MARIETTA, Ga. — When Atlanta United reportedly set an MLS transfer record to acquire reigning South American Player of the Year and Copa Libertadores champion Pity Martinez, the club probably expected more than one open play goal and four assists through 19 league games.
That doesn't mean they're ready to part ways with the 26-year-old just yet, insists manager Frank de Boer.
While TyC Sports’ Cesar Luis Merlo reported Monday afternoon that the midfielder could be on the move as soon as this summer, De Boer batted those away when asked Tuesday morning, calling the report “ridiculous.”
“It’s just halfway through the season and he’s new,” De Boer told reporters. “I always say the first six months is always the hardest for everyone who comes in a new culture. He has to adapt, and it comes with ups and downs. We have a lot of confidence in his quality, there’s no doubt about that.”
If anyone knows how difficult such a move can be, it’s De Boer. After spending more than a decade at his boyhood club Ajax, De Boer became a European journeyman, spending time playing for Barcelona in Spain, Galatasaray in Turkey, Rangers in Scotland and even a final stint in Qatar before beginning his career as a coach.
“Not being involved in the Argentina roster, maybe he expected that, of course," De Boer said. "All has influence… getting married, his child … moving from Argentina to here. I know that from experience myself, but also from players who come abroad to a totally different culture. It has its ups and downs.
“He knows that he has to do better. He wants to do better," de Boer continued. "He’s working hard for it and we have a lot of trust in him.”
The unsettling fact remains Martinez has not produced like the club, the coach, and especially the player would have expected to this point in the season. Beyond production, De Boer has been critical of the attitude of Martinez’s performances in recent games, with the manager citing his lack of bite in midfield as reason for his early substitution against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
Martinez’s performance looked to be on the upturn in mid-May, back when Atlanta’s squad was mostly fit and available. More recently, De Boer hasn’t had the luxury of choosing Ezequiel Barco or Tito Villalba for matchday squads, with both suffering similar knee injuries in the past month and neither expected to be ready for a pair of games, including this weeks weekend’s marquee MLS match against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday (3:55 | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN1 on DAZN in Canada).
Sunday did see the return of striker Josef Martinez from Copa America duty with Venezuela, however, which should improve the picture for everyone, including Atlanta's midfielder with the same surname.
“He’s a major impact," De Boer said of Josef Martinez, who scored twice in a 3-3 draw against the New York Red Bulls to run his total to 12 goals this season. “He keeps everyone on top of their toes. You want that. He wants to give everything, but he wants in return that everybody [else] shows that same spirit and mentality.”