Turbulent may even be underselling it.
Martinez was forced to train on his own by former head coach Gabriel Heinze, a decision that neither party has spoken about publicly past acknowledging it happened. The club's winless run then reached eight games following a 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday, where fans voiced their support for an absent Martinez as displeasure for the state of the club grew. Atlanta parted ways with Heinze the next day, merely 13 MLS matches into a tenure that began with great optimism. Since the Argentine manager's dismissal, there have been numerous unflattering reports about Heinze's training methods.
“I’ve been here since the very beginning when there wasn’t even a field," Martinez told media on a virtual press conference. "I’ve seen what we’ve built here, that’s why things have hurt me. I want to give my life to this club.”
When asked repeatedly for a reason why Heinze forced him to train by himself away from the group, the coaching change and the aforementioned reports, Martinez declined to provide details.
“There are decisions you have to respect," Martinez said. "As a leader and a face of this club, I have to be professional and support my teammates on and off the field.”
There were even reports about Martinez's relationship with the club being fractured throughout this process, though he reiterated his desire to stay.
"The first time I came here I said this is my club, this is my city and I love to be here," Martinez said. "I want to retire here. I love this club."
Martinez has been an instant success in MLS, partaking in Atlanta's inaugural season in 2017 before breaking records in 2018. He won the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award, set a then-record for single-season goals in MLS history and led Atlanta to hoist MLS Cup, a game in which he was named MLS Cup MVP. He boasts 79 goals and 11 assists in 91 regular-season matches.
After missing nearly all of 2020 with a torn ACL, Martinez has two goals in seven appearances (four starts) this season as he looks to rediscover his best form. Martinez last appeared for Atlanta on May 29 before departing for national team duty with Venezuela at the Copa America. He tested positive for COVID-19 and on Tuesday revealed he had a minor heart complication that delayed his return, which has since been cleared up, before Heinze forced him to train away from the group.
Now, Martinez and Atlanta are plotting a way to salvage their season. The Venezuelan superstar is seen as the key figure in turning around Atlanta's fortunes as interim head coach Rob Valentino takes over.
“What’s important to me is the health and joy in the locker room," Martinez, 28, said. "Just to bring the joy back to the city, fanbase and ourselves. We need to get back to that way.”
Heinze gone, Josef remains, where does Atlanta turn next?
Martinez is a beloved figure in Atlanta. He's among the most popular athletes in the city and is on the fast track to legendary status.
“We have to come in, give our best and get back to being one of the greatest clubs in the world," Martinez said. "What we have to do now is work hard, get back to winning games and being able to provide our fans with that joy again.”
The feeling is mutual. Martinez has endeared himself to fans by regularly acknowledging their support, as well as his love for the club and city.
“I get emotional," Martinez said of the fan support. "Since I’ve been here, people have treated me like another son. When I’m on the field, I try to give my all to repay that love I receive from the fans. As long as I’m wearing an Atlanta United shirt, I’ll give my life for this team.”