Aston Villa: This is Emi Martinez’s application to be the best goalkeeper in the world

Aston Villa: This is Emi Martinez’s application to be the best goalkeeper in the world

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A montage of photos of Emi Martinez in actionEmi Martinez made just 13 Premier League starts for Arsenal before joining Aston Villa

When Emi Martinez joined Aston Villa from Arsenal in September 2020, he pinned a laminated list of goals to his locker and one of them was to become the best goalkeeper in the world.

At the time, that seemed an admirably lofty but somewhat unlikely goal for someone who had never been the number one goalkeeper at his club, let alone the planet.

Martinez’s move to Dean Smith’s newly promoted team came days after his 28th birthday. In the past decade he had made just 13 Premier League starts for the Gunners, who had loaned him out six times to the lower leagues or abroad.

However, just two and a half years later, the charismatic Argentina international will soon need a new career goal as he prepares to face his former club this weekend.

That same locker at Villa Bodymoor Heath’s training ground is now chock-full of World Cup and Copa America winners’ medals, and after being awarded the Golden Glove for Best Goalkeeper in Qatar, he has just been shortlisted out of three for the individual award, which he longs for at the Fifa Best Awards 2022.

It’s been quite a journey he shared with his longtime goalkeeping coach at Villa, Neil Cutler, who persuaded him to move to the Midlands and became his close friend and unofficial psychologist.

“Going from number two goalkeeper in the Premier League to world champion in such a short time is a unique journey but there are many reasons Emi has risen so quickly, starting with his desire and work ethic,” Cutler told InNewCL Sport .

“His will to do whatever it takes to get where he wanted to be was just tremendous and his passion was so evident which is why I tried so hard to get him to Villa in the first place.

“This is a guy whose biggest problem was that sometimes he did too much, partly because of his lack of experience. He got injured once because he was practicing saving too many penalties, but it had to happen, so that he could learn to overtake.” -Train.”

“He’s driven, but he’s also down to earth”

Cutler left Villa at the end of October when new boss Unai Emery was appointed, bringing with him his own coaching staff including goalkeeping specialist Javi Garcia, who also worked with Martinez at Arsenal.

But the pair remain close, and Martinez responded to Cutler’s departure with an emotional message on social media, where he described him as “the best English manager by a mile” and called Cutler from the Lusail Stadium right after his World Cup triumph.

“The first thing I felt for Emi after the finale was relief,” Cutler added. “I was incredibly proud because I knew he dedicated his life to this moment.

“In order to do my job I needed to find out what makes Emi so successful, so I needed to know everything about his lifestyle away from football, as well as the level of detail of his work with me on the training ground and beyond.

“People have criticized him for his antics in the shoot-out against France and then said ‘What an idiot’ when he celebrated the Golden Glove, but I know him differently.

“He’s really insightful; someone who would do anything to help those around them and wants everyone to be happy. At Villa he always organizes barbecues and tries to bring the team and their families together because that’s important to him.

“He’s driven, to an extraordinary level, but he’s also down to earth.”

Maximizing Martinez’s potential meant making his mentality as much a part of his game as his imposing physical condition.

“Emi gave everything to reach and win this world championship,” said Cutler. “He has his own nutritionist, yoga and Pilates instructor and I know him who goes for a swim in the middle of the night just to recover for the next game.

“If you see exactly what it took for him to get here, then just think, let him party the way he wants because he’s earned it at every turn.

“I think when he came to Villa he might have had something to prove to Arsenal – but no more. Speaking about his time there, his frustration was more about not getting games than digging into the club – and clean .” In any case, things have worked out really well for him and for her since he left.”

Emi Martinez saves Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's penalty in Arsenal's 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium in October 2021Martinez has played five times against Arsenal since leaving Emirates Stadium, recording two wins (and two goals conceded) and three losses

Take Martinez to Villa

Martinez’s best first-team run for the Gunners came at the end of his final season at the Emirates Stadium, the Covid-hit 2019-20 season, when first-choice Bernd Leno was injured.

He started 11 consecutive games in all competitions, including the FA Cup final win over Chelsea, but opted to seek regular first-team football elsewhere. Cutler watched him.

