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regular-article-logo Monday, 17 June 2024

Argentina's Emiliano Martinez sweeps fans off their feet at Mohun Bagan grounds

Lionel Messi had come with his team in September 2011 for a friendly at the Salt Lake Stadium. But this is a World Cup hero whom Messi calls a phenomenon

Our Bureau Calcutta Published 05.07.23, 06:18 AM
Argentina’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, recipient of the Golden Glove, at the Mohun Bagan ground on Tuesday.

Argentina’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, recipient of the Golden Glove, at the Mohun Bagan ground on Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh 

On December 7, 2008, Diego Maradona kicked so many practice balls to his fans who had crowded the stands, that the next day Mohun Bagan had a problem organising their training session.

More than 14 years later, on a humid Tuesday evening, Emiliano Martinez, Argentina’s 2022 World Cup-winning goalkeeper, walked into the Bagan ground and went one step ahead of what his legendary compatriot had done.

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Maradona used his famous left foot; Martinez, Joy Mohun Bagan on his lips, not only used his foot, he also threw practice balls deep into the stands. The crowd went hysterical, Martinez, wearing the green and maroon shirt, was all smiles, soaking in all the adulation.

It’s not too often that you get to see a current World Cup winner from so close. Lionel Messi had come with his team in September 2011 for a friendly at the Salt Lake Stadium. But this is a World Cup hero whom Messi calls a phenomenon.

Just over six months ago, Martinez was the cynosure at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar and on Wednesday in Calcutta, you could ‘feel’ him.

Whether making an out-of-the-world save off France forward Randal Kolo Muani when the score was 3-3 a minute before the final whistle — earlier in the day he had happily obliged fans who pestered him to show his now-famous tattoo on that famous right calf muscle — or psyching out Frenchmen during the penalties, December 18, 2022, changed the Fifa Golden Glove winner’s life.

“After the match against the Netherlands (quarter final) we knew we would be champions. And when we won the Cup, Messi hugged me and told me ‘You have won us the Cup’. It’s a night I will never forget,” he said.

Mohun Bagan and Argentina fans greet Emi Martinez on Tuesday.

Mohun Bagan and Argentina fans greet Emi Martinez on Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

The Aston Villa goalkeeper is much in demand in the transfer market this summer. Premier League sides — Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur — are seeking his signature but when asked about his preference, expectedly, he did not want to divulge much.

“I am happy where I am. I want to play for my club and the national team.”

Such was Martinez’s craze in the city that some overzealous fans lunged at his car as he came out of the Milan Mela premises off EM Bypass after an interactive session with young fans. Timely intervention by police ensured there was not any further untoward incident.

Throughout the day he was asked about Messi. “He is from another planet. Messi is irreplaceable,” he said.

When quizzed about Messi’s retirement plans, he said: “If he decides to retire before the 2026 Fifa World Cup, we have to respect his decision.”

But Martinez, 30, made a promise to all the Argentine fans. “With or without Messi, we will give our all to defend the World Cup.”

Martinez, who has a few more events on Wednesday, will leave early on Thursday.

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