CHRIS WHEELER: Martinez is growing into a Man United cult hero

CHRIS WHEELER: How Lisandro Martinez went from ‘Patrice Evra moment’ at Brentford to the makings of a Man United cult hero… Now 5ft 9in, £55.3m centre back looks the ‘warrior’ Erik Ten Hag wanted

  • Lisandro Martinez was instrumental again as Manchester United beat Sheriff 2-0
  • Fans chanted ‘Argentina, Argentina’ in support of the centre-back on Thursday
  • The Argentine has recovered from his horror debut against Brentford last month
  • He was hooked at half-time as Manchester United fell 4-0 behind at the break
  • But the £55.3m arrival has since emerged a warrior for Erik ten Hag in defence
  • Patrice Evra was also substituted off on his debut in the 2006 Manchester derby 

Manchester United’s victory in Moldova was all wrapped up when Erik ten Hag decided to give Lisandro Martinez a rest and send on Harry Maguire for the remaining seconds of the Europa League tie against FC Sheriff.

Martinez left the pitch where the 600 travelling United fans were crammed into an upper tier of the Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau, and chants of ‘Argentina, Argentina’ rang out for their new hero.

It has been quite the turnaround for United’s new £55.3million signing from Ten Hag’s old club Ajax since what Gary Neville described as his ‘Patrice Evra moment’ only last month.

Man United fans chanted ‘Argentina, Argentina’ in support of Lisandro Martinez on Thursday

Erik ten Hag’s side beat Sheriff 2-0 thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo

Evra suffered the embarrassment of being substituted at half-time of his debut in the Manchester derby in January 2006. He later revealed that his agent apologised for making ‘the biggest mistake’ in taking him to Old Trafford.

For Martinez, that moment came at half-time of United’s horrific 4-0 defeat at Brentford in his second game.

As if losing at home to Brighton on the opening day at Old Trafford a week earlier wasn’t bad enough, the 24-year-old and his United teammate Fred were singled out for the Brentford debacle and forced to watch the second half from the sidelines.

Questions had already been asked about the wisdom of bringing a 5ft 9in centre-back to the Premier League from Holland. Ten Hag dismissed those doubts by calling Martinez ‘a warrior’, but that appeared to count for little as United were monstered at Brentford and Martinez couldn’t stop Ben Mee bundling in the third goal.

‘A bit hard,’ is how Martinez describes his Premier League initiation, and that is putting it lightly.

Martinez was hooked off at half-time on his debut as Manchester United lost 4-0 to Brentford

Former Red Devils captain Patrice Evra was similarly substituted at half-time on his debut against Manchester City in January 2006

Ten Hag resisted the temptation to take the tenacious Argentine out of the firing line, instead dropping Maguire and bringing in Raphael Varane to play alongside Martinez in central defence.

Like Evra, Martinez’s next game brought redemption with victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford and then three more against Southampton, Leicester and Arsenal as his partnership with Varane helped United cut the goals conceded down to two in four games.

Rested for the Europa League opener against Real Sociedad, Martinez came on at half-time and was very unfortunate to concede the decisive penalty when the ball deflected off his thigh and onto his hand as he made a typically full-blooded attempt to block a shot from David Silva.

He was straight back into the team in Moldova, though, and the United fans made it quite clear how they feel about him.

Evra never looked back after making a false start to his eight-and-a-half-year career at Old Trafford, and Martinez also has the makings of a United cult hero.

But the ex-Ajax centre-half has since emerged a warrior for Ten Hag following his £55.3m move

‘It’s amazing every game they sing “Argentina, Argentina” because I love my country and it makes me feel very emotional,’ he said after United’s 2-0 win in Chisinau.

‘It makes me feel very proud, I’m really happy to feel this love from the fans.

‘I was surprised, to be honest, because I had never been to England before and I really love the passion of the people.

‘It’s not just Manchester United, it is every stadium. It is amazing to play like that. Every stadium you can feel the atmosphere and that is great for me because I want to play every game at 100 per cent.’

His resurgence has since forced England international Harry Maguire onto Man United’s bench

There is more to Martinez’s game than sheer tenacity. He brings the ball out from the back and reads the game well, which also helps to compensate for his smaller physique.

Mention of Martinez’s lack of height is a source of mild irritation for a player who is convinced he can handle the demands of English football.

‘The Premier League is the best league in the world because it is very physical and you are playing against the best players in the world every game,’ he added.

‘You have to prepare, you have to be ready for that. At the beginning, I think it was a bit hard but like every step I’ve had to take in my career, you have to work hard, you have to keep going. Now we are doing well.’

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