Scoring 43 goals in 40 appearances with the subsidiary was not enough for West Ham to consider Toni Martinez (Murcia, 1997) as a forward of the first team. After playing on loan at Oxford United, Real Valladolid, Rayo Majadahonda and Lugo, the Murcian ‘9’ arrived for free at Famalicao, from the Liga NOS, in the summer of 2019. There he signed 14 goals that showed the error of the ‘hammers’ and called the attention of FC Porto, who ended up paying more than three million euros for his transfer. “In this sport life can change you in a year”, reflects Martínez. The Champions will play with the dragons.
Did you expect to make the leap to a great one so soon?
It is true that I came to Portugal with the objective that one day they would notice me, but I did not expect that moment to come so soon. Not in my best dreams would I have imagined that I would end up playing for a club like Porto, but in this sport life can change you in a year. It is the reward for a lot of work.
When did you hear about Porto’s interest?
It is something that comes from months ago. It has been a strange year, but I knew he was following me and during the quarantine I worked hard to get to the final stretch of the season well. I bought a lot of machines and set up a gym in Murcia. There was interest, but no offer on the table. He had to work to get it. I did very good numbers after the quarantine and everything ended up giving.
Then you will have seen all the Porto games this season.
To be honest, yes. Since the day I found out about Porto’s interest, I have watched all their games. It became a personal motivation. I started fighting with the goal of ending up playing here. I used to watch them already, because I like to watch football a lot. I’m the typical one who comes in on Saturday and sits down to watch football at three and gets up the next day.
Porto have also signed Evanilson or Taremi and Marega is there. Do you see yourself with options to be a starter?
The fact that there are several of us who arrive new makes us all start from scratch. I don’t know what my options are. I do know that with Sérgio Conseiçao you have to work. There is no other. The one who works plays and the one who doesn’t, doesn’t. I have it clear. You see the team play and you see high-level players running like crazy. If you want to win you have to run more than your rival and if you want to play you have to run more than your teammates.
“If you want to win you have to run more than your rival and if you want to play you have to run more than your teammates”
Toni Martínez, Porto player
Conseiçao is going to demand many kilometers, are you ready?
I am a player who fights a lot on the field. I am very sacrificial. I like to help my colleagues. It will cost me less. It is true that it is a totally different way of playing than what we did at Famalicao. Without the ball they are very aggressive, but they usually have it. It’s going to be good for me. It’s a style of play that I can adapt to. I’m sure I can do well in Porto.
In 2018 he was still playing in the West Ham subsidiary and now he is about to play the Champions League. Are you aware of everything that has changed your life in such a short time?
I have not yet made up my mind. The other day I was watching the Champions League draw and I was thinking: ‘I always watched it to see which games they played and now I’m watching it to see who I’m going to play against.’ You imagine it, because as children we all dream of listening to the Champions League anthem, but until you are there you are not aware of what you have achieved. I think we are going to give a lot to talk about.
And on the first day he will have to return to England to play against City. Whims of fate.
When the calendar came out and I saw that in the first game I had to go back to England, I couldn’t believe it. For me it is a kind of vindication. Not long ago I left West Ham because they didn’t give me the opportunity to play with the first team and now I’m back with a club like Porto and to play the Champions League. I took a step back to take six forward. We will enjoy, because Manchester City-Porto will be a great match.
Reach a great to compete for titles and play the Champions League, what remains to be accomplished?
By signing for Porto I have fulfilled many dreams at once. Playing for a big club in Europe, having the opportunity to play in the Champions League, fighting to win titles … But of course, I still have other dreams and one of them is to play for the national team. This year there is a European Championship, there are Olympic Games … I saw the best Spain from home, as a child. Now I am in one of the best clubs in the world, I am and aware that I will have many more eyes looking at me. I will fight for everything. I will give everything in my power to make things difficult for those who have to make decisions.
Why did you choose to join Famalicao in the summer of 2019?
Now it may sound advantageous, but it seemed like a good project from the beginning. I saw Nahuén Pérez, Racic, Álex Centelles … I thought: ‘If all of them have chosen this club, it’s for something.’ Everything came out perfectly and I can say that it was the best decision of my life. I spoke with the coach, who knew me from England, and he could not show me more confidence. The proof is that I arrived on a Friday and on Sunday I was already playing as a starter. Everything went well from the first moment. I came to the right team at the right time and that has served as a stepping stone. Now I have taken a huge leap.
