Quick on the ground, good in the air, powerfully built and measuring in at 6’2”, Colombian striker Jackson Martinez represents a tall order for any backline. Currently terrorising Mexican defences with club side Jaguares de Chiapas, Martinez’s impact in his relatively short international career has sparked hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of legendary countrymen Faustino Asprilla and Adolfo Valencia.
In an exclusive interview, the 24-year-old rising star spoke to FIFA.com about a wide range of issues including his time in Mexico, his goal of playing in European football and the prospect of appearing at a first major tournament in Colombian colours.
Shining for club and country
“I’m very happy, I feel right at home – anybody would like to play football here,” began Martinez, whose team Jaguares started the campaign as relegation candidates only to reach the quarter-finals of the Apertura 2010’s title-deciding Liguilla. “Us Colombians always dream of a move abroad, and Mexico is a magnificent opportunity.”
Despite missing a significant chunk of the Apertura through injury, the power-packed forward did return in time to weigh in with two goals, including the winner in a vital 2-1 victory over Atlas on 6 November. “On an individual level the second half of the year wasn’t as good as the first half, though for the team as a whole it went better. In the previous campaign (the Clausura 2010) things went very well for me but less so for the team.”
His strong club performances for Jaguares and previous side Independiente Medellin have helped cement his place in a Colombia squad now coached by Hernan Dario Gomez. Martinez is undaunted at the prospect of shouldering Los Cafeteros’ goalscoring burden: “I don’t treat it as an individual responsibility. My job is to contribute, not just to turn up. It’s not a burden being part of the team, it’s a source of satisfaction. All of us are going to work together to drive the team forward and change things for the better.
“I’m a newcomer to the national team, so I’m not burdened by what’s happened in the past,” continued Martinez on Colombia’s failure to qualify for the last three editions of the FIFA World Cup™. “During this new era under Hernan Dario Gomez we have to learn from the mistakes we’ve made and not repeat them,” added the No9, who weighed in with three goals from four appearances in the latter stages of South Africa 2010 qualifying.
Copa America awaits
Posing the next major challenge for Colombia is the Copa America 2011 in Argentina, where a positive performance could prove vital for morale ahead of South American Zone qualifying for Brazil 2014. “It’s a great opportunity for Colombian football to take on traditional heavyweights like Argentina,” said Martinez, whose team have been drawn alongside the host nation, Bolivia and Japan in Group A. “I’m very optimistic and I think we can make an impact at this tournament. But to do so we have to beat some very strong teams.”
This generation of Colombia players is old enough to draw inspiration from a previous encounter with La Albiceleste on Argentinian soil, when Los Cafeteros pulled off an astonishing 5-0 win in River Plate’s Estadio Monumental on the road to USA 1994. Only seven years old at the time, Martinez admitted that he did not watch the game live. "But I’ve seen the goals many times because they’re often shown on TV," he added. "And of course you still get that sense of joy even though you weren’t involved. It was a historic victory and what’s more it was totally unexpected.”
Copa America winners on home soil as recently as 2001, Martinez went on to repeat his belief that Colombia will be among the contenders at next July’s competition. “I think that if we set our sights high we can go really far. I think we’re capable of having a great tournament and lifting the trophy. Why shouldn’t we?”
Nor does the front-runner limit his lofty ambitions to the national team, with a move to the European game also firmly in his sights. “That’s one dream I’ve yet to make true, but I realise that I need to achieve certain things before that can happen,” said Martinez as the interview drew to a close. “Things are going well, but you have to go one step at a time. I’d like a move to English football, preferably to Chelsea or Arsenal, which are two teams I’ve followed since I was a child.”