Real Sociedad won, with a penalty goal committed by Iñigo Martínez. It is the summary description of what happened in La Cartuja two weeks ago in the 2020 Cup final, but also the wet dream that the most radical followers of the team had expressed through social networks, on the eve of that match. Donostiarra, those who, at the time, took advantage of the offer of the club’s official store to exchange free shirts with the name of the Biscayan player for others with the surname of any other footballer. Their wish could not come out better.
Iñigo Martínez, after a controversial hand that the referee took out of the area, committed the decisive penalty on Portu, after a monumental error by his line mate Yeray; he was expelled and a couple of minutes later rehabilitated after the VAR intervention, but he lost the self-assurance he had had in the first half. He made several more mistakes, like the rest of the Athletic players, overcome by the situation.
At the end of the game, he behaved like an exemplary athlete: he went up to the box and melted into a hug with Jokin Aperribay, to whom two years before he had written a check for 32 million euros to buy his freedom and sign for Athletic. Then he went down to the field and congratulated, one by one, those who were his wardrobe mates in the Real. These gestures lowered the bitterness of the realistic fans who consider him a traitor for leaving his club to sign for the eternal rival, despite the mitigations of being from Biscay and from Athletic, as various photos of children dressed in red and white attest.
In fact, Iñigo came to La Real for a linguistic issue. At the age of 13 he was playing for Aurrerá de Ondarroa, his town’s team, and received calls from Lezama and Zubieta, equidistant from the fishing town. He trained for several days at the rojiblanca factory and also at the txuriurdin. And as he revealed in an interview with the magazine Libero, “In Ondarroa everyone speaks Basque and, at that time, it was difficult for me to explain or say certain things in Spanish.” And he commented: “In Lezama there was a coach who spoke Basque, but most of them spoke in Spanish. In La Real, on the other hand, Basque has always been instilled a lot and that helped me feel more comfortable. At those ages it was very important to me and I decided to stay at La Real ”.
The “betrayal”, attributed to him in San Sebastián, would have been more attenuated if he had signed for any other team. It happened with Illarramendi when he ended up at Real Madrid, from which he returned without problems to Donostia, and it could happen with Iñigo, who could be playing for Barça, because Ernesto Valverde requested his signing to Bartomeu’s board. It happened in August 2017. The Barça board was not willing to pay the termination clause, but Neymar’s departure relieved the treasury and for a few days the option of reaching an agreement with the Real was considered so that the Barça club You will save the VAT of an operation that was not carried out in the end. The fact that Javier Mascherano spoke with the president when he felt that his position could be threatened, made the board of directors back down, as confirmed to this newspaper by a person very close to the negotiations. The weight of the Argentine player in the locker room served more than the coach’s opinion.
The Athletic center-back himself confirmed it in an interview: “There were serious options, it went wrong from one day to the next and it was a shame. It was a great jump, a good place to go, the coach, Valverde, was taking me, and that was a plus ”, pointed out Martínez. “It was a challenge to know if I could play with those people. It was a shame, but I continued to focus on mine, happy at La Real. And Athletic arrived. When a club pays so much for a player it is because it needs you ”.
Iñigo is a footballer with personality. It is difficult that in the clash against Barcelona he will weigh the penalty he committed against Real, or that of Greece with the Spanish team, in a qualifying match for the World Cup. The Athletic player acted in the three official matches of Spain in the last national team break. In the first, against the Greeks, he replaced Sergio Ramos at halftime; Against Georgia he also came out at the beginning of the second half by Diego Llorente and played the 90 minutes in the appointment with Kosovo.
Luis Enrique did not give him rest despite the fact that three days later he played the Cup final against Real, perhaps because he was little punished after having had to serve four games of sanction for a slight slap to Sergio León, who had given him a finger in the face, in the league game against Levante. “With Iñigo an injustice has been incurred as I had not seen in football for a long time, given the seriousness of the fact that he did compared to that of many others that occurred throughout the competition,” Marcelino defended him.
Against Barcelona, which could have been his team, he will be back. It remains to be seen who will accompany him on defense, after Yeray left the field with discomfort in the last league match against Alavés.