What grade would you give your season at Famalicao?
I am very demanding and I would put an 8.5. In a team that did not choose to fight for everything, I have scored 15 goals without taking penalties. I could say that it was a season of 10 because it helped me to make the leap to Porto, but I am left with 8.5. He has been top, both personally and collectively.
Tell me about Nahuén, who will play for Granada this season.
I have a weakness for him. It is very good and it will be much better. He is a very young boy with a huge projection. This year is going to be very important for him. I have no doubt that he will do very well. He is a very hard-working boy who does not speak much and who always respects his teammates and rivals. On the field he is aggressive without the ball and very good with it. I think that not long from now he will be one of the best five center-backs in the world.
Who is your reference?
I have an idol and it is Fernando Torres. Then there are other forwards that I also like, but my idol is Fernando Torres.
And your childhood team?
The Murcia. I went to the Condomina every week. What has happened with the club in recent years is very sad, but it serves to appreciate the level of fans that the club has. Being in Second Division B, they continue to go to the stadium, they carry the team in flight and it is clear that Real Murcia is still a huge club.
At Valladolid he learned a lot from Jaime Mata.
When I was loaned to Valladolid I was very young, but I knew where I was getting. I knew that when I went, at Christmas, the forward of the team, which was Jaime Mata, had already had about 20 goals. In those six months I learned a lot from him. All positive. Both on and off the field.
How are the Toni Martínez who left Valencia and the Toni Martínez who arrives at Porto different?
Professionally, I am a totally different person. I left Murcia without thinking about what I was going to achieve. I look back and from my first team in Valencia there are hardly any players in the elite. Soccer is a sieve that is getting smaller and smaller and that only a few of us end up going through. Soccer has led me to different situations: clenching my teeth, not being so important, going to Portugal … Personally, I am still the same. I like to surround myself with my people, I have my family close by and I rely on them in everything I need. This triumph also belongs to all of them: my family, my friends, my girl … They have always been with me and it’s time to enjoy this together.
“How do you explain to a boy who scores 43 goals in 40 games with the reserve team that he will not have the opportunity to play for the first team?”
Toni Martínez, Porto player
Have you ever wondered where you would be if you hadn’t left Valencia?
I don’t know where I would be if Valencia had kept me, but I would not change any of the decisions I have made because they have led me to where I am today, which is where I want to be. I felt valued in the Valencia quarry and when the opportunity arose to go to West Ham at first they said no. But when the offer of three million euros came, they changed their minds because few can reject that amount of money for a juvenile. At another time it would not have come out.
How would you define your subsequent stint at West Ham?
I’d say it was frustrating. Being realistic, I think there is no person in the world who can understand what happened. How do you explain to a boy who scores 43 goals in 40 games with the reserve team that he will not have the opportunity to play for the first team? The situation of the club had a lot to do with it. New owners arrived and made great signings. In my first year Arnautovic arrived, in the second Yarmolenko and Chicharito …. They are players of a high level for whom a great financial effort was made. And I had no place. It is one of the reasons why I asked to be released.
His first assignment is at Oxford. He asked for it after becoming disenchanted with the affiliate league.
The affiliate league is something England must change. Because when I arrived at West Ham I didn’t value going on loan at all. I wanted to get used to the city, to the language … But Christmas came and the U-23s had played 12 games. I had scored 10 goals, but I had no place in the first team and I raised the option of going on loan. The club didn’t see it, but I put pressure on them because I wanted to enjoy professional football. The option of going to Oxford United arrived. I made my debut against Rafa Benítez’s Newcastle in the FA Cup. I scored and we eliminated them. I also scored against Boro de Karanka. It was a short but intense experience. To this day I have still been receiving thousands of messages from Oxford fans. We create a very special bond.
Did England change you as a footballer?
Undoubtedly. The passage through England improved me as a footballer. In my first training sessions with West Ham, I thought: ‘People stick around here’. But then the training was over and everyone was talking so normal. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but I ended up getting into English football and that made me a different player. English football is the one that marks a footballer the most. It is the one that stands out the most from what we are used to in Europe.