Josef Martinez - Atlanta United - Goal celebration
Dale Zanine

Josef Martinez happy to commit to ATL via extension: "This is my Barcelona"

MARIETTA, Ga. — Josef Martinez can officially call Atlanta "home" for a while longer, now that Atlanta United have signed MLS’s goalscoring king to a new five-year contract extension.

Speaking to reporters at ATLUTD’s training ground on Wednesday, the Venezuelan said the extension was less about money and more about committing his future to a place where he truly feels comfortable for the first time since starting his professional career abroad.

“Surely right now in Venezuela, they're saying negative things about me because they have a mediocre mentality. For them, they think I should be playing in Real Madrid,” Martinez said. “For me, this is my Barcelona or my Real Madrid. It's not about me being a star. This team has 11 stars on the field, plus all the substitutes in the team, plus everyone who works here at the club.”

While financial details were not disclosed by the club, the fresh new contract surely includes a decent pay raise for Martinez. The public will probably learn a bit more about those details when the MLS Players Association releases its salary guide this spring. But in the meantime, Martinez is adamant that he’s not laughing his way to the bank.

“I came from a humble neighborhood, so one dollar more or less isn't going to change who I am,” Martinez said. “I'm not worried about the money. If I was, I'd go play in China. That's not why I chose here. It's because of the affection and the care that everyone has shown me from both the club and the city. That's what's important.”

While Atlanta United officials have expressed a desire to distinguish themselves in the global transfer market by cycling young talent through the club via profitable transfer arrangements, Martinez’s five-year deal represents a new concept.

Atlanta aren’t beholden to sell, and can become an extended-stay locale, even for players with obvious star quality like Martinez.

“Our model was always that we could attract players who wouldn't see it as the end of their careers,” said club president Darren Eales. “Clearly, we can attract players from the younger age group. The challenge now for the league is, while there will be special players who want to go and play for the world's top clubs, can we retain some of those players?

“Josef is a good example. He'd been to Europe, it hadn't really worked out. He had a great chance here in Atlanta and he took that opportunity. I think it was something where he realized that sometimes the grass isn't always greener.”

For as much success as Martinez has had between the white lines in Atlanta, the passionate, hard-charging striker is maybe just as valuable off of it.

“Look, there's no doubt that he's a character. That's great and it's one of the things we need in this league — to have those characters,” said Eales. “I think it's true to say that in the city of Atlanta, he's one of the biggest sports personalities here.

“He transcends not just the fans who are interested in soccer, but the people of the city know who Josef is because of the way he wears his heart on his sleeve and the way he is on the pitch. That's great because we're in the entertainment industry and we want that.”


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