x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Javi Martinez leads the Bayern Munich charge

The Spaniard and the club's other summer signings have helped the team dominate the Bundesliga this season.

Javi Martinez has proved to be a success at Bayern Munich.
Javi Martinez has proved to be a success at Bayern Munich.

Professional footballers are in many ways no different from awestruck schoolboys. They will see something brilliant on TV, and cannot wait to try it themselves.

Since Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted a truly unique acrobatic trick, with his long-distance overhead volley in Sweden's friendly against England, several goals have been struck by men with their backs to the target.

None have been as dazzling as Ibrahimovic's, but two conspicuous imitations have been provided by footballers not readily associate with manoeuvres of such dexterity: the central defender Philippe Mexes for AC Milan and, last weekend, the lofty, muscular Spanish anchor midfielder, Javi Martinez.

It was Martinez's first goal for Bayern Munich, the club he joined in the summer, the first of five scored by the Bundesliga leaders that day.

Bayern did not pay Athletic Bilbao €40 million (Dh190.1m) for Martinez principally for his goals, but for his dynamism, tackling and distribution from central midfield.

The sizeable fee raised some eyebrows. Though a member of the Spain squad who won the last World Cup and the 2012 European championship, Martinez does not have an automatic place in his national XI, and had tasted only briefly European club football with Athletic.

Of his talent there is no doubt. Nor his ambition. Martinez said last season he wanted to test himself in the most elite company and comes across as a man mature enough to master an environment quite different from Spain's Basque country.

Bayern have let him get the measure of Bavaria and the Bundesliga - "more aggressive and forward-looking than La Liga", Martinez told Kicker magazine - step by step, easing him in as a substitute in early season, but are now sensing this might be a footballer to build a future around.

Bayern recruited substantially in the summer following their second-place finishes in the Champions League, the Bundesliga and the German Cup.

They bought a striker, Mario Mandzukic, whose nine goals from 12 matches; an athletic centre-half, Dante; the imaginative Swiss playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri; and Martinez.

Each of those have helped contribute to the 10-point Bundesliga lead Bayern already lord over second-placed Bayer Leverkusen and the 11 they hold over champions Borussia Dortmund, who travel to Munich today. But if there are cracks in this strengthened, rampant Bayern, Dortmund know how to find them.

They have beaten Bayern in all four of their last Bundesliga meetings and thrashed them in last May's Cup final.


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