As transfer rumors swirl ahead of an uncertain summer, the one thing that seems certain is Argentine striker Lautaro Martinez being the hottest prospect.
It’s at this time of year that the transfer sagas for the summer ahead begin to coagulate. Even in these unprecedented times with every major soccer league halted due to the global coronavirus pandemic speculation continues to swirl and no player in Europe has been subject to more speculation over the past few weeks and months than Lautaro Martinez.
The 2019-20 season has seen the Argentine striker emerge as one of the best goalscorers in the game. He has been key to Inter’s Scudetto challenge, forging an understanding with Romelu Lukaku as Antonio Conte’s side have taken on Juventus as Italian soccer’s predominant force with more relish than any rival team in years.
Martinez’s tally of 16 goals in 28 Serie A and Champions League appearances has alerted a number of elite-level sides, but the 22-year-old’s contribution cannot be quantified solely by goals. It’s his movement, energy and link-up play among other qualities that have led Barcelona in particular to believe the €110 million release clause written into the player’s Inter contract might be worth activating.
Stylistically, Martinez sits somewhere between Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez. He possesses a wriggly quality that makes it almost impossible for opponents to win the ball from him. His movement opens up space for others, making him perfect for a team that already plays an expansive game with numerous attackers. It’s not just that Martinez needs players around him, it’s that there’s no reason you wouldn’t want players around him.
There is justification to Barcelona’s belief that Martinez is the natural heir to Suarez. The Uruguayan, now 33 years old, is into the twilight of his career and with every passing season is finding it tougher to maintain his fitness. His injury layoffs are coming more frequently and are keeping him out for longer. Finding Suarez’s successor forms a significant part of Barca’s long-term vision, whatever that is.
Aguero might not be so vulnerable to injury, but he too is reaching the end of his elite-level career. It therefore makes perfect sense that Manchester City are another club reportedly interested in Martinez. The reigning Premier League champions would have to set a new club transfer record to sign the Argentine, but effectively replacing Aguero, arguably the greatest player in City’s history, was always likely to be a costly business.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid have also been linked with the Inter striker in what is already becoming the defining transfer saga of the summer. It’s yet to be determined how soccer will be changed by the coronavirus crisis, but whatever comes out the other end is still likely to facilitate a move for Martinez.
Goalscorers like him don’t come along very often. Only a handful are produced for every generation. This generation has been defined by the exploits of the likes of Harry Kane and Robert Lewandowski, as well as the aforementioned Aguero and Suarez. The next generation looks set to be dominated by Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe and Martinez.
Of course, there’s still plenty for Martinez to achieve at Inter before moving on. The coronavirus pandemic has halted their title charge. Helping to take down Juventus as Italian champions would be quite the accomplishment for someone still reaching maturity. What’s more, Inter are a big club in their own right. One of the biggest in Europe.
And yet it says a lot about the quality of the player that Martinez seems destined for even greater things. The best players always are.
He should harbor ambitions of becoming more than the next Aguero or the next Suarez. Martinez is already on course to becoming a great player in his own right. Those clubs chasing him this summer shouldn’t think about who he might replace, who he could follow, but of who he might inspire to follow him.