Public Enemy Number 1: Emiliano Martínez arrives in France for Lille showdown

Last Thursday, it was a familiar sight for French fans as they watched Emiliano Martínez (31) loom over almost every chance that Lille OSC created against Aston Villa. 

The quarter-finals of the Europa Conference League might have been a far less impressive setting but the flashbacks were no less real for the French fans still tortured by the Argentine’s phenomenal display in the 2022 World Cup. 

In that final, a competition that has come to be defined as Lionel Messi’s (36) swansong on the global stage, there was only one name in the Argentine squad that could have come close to stealing Messi’s spotlight. Despite conceding three goals, the goalkeeper was heroic throughout the final, a vital presence at the death in stopping Randal Kolo-Muani (25) from winning the game, and a penalty shootout hero for his nation. 

His performance alone would have made him a figure of despise in France, but it was his reaction during the celebrations that cemented his reviled reputation, and quickly earned him the moniker of the “most hated Argentine in France.”

Emiliano Martínez: the ‘most hated’ Argentine in France 

As he collected the golden glove for his efforts in the tournament, Martínez made an obscene gesture when he placed the trophy in front of his pelvis. A reaction he weakly blamed on the French fans, stating “I did it because the French booed me. Arrogance doesn’t work with me.”

Despite being one of the first to console Kylian Mbappé (25) on the pitch, he was far less gracious in the dressing room where he was witnessed calling for a minute’s silence for the Frenchman, “Who is dead.” The goalkeeper had previously taken exception to Mbappé’s comments that South American football had been left behind by the European game. 

Back in Argentina where the celebrations continued, Martínez was pictured on the open-top bus carrying around with him a baby doll with Mbappé’s face printed out on it. And it was during these festivities, that Argentine fans were heard racially insulting Mbappé during the parade, and burning a cardboard coffin with Mbappé’s head. 

Since then the animosity had quietened, a World Cup held in the winter meant that it was a swift return to domestic football in England for Martínez where he was out of the spotlight for France, and the fierce enmity that had sparked alive did not have the oxygen to grow much further. However in 2023, when the goalkeeper arrived in Paris for the Ballon d’Or awards he was met with boos from the crowd. 

Old wounds reopened 

Arriving in France tonight will surely open up some old wounds, as Lille look to overcome a 2-1 deficit and reach their first ever semi-final. Martínez can expect a hostile reception from the Stade Pierre-Mauroy as French fans will get a real chance to voice some of their former anger at a goalkeeper who looks built for the occasion. 

And while Martínez generally thrives with the crowd against him, his Aston Villa manager has warned him to reign in his emotions during the game and not get caught up in the conflicts of the past. Unai Emery stated in his press conference, “We have to be ready for the pressure from their supporters and we have to manage our emotions. Martínez is very important to us and very recognised in world football. We will protect him.

For Lille, perhaps the same can be said, and the emotions of the past should not cloud their fans from seeing the bigger picture. Their relationship and animosity with Martínez could become fuel for the team to mount an incredible comeback, or it could be a distraction that only serves to see Lille exit from the competition. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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