Lisandro Martinez was among the safest of bets when it came to predicting which of Erik ten Hags Ajax disciples would be joining him first in his new challenge at Manchester United. An accomplished defender in his own right, the Argentina international is also an extremely talented ball-player who will be key in getting possession moving out of his own half and up the field.

At 24, he has the potential to be a cornerstone in the teams backline for the next decade.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Martinez is that it has taken so long for much of the football world to sit up and pay attention to his abilities, but then again, he did not exactly take the fast track to stardom.{“type”:”fcplayer-semantic”,”data”:{“embedCode”:”//fcp.codes/embed-code-template/embed-code-template.js#SEMANTIC_5704afb8-c10b-4ba5-9cb4-d7fb6098ef90″}}

Martinez is another shining example of Ajaxs glittering player development system, both with young stars that come out of their own academy, and those plucked from across the world and patiently worked upon to reach their full potential.

He had to grow up fast from the very beginning. At just 14, he left his home and family in the sleepy riverside tourist town of Gualeguay, Entre Rios to move to bustling Rosario and the youth set-up of Newells Old Boys – the same academy which housed Lionel Messi during the Paris Saint-Germain wizards formative years.

Money was scarce for the Martinez family, as it was for countless families in Argentina in the years following the 2001 economic crisis which sent millions below the poverty line.

“My parents worked as school cleaners,” he recalled to La Nacion. “Were a big family and we all lived in my grandmothers house.

“It was normal for me back then to eat only at midday and then at night have a cup of tea with some bread or biscuits. But I was happy.”

The youngsters beginnings with Newells coincided with the final years of Gabriel Heinzes career at the Rosario club, after starring at the likes of United, PSG, Real Madrid and with Argentina.

“Heinze was an idol to me,” Martinez admitted to reporters at his presentation with the Premier League side.

“Making it here is so important to me, because he was also at this club. So, that was one of my challenges too.

“It is incredible for me to fly the Argentine flag here in Manchester too, I am so proud of that.”

As a teenager, though, he found first-team football hard to come by, and few Newells fans paid much attention when in 2017 Martinez was loaned out to Defensa y Justicia after making just a single senior appearance for the club.

Having only gained promotion to the top flight for the first time in 2014 unfashionable Defensa are a world away from the history and prestige of the defenders first club.

But the move proved a masterstroke for the Halcon, as their new signing immediately nailed down a starting spot in a dynamic young side which was soon challenging for honours, sealing an historic second-placed finish in the 2018-19 Superliga campaign.

“When you talk about a club being like a family, Defensa is the best example of that,” Martinez told La Nacion. “They treat you like a son. You are happy.

“They give you everything, they have an incredible training ground. They do everything to make the player think solely about enjoying the sport.”Manchester United x Argentina is never a dull combination ???????? pic.twitter.com/jI8tpUYWCy— GOAL (@goal) July 27, 2022

Ajax, meanwhile, were watching from the very beginning.

On Wednesday, the Dutch giants released a fascinating collection of the scouting reports compiled on the young defender, beginning with an Argentina Under-20 match against Peru in January 2017 before he had even made his professional debut.

“He plays as a left centre-back and has a good technique with pinpoint short and long passes,” was the Ajax scouts conclusion from that first sighting, and the praise only grew from there.

In 2018, following a clash between Defensa and Boca Juniors, the report read: “Great kicking technique and extremely versatile. He leads the field, is tough as nails and plays with grit”.

The post-script could not have been more emphatic: “Continue to follow emphatically and review again as soon as possible. This may well be the second Nico Tagliafico; a real defender who knows what’s what.”

That painstaking observation of the defender over the course of two years paid off handsomely, as after a rather turbulent period adapting to the famously intense, technical school of training at the club.

“I wanted to cry, I asked myself… whats wrong with me, why cant I touch the f*cking ball?!” he admitted to Clarin.

But he soon found his feet, filling both in the middle and on the left of defence as well as an anchorman in midfield and winning the prestigious Rinus Michels Award as the clubs best player over the 2021-22 season.???? Feel the fire.???? @LisandrMartinez is ready to bring the heat to United.#MUFC— Manchester United (@ManUtd) July 27, 2022

He nevertheless confesses to being bemused over the curious nickname handed to him by his team-mates, The Butcher.

“It must be because I am aggressive when I play,” he laughed. “But Im not one to make nasty tackles, but I do go after every ball as if it were my last one.

“A while ago I cooked up a piece of flank steak at home and they joked that the nickname fit perfectly!”

Ajax have now turned the £5.8m ($7m) they paid Defensa y Justicia for Martinez in 2019 into a fee which could eventually rise above £50m ($61m), another success story for one of Europes premier football finishing schools.

The greatest merit, though, of course belongs to the player himself.

In the space of barely five years, Martinez has transformed himself from just another hopeful on the fringes of the Argentine Primera Division to one of the most proficient ball-playing defenders in the game.

And with Ten Hag watching over him once again, only this time at United, the kid who once looked up to Heinze has every chance of surpassing his idols achievements at Old Trafford.{“type”:”editors-picks”,”data”:{“editorsPicks”:[{“headline”:”The massive moves that could still happen this summer”,”pageType”:”SLIDELIST”,”id”:”blt9917daa83324aee0″,”slug”:”summer-transfer-signings-could-still-happen-ronaldo-de-jong”},{“headline”:”The incredible story of Germany hero Alex Popp”,”pageType”:”ARTICLE”,”id”:”blt511a8d64ddfe4ea2″,”slug”:”incredible-story-alex-popp-germany-record-breaking-women-euros-debutante”},{“headline”:”What weve learned from Liverpools pre-season”,”pageType”:”SLIDELIST”,”id”:”bltd55925e6d58c3f55″,”slug”:”nunez-ready-van-dijk-partner-liverpool-big-questions-premier-league-opener”},{“headline”:”From Terry to James: Chelseas best academy graduates”,”pageType”:”SLIDELIST”,”id”:”bltd457bf79beb3a097″,”slug”:”chelsea-best-academy-graduates-terry-mount”},{“headline”:”Ukraine crisis: How you can help”,”pageType”:”ARTICLE”,”id”:”blt81d67af08be82393″,”slug”:”ukraine-crisis-how-to-help”}]}}

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