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Emiliano Martinez loves winding up former club Arsenal – that is refreshing

Emiliano Martínez of Aston Villa squares up to Kai Havertz of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal FC at Villa Park on December 9, 2023 in Birmingham, England
Emiliano Martinez is never afraid of getting stuck in - Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

There is a great clip of the luxuriously-bearded Charlton cult hero Derek Hales speaking during 1978/79, in which his interviewer bemoans the lack of big characters in modern football. Still active in English football that season: Charlie George, Peter Osgood, Stan Bowles, Duncan McKenzie, Tony Currie and Frank Worthington. George Best was still playing, albeit for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Brian Clough, Bob Paisley and Jock Stein all managed in Division One.

In other words, longing for a time when footballers were more fun is what is known in the media business as “evergreen content”. It is also a fatally rose-tinted sentiment. Is there a chance we are living through another golden age for charismatic footballers and we do not even realise it? When he reaches his dotage, will YouTube star and Beta Squad alumnus Chunkz be lamenting the loss of players like Emiliano Martínez?

A lot depends on this Sunday. For one thing Chunkz is an Arsenal fan, so his view will be influenced by how Martínez conducts himself when Aston Villa visit North London. The signs are promising, if you enjoy needless aggro.

It never quite panned out for Martinez at Arsenal, who was deputy at various times to Wojciech Szczęsny, Łukasz Fabianski, David Ospina, Petr Cech and Bernd Leno. He was sent on loan to Oxford, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Wolves, Getafe and Reading, like the weirdest Interrailing gap year trip ever. Few following his career expected the next stop to be a World Cup winner’s medal, fewer still would have envisaged Martinez’s unique celebrations.

If the post-final shenanigans in Lusail two years ago were not sullied enough by the Lionel Messi robe-draping and Salt Bae besmirching the trophy, Martínez lowered the tone further with his groin-centric celebration golden glove thrusting. “It’s something I’m not proud of to be fair because I had done it in the Copa America,” said Martínez. “My mate was saying ‘I bet you’re not going to do the same as the Copa America in the World Cup’. I say ‘yes, I’m going to do it’.” Point proven, hearts and minds won.

Emiliano Martinez of Argentina celebrates with his Golden Glove Award after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar
Not quite a trademark celebration from Martinez, but not far off - Getty Images/Alex Livesey

Such effervescence continued when back in England, with Martínez pointedly kissing the sodden emblem on his Castore Aston Villa kit in the direction of Arsenal fans last December. This is an antidote to the tedious modern trend of non-celebration against former clubs. There were some on-pitch clashes with former team-mates too, so high hopes for something incendiary in a high-stakes match on Sunday.

Arsenal, a self-identifying classy club, may not take well to such provocation. This is the fanbase which stormed down the steps in a frothing rage when Emmanuel Adebayor ran the length of the pitch to celebrate against his former club which, you must admit, might have been taking it a bit too far.

But a bit more badge-kissing, low-level scuffling or PG-rated needle from Martínez would be welcome for the rest of us, because football is in danger of becoming too respectful. This is a path which starts with applause emoji and saluted classy touches and ends with a feeling of being smothered under an obsequious wet blanket.

Another media cliché: three’s a trend. Martínez’s spiritual partner in crime is Neal Maupay at Brentford, a man stuck in evil mode. Through a slightly different lens, Kyle Walker’s off-field high jinks make him this generation’s answer to the beloved tearaways of the 70s. Odd that their extracurricular transgressions are romanticised and his are held up as heinous moral failings, but the values of this supposedly more permissive time are inconsistent.

Meanwhile Martínez continues to stretch footballing propriety to its limit. Ultimately though he could still invoke the defence used by Derek Hales in that late-70s interview. “I wouldn’t say I was any angel, but I don’t think anything I’ve done has been that dastardly.”

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