Lautaro Martínez and Inter’s love affair with Argentina

Football is the crown jewel of globalization.

European football – namely England, Spain, Italy, and Germany – has benefited most from this new world order. After all, Jean-Marc Bosman was European, therefore it only seemed fitting that the proliferation of international dealings would originate on the continent.

Some clubs have found a particular niche attracting talent beyond their borders. Arsenal are lauded for raising the status of French talent. Japanese players have discovered a comfort plying their trade in German football. And more recently, Shakhtar Donetsk has done brilliantly to provide Brazilian players an outlet to the European game.

However, among internationally-inclined clubs, it is hard to find one stronger than Inter Milan’s love affair with Argentina.

Long-time Inter chairman Massimo Moratti never shied away from enticing overseas talent to his beloved club.

In a case of perfect timing, he took over as top dog in 1995, the same year in which the landmark Bosman ruling was enacted. He quickly mobilized and put his money toward exploiting the ruling’s advantages, turning Inter in to a standard-bearer for nurturing foreign players.

Since then, the club has made genuine legends out of Argentine talent. Javier Zanetti stands among the lot with over 600 appearances for the Nerazzurri, the majority of them as club captain. The list of compatriots who joined him throughout his tenure is just as impressive: Julio Cruz, Hernán Crespo, Esteban Cambiasso, Santiago Solari, Walter Samuel, Rodrigo Palacio, and Gabriel Batistuta among them.

It is easy to see how promising young Argentines could look to northern Italy as a footballing safe haven. To this end, Inter will feel they have their next superstar queued up and ready in 20-year-old Lautaro Martínez.

The Racing Club striker has penned an agreement in principle to join the Serie A giants in the off-season.

The timing could prove ideal for the South American, who will arrive at a club with the support of several key voices. Chief among those is Inter legend Diego Milito. The recently retired striker finished his playing career at Racing in 2016 before promptly moving into the fashionable role of “Sporting Director”. It is here where Martínez has been receiving advice regarding his big move abroad.

Furthermore, current club striker Mauro Icardi continues to see his stock rise, with his excellent goal-scoring form sparking interest from Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. If Icardi departs, the young Martinez could be plugging heavy minutes in his debut season on the peninsula. Inter fans will be hoping none of this proves too daunting for a young man growing in confidence.

A deeper Copa Libertadores run is still forthcoming, as well as a potential summer in Russia with Jorge Sampaoli’s national side after receiving his first call to the Albiceleste in the latest pair of friendlies against Italy and Spain; a run of fixtures that saw him get the nod over Juventus talisman Paulo Dybala.

Be wary of changing fortunes

Signing the dotted line is only half the battle, of course. The recent transfer of Brazilian Gabriel Barbosa – or Gabigol – from Santos to Inter should lend a cautionary tale to Martínez.

A miserable first season saw him shipped out on-loan to Benfica, where he found even less success; no doubt helped by manager Rui Vitória’s lack of faith in him. Although the reasons for Barbosa’s failed attempt at European stardom are plenty and will no doubt be separated from Martínez, it is still worth taking note of just how drastically ones fortunes can change in the course of a year.

Should he flourish at his new club, adaptability will be central to Martínez’s trajectory. He will go through a swift change of pace, both from a cultural and footballing perspective.

His current locker room at Racing Club is made up entirely of Argentine players, with very few having ventured outside of CONMEBOL. Martínez has benefited tremendously from the support of his surroundings thus far, but embracing a vastly different approach to the game will be key.

It is no secret that Serie A sides favour their tactical and systematic intelligence. Martínez’s close control and patience on the ball can prove pivotal in destabilising his future opposition.

His wonderful balance in tight spaces – often favouring a quick shoulder-drop and turn – wreaks havoc on defences, often resulting in him drawing fouls in key areas. One of his recent stand-out performances came in a Copa Libertadores match at home against Brazil’s Cruzeiro in February 2018. The away side had no answer to the striker’s bossing of the match, with his hat-trick securing Racing a 4-2 victory.

He will be watching on with intrigue as the Italian Serie A comes to its conclusion this month. With three matches remaining, Inter are battling for a coveted Champions League spot with Roma and Lazio, the latter of which present their final test of the season on the 20th of May; a potential European decider.

The stars are aligned for Lautaro Martínez. But for moments of inconsistency, Inter have shown glimmers of re-discovering the form that took them to great heights under Roberto Mancini and José Mourinho. There will be chances for Martínez to impose himself in Serie A.

The Argentine romance looks set to continue at the San Siro.

Leave a Reply