Football Features

Lisandro Martinez seeking to buck a recent Eredivisie-to-Premier League trend

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:45, 18 July 2022

Lisandro Martinez and Erik ten Hag have been reunited at Manchester United, with the defender-cum-midfielder completing a £48.5m move from Ajax.

The fee, which potentially rises to €67m (£57m) with add-ons, makes him the Eredivisie’s third-most expensive outgoing player with only Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong leaving the division for more. De Ligt and De Jong opted to continue their playing careers at Juventus and Barcelona, respectively, though we could see both on the move again this summer.

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Martinez’s dream of playing in England’s top division naturally comes with challenges. Firstly, the assimilation issue: adapting to a new environment and league. Secondly, operating in one of Europe’s most demanding competitions; as successful as Martinez was in the season just gone, Ajax dominate 90% of the games they play with only Feyenoord and PSV — at best — presenting a high-intense challenge. In the Premier League there are at least five teams who could genuinely finish above United.

Linking up with Ten Hag should ease some of the forthcoming issues but there’s no escaping his price tag. A consensus among observers is that United overpaid, but it’s the going price these days for a quality ball-playing left-footed central defender. If the Argentine follows a similar trajectory to Ruben Dias we’ll look back on this as nothing more than a bargain.

Dias swapped Portugal’s top division for Manchester City and recent big signings from the Primeira Liga to England have generally been successful. The same cannot be said for their Eredivisie equivalents, which places an unwanted extra piece of burden on Martinez’s shoulders. His switch to United is the sixth time in the past seven years a Premier League club has paid £25m or more for an Eredivisie talent.

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Of those seven players, three currently remain in the Premier League while two have moved on, with Steven Bergwijn the most recent to depart. His time at Tottenham was predominantly spent on the sidelines, either in the physio room or bench, and has now returned to boyhood club Ajax, being Martinez’s teammate for a matter of days. Bergwijn’s international partner-in-crime Memphis Depay was expected to enjoy a successful Old Trafford career under Louis van Gaal but it turned out to be too much too soon. United are interestingly responsible for three of the most expensive Eredivisie players joining the Premier League, with Donny van de Beek completing the set.

Up until now, Van de Beek’s time at United has been nothing short of forgettable. Ten Hag’s arrival could spark a rejuvenation considering how well he previously worked under the Dutch tactician in Amsterdam, playing an instrumental role in Ajax reaching a first Champions League semi-final in over two decades. But he wasn’t alone. Hakim Ziyech was also key and the playmaker-turned-winger later donned Chelsea’s royal blue, though if reports are to be believed his time in England could be up soon. Ziyech, for all his creativeness, hasn’t pulled up any trees at Stamford Bridge and unfortunately looks a shadow of his former self.

Staying in London, but moving slightly north east, you’ll find Ziyech’s old Ajax colleague Davinson Sánchez. On the back of Ajax reaching the 2017 Europa League final, Spurs paid top dollar for the Colombian central defender and though he remains part of Antonio Conte’s squad he’s far from a guaranteed starter. These are mega signings which haven’t turned out well, but even modest acquisitions in the last eight years have flattered to deceive.

Jordy Clasie, Steven Berghuis, Vincent Janssen, Luciano Narsingh, Davy Klaassen, Jürgen Locadia, Jairo Riedewald, Yuning Zhang, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Juninho Bacuna, Philippe Sandler and Sepp van den Berg all spring to mind. Daley Blind, Dusan Tadić, Daryl Janmaat, Davy Pröpper, though not spectacular, all did leave an impression at their respective clubs. Joel Veltman you can, however, say has been a relative success.

This is what Martinez is essentially up against, the judgement of recent history. Succeed and he’s very much an anomaly. Fail and he becomes another statistic. He does have one advantage those who came before him lacked though. A coach that knows him inside out. And that could very well be the difference-maker.