“We had a list of guards and I, [Villa sporting director] Johan Lange and the scouting department had a lot of meetings,” Cutler said.

“Johan and the scouts were mostly doing stats like clean sheets and saving percentages, but Emi was somewhere further down that list because he didn’t play a lot compared to the other goalkeepers across Europe that we looked at has denied.

“Luckily they were open to my ideas and the way I worked – I look at a goalkeeper’s style and form and Emi’s biomechanics were excellent, he ticked all the boxes.

“Trying to convince people to spend £18million on a goalkeeper who hasn’t played much first-team football wasn’t easy but I managed it. I showed a powerpoint showing what he would bring including his character.

“Then it was like I sold the club to Emi and I had so many conversations with him on the phone telling him what I was doing and how and what we would achieve together. He knew I would do anything to make him better, which was the same approach he had.

“He felt that connection straight away and was like, ‘That’s it, I’m coming to Villa’. He ended up being chased by some other clubs but he was a man of his word.”

The way to the World Cup final

Aston Villa and Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez during the World CupMartinez, who kept three clean sheets in seven games in Qatar, was linked with a move to Bayern Munich in January

Martinez made an immediate impression at Villa, conceding four goals in his first seven Premier League games and ending his first season with a total of 15 shutouts.

That form alarmed Argentina – he had lined up some of their squads during his time at Arsenal without jumping off the bench, but playing international football was still on his wish list.

“He had a lot of goals as soon as he got to Villa,” Cutler said. “Every day when he opened his locker, we ticked something off.

“In the first year one of them was that he became number one for Argentina so it was huge for him when he made his debut in June 2021.

“He’s so stat-driven that he always has to hit this number or that number to make saves, cross-collections, or his pass completion. He’s conceded the most goals in this Copa America – four in six games – but then it went straight to the next thing.

“Sometimes my job was just to be the psychologist and understand him emotionally and understand what he was thinking. He was so eager to keep a clean sheet, he wanted to save everything, even the impossible, so he had to learn how to deal with not achieving certain things.

“But I never said, ‘Come on, Emi, you’ll never be the best in the world’. I’ve always said, ‘There’s no reason you can’t make it,’ and now he’s getting very, very close.”

“We wanted him to have confidence that borders on arrogance”

Emi Martinez dances for joy after France's Aurelien Tchouameni missed his penalty in the World Cup finalMartinez danced for joy after France’s Aurelien Tchouameni missed his penalty wide in the penalty shoot-out that decided the World Cup final

Participating in the 2022 World Cup was also on Martinez’s list and he obviously ticked that off too.

He was instrumental in Argentina’s victory in the final, with a brilliant save from Randal Kolo Muani at the end of extra time and then successfully upsetting France’s penalty takers with his penalty shootout antics.

That was seen as unsportsmanlike behavior by some, but Cutler admits he played a part in that game plan and sees it as further evidence of how Martinez has developed a more resilient and winning mentality.

“It was really my fault because we worked a long time for him to bring his personality and presence to situations like this,” Cutler said.

“Rather than him showing frustration and throwing himself into his shell, we wanted him to show his passion by having confidence that borders on arrogance, which could turn things around in a positive way.

“The stats are stacked against goalkeepers with penalties – there’s a very good chance whoever takes one will score – so it’s a question of how do I put him off a bit.

“The first time we focused on upsetting a player was when Villa played against Manchester United in September 2021 and Bruno Fernandes missed from the penalty spot after Emi spoke to him and told him Cristiano Ronaldo should take it.

“It’s about knowing the player and if it’s someone like Fernandes that you think you can end then you know it might not take much to get into his head.”

So what’s the next goal? Not much of that original list can remain in his locker unchecked, but that doesn’t mean Martinez has lost his drive to succeed.

“First he played, now he wants to win,” added Cutler. “The most important thing about Emi is his hunger and he won’t lose that no matter how good he gets.

“He’s played so few games, he’s like a 30-year-old in the body of a 22-year-old, so he’s got so much more to give – he’ll be at the top for years to come.”

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