worrying. In the Coppa Italia game against Juventus, he was nominated by a number of media outlets as Inter's worst player.
'Martinez doesn't want to hear anything but Inter'
Overcoming the mentally challenging moments has proved his Achilles heel in recent years with many questioning how great he can be if he cannot be consistently predatory. However, his displays this season in both Europe and Serie A suggest he might have turned a corner.
Outscoring his expected goals (xG) is one thing, but his overall contribution to the team this season has earned him unrelenting admiration.
Against Milan in the derby, he did not score but initiated the move that led to the second goal, assisted the third and won the penalty that secured Inter's fourth in their crushing 5-1 win. Pressing from the top, tracking back and regaining possession to drive the team forward, Martinez has been arguably the best player in Italy this season.
Against Salernitana, the striker made history by becoming the first Serie A substitute to score four goals, in a spellbinding 35 minutes. He was the first player to manage such a feat since three points for a win were introduced in 1994-95.
At 26, Martinez has entered his prime and learning how to address the concerns that may have hindered his climb to the top. From an early age, scouts and directors noted his greatest quality to be his professionalism. He lives as an athlete, refuses indulgences and trains incessantly to maintain optimum conditioning.
"When his mother told me that he only wanted to eat plain pasta before the matches, to stay light, I understood that perhaps she wasn't joking," said Fabio Radaelli, the man who took him from Club Atletico Liniers to Racing Club de Avellaneda.
On current form the Nerazzurri stand a good chance of reaching the Champions League final again, perhaps bettering last season's result against Manchester City - and Martinez has no plans to leave. He has never expressed a desire to play across Europe. Barcelona were once the only club capable of tempting him away.
Now? "Lautaro doesn't want to hear anything other than Inter," said his agent Alejandro Camano.
Italy might just get to enjoy this talent for many more years.
This news item was provided by the BBC Sport - Football website - the original link is: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/67403374?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA