Josef Martinez, Rafael Dudamel - Venezuela national team - celebrating goal in 2016
Marco Bello-Reuters

Josef Martinez can return to Venezuela team if he has change of heart, says Dudamel

Despite his very public repudiation of the current leadership, Josef Martinez will be welcomed back to the Venezuela national team whenever he has a change of heart, head coach Rafael Dudamel told reporters in Caracas on Thursday.

Last month Martinez penned an emotional open letter in which he explained that he’ll be declining any further international call-ups while Dudamel is in charge of the national team, citing an “ever-deteriorating professional relationship” with the coach and “his deep discomfort, pain, sadness and disappointment” at being marginalized by the manager.

The Atlanta United star said the situation came to a head during this year’s Copa America, where he scored a goal in three substitute appearances and no starts for La Vinotinto.

“This is not the national team of Rafael Dudamel, it is the national team of Venezuela. The day Josef Martinez wakes up feeling he needs the national team, the doors are going to be open here,” Dudamel said as his team prepared for a friendly vs. Trinidad & Tobago on Monday.

“I understand that there are situations that must be handled behind closed doors,” added Dudamel, who was a long-serving goalkeeper for Venezuela during his own playing career. “The case of Josef Martinez has surprised me and saddened me because if there is anything I put effort into, it is attending to the human being.”

Dudamel wasn’t entirely magnanimous, however, pushing back against Josef’s suggestion that he was unfairly denied playing time.

“If not playing is always psychological abuse, all coaches would be [guilty],” he said. “To call not playing psychological abuse is to disrespect his teammates.”

La Vinotinto defeated Bolivia 4-1 in a friendly on Thursday and will kick off CONMEBOL 2022 World Cup qualifying in March, where they will seek to end their dubious distinction of being the only member of the South American confederation to never qualify for a men's World Cup.