Javi Martinez could not have scripted a more perfect debut season at Bayern Munich. The midfielder was seemingly unaffected by the weight of a €40 million transfer fee that the Bundesliga champions paid Athletic Bilbao last summer, making him the league’s most expensive ever import.
A year down the line, the Bavarians have enjoyed an astonishing return on their investment. Martinez helped the club secure an unprecedented treble in German football by winning the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League.
"It was an unforgettable season. We never dreamt of achieving that at the start of the campaign," the Spaniard told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "No other German team had ever done it and of course I'm very proud to have been part of the side. It's a huge motivation."
Martinez was unquestionably one of the driving forces behind the success. Despite possessing enviable technique, he never shies away from tackles, an attribute that has seen comparisons drawn with former Bayern enforcer Stefan Effenberg, who led Bayern to continental glory in 2001.
"Football is a lot more physical in Germany and the rhythm and tempo are also higher than in Spain. There it's more technical and they place more emphasis on what you do with the ball," continued Martinez, who nevertheless swiftly found his feet in the Bundesliga.
A European champion at both U-19 and U-21 level, Martinez’s importance to Bayern was most evident in the Champions League. His performance in the title-deciding 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund, among others, was particularly memorable, as he was the only starting player not to misplace any of his passes (29). On top of that, the 24-year-old won 72 per cent of all his challenges. Even centre-backs would struggle to compete with those figures.
Martinez's stats in the Bundesliga likewise stand up to close scrutiny. Bayern were undefeated in the 27 matches he appeared in, winning 24 and drawing three. The side only conceded eight league goals while he was on the pitch and just two of those came from open play. Martinez's ability to regain possession, his unflinching tackling and deceptive speed prompted Franz Beckenbauer to comment: "He's the type of man you win battles with."
No room for error
It should therefore come as no surprise that the Basque native has forced his way into the reckoning with his national side. "He's the complete player and is aware of almost everything that's happening out on the pitch," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who named Martinez in his FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 Brazil squad.
"When things are going well and your team wins the treble, then of course you're going to have better chances in the national team," Martinez said. "I hope that helps me in the future too."
It has already aided his cause, with his call-up coming after months of waiting in vain. Now the 'Kaiser of Ayegui', as Martinez is known in his homeland thanks to his Beckenbauer-like elegance, is hoping to crown an extraordinary season at the Festival of Champions.
"Spain are one of the favourites at the Confederations Cup because we won the last two European Championships and the most recent World Cup," Martinez told FIFA.com ahead of what will be his third major international tournament at senior level. "However, at a competition like this you can't afford to make any mistakes, we need to be fully focused."
If not for a quirk of fate, things could have turned out rather differently for Martinez. As a youngster he wanted to be a goalkeeper but was forced outfield after losing a bet with his brother. Had Martinez saved one of ten penalties he could have stayed between the posts.
Should Spain add to their trophy collection at Brazil 2013, Martinez would continue to emulate the achievements of his idol Patrick Vieira, who won world, European and Confederation Cup titles with France around the turn of the century. "I always looked up to him," Martinez said. "He attacked, defended, won balls back, kept possession and also looked to score. He was the complete player."
It is telling that the midfielder used exactly the same description Del Bosque earlier used for him. And the similarities between Martinez and his role model Vieira could be even greater should Spain taste success in Brazil.