Not Sure About ‘New Best Friend’ But Josef Martinez Is Taking to Lionel Messi

Since his arrival this season at Inter Miami, forward Josef Martinez was expected to be the primary goal scorer. That might have changed since Lionel Messi joined the team.

Inter Miami's Josef Martinez has been linked away from the team, but I don't see that as a plausible possibility with the arrival of Lionel Messi.
Inter Miami's Josef Martinez has been linked away from the team, but I don't see that as a plausible possibility with the arrival of Lionel Messi. / Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Over his six seasons at Atlanta United, Venezuelan forward Josef Martinez grew into the team’s leading scorer.

After 19 goals in his first season, Martinez rattled off 31 goals in his second season and 27 the season after that.

So, three seasons later when Inter Miami picked him up on transfer, the expectation was that he would become a leader on the front line for the Herons.

That outlook may have changed, but don’t expect Martinez to start shopping his talent elsewhere.

Let’s get into it.

Josef Martinez Shines For Atlanta United

After transferring from Serie A side Torino to Atlanta, Martinez kicked off his inaugural Major League Soccer career with 19 goals in 34 matches and led the Five Stripes to a fourth-place finish.

But it was the 2018 season where Martinez shone — notching 31 goals and five assists — as Atlanta rose to second in the league.

He had 27 goals in the 2019 season, but injuries started to hamper Martinez and his production dropped off — he only scored double-digit goals one other season.

Josef Martínez
Josef Martinez was a dangerous player for Atlanta United. Lionel Messi can help him be just as dangerous for Inter Miami. / Ira L. Black - Corbis/GettyImages

So, prior to the 2023 season, Inter Miami had their eye on a striker that could help produce up front and Martinez was a natural selection.

He hasn’t disappointed … too much. He’s averaging 0.47 goals per 90 minutes, according to FBref which is the third-highest production for Martinez behind his time with Swiss side Thun and Atlanta.

One reason why his production — six goals and an assist for Inter Miami — isn’t at the level of his time with Atlanta United is because of the defense.

The Herons’ defense leaks like a sieve and when your defense puts you behind the 8-ball, a team’s offensive tactics tend to change.

Now, things have changed in terms of the lineup for Inter Miami and that could be beneficial in a lot of ways for Martinez.

The Messi Factor: How Lionel Messi Could Improve Martinez’s Play

Conventional wisdom would suggest with a player with Messi’s caliber upfront joining Inter Miami, there isn’t a place for Martinez on the roster.

I disagree.

Martinez thrives in the center of the pitch, while Messi’s strength is on the right.

They are both interchangeable, but I see a lot of potential positives in a Messi-Martinez combination up front for the Herons.

Several rumor-based media outlets in England have suggested Martinez may be on the transfer block because of Messi’s arrival.

Again, I disagree.

Rumblings are that newly promoted Luton Town have expressed an interest in obtaining Martinez for around $10 million, but I don’t believe he will pass up the opportunity to learn from the greatest in the game to play for a side most likely to spend one season in the Premier League and be relegated.

Images across social media show Martinez actively engaging Messi in practice and on the sidelines of Inter’s 2-1 win over Cruz Azul.

The secondary idea behind Martinez moving away from Miami is the potential for the Herons to sign fellow Messi teammate Luis Suarez from Brazilian side Gremio.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think this is a longshot as Suarez is tied to Gremio for at least another season and has been battling a nagging knee injury that would make is production at Miami minimal at best.

Even if Suarez were to come to Inter Miami this transfer season — and I still think it is unlikely — his injury doesn’t jeopardize Martinez’s place on the team. Suarez is a late-minutes backup at best right now.

Criticize if you will, but remember these two players have only been working together for less than a week.

Martinez is still the best option for Inter Miami up front and pairing him with the likes of Messi only has the potential to make him better.