Jackson Martinez's short stint at Atletico Madrid a major flop
Atletico Madrid have enjoyed a lot of success when it comes to replacing departed strikers over recent years. The likes of (a young) Fernando Torres, Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Mandzukic have all come, scored goals, and moved on.
Therefore, in the summer, when Colombia international Jackson Martinez arrived from Porto for €35 million, it seemed as if the natural succession would continue. Hardworking, full of pace, power and pressing in addition to being a consistent goal scorer, he seemed the prototype for a Diego Simeone striker. He was everything Mandzukic, who had fallen out with the Argentine, was and more -- or so we thought. What this Atleti side would not give for Manzukic's goals right now.
So why is it, then, than this week, just six months after signing for Los Rojiblancos, Martinez has found himself moving to China in a deal worth €42 million?
Make no bones about it: The 29-year-old flopped dramatically. He had enjoyed three excellent seasons in northern Portugal, scoring 67 goals in just 90 games, finishing as top scorer in each of his three seasons in the Primeira Liga.
He had been a thorn for defences both domestically and on the continent. His performances against Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League proved he was capable of turning it on against Europe's big boys too, causing havoc in the first leg and scoring in both ties against the Bavarian giants. One of Europe's most in-demand strikers, it is hard to believe now but Atleti actually pulled of something of a coup in securing his signature amid interest from the Premier League.
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An unspectacular debut by Martinez from the off at home to Las Palmas was followed up by a promising cameo from the bench away to Sevilla, where he helped set one up and scored a third in a 3-0 victory. It was supposed to be the springboard to bigger and better things for the forward. Every striker dreams about bagging an early goal for his new club and he had done just that. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Simeone frequently rotated between Martinez and the misfiring Fernando Torres at the start of the season, leading many fans -- not to mention this observer -- questioning the Argentine's team selections. It has transpired that, as he so often is, Simeone was right. He had clearly seen something behind the scenes that showed for whatever reason, the former Porto man was not right for this Atleti side.
Back-to-back goals in October against Astana and Valencia were the highlight of a Rojiblanco career that saw the striker net just three times -- twice in La Liga and once in the Champions League -- and cost the side a whopping €11.6 million per goal.
Without having knowledge of everything that happened behind the scenes, it is impossible to know exactly what went wrong for the 41-capped international at the Vicente Calderon, however club president Enrique Cerezo was recently quoted on Spanish radio as saying he was "not at the level" of the club.
It is a curious case indeed, and while there is little doubt that Martinez badly underperformed during his time in the Spanish capital, it would have been very useful to have his legs up top as the season continues.
Atletico are still fighting on two fronts and, with Antoine Griezmann carrying all the goal-scoring burden, Luciano Vietto even less effective than Martinez and Torres, the side could have used another body, if little else.
What looks to have happened is that the deal presented to Atletico from China was far too good to turn down. The chance to make a €7 million profit on a player who this year turns 30 and would have little resale value should Simeone have decided to move him on this summer meant that the club's hierarchy put business first. Simeone spoke of how it was "his fault", yet the reality is that a player of his calibre should be doing better, whatever the circumstances.
Now, for what remains of this campaign, it appears that Los Colchoneros are going to have to make do with what they have got. Yannick Carrasco was promising in a central striking role in last weekend's defeat to Barcelona, while Angel Correa, unlike many of his teammates, looks capable of finding the back of the net every time he steps out onto the pitch.
With the young Argentina international back from suspension for the visit of Eibar this weekend, he is in contention for a start in what will be a much-changed Atletico Madrid lineup.
A combination of injury and suspension means Jesus Gamez, Jose Maria Gimenez, Lucas Hernandez and Saul Niguez will form a threadbare back four in front of goalkeeper Jan Oblak, while Augusto Fernandez's injury means Matias Kranevitter is in for a recall. Carrasco and Correa will fight it out to partner with Griezmann up top, with Koke looking to build on his goalscoring performance at the Camp Nou alongside Gabi in the middle of the park.
Now four without a win in all competitions, the last two of which have been defeats, Atleti cannot afford to slip up again if they want to keep the heat on Barca at the top of the table and must start the post-Jackson Martinez "era" with a win.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.