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'We’re bang on track'

Martínez: Toil, patience and a dozen grapes

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Javi Martínez has faced a long wait before truly feeling he is a professional athlete again, but shortly before the holidays he was pushing hard on the pedals of an ergometer in the FC Bayern performance centre. A comedy show was playing on the monitor in front of him, and Martínez chuckled. “We’re right on track,” he told, “I’m feeling better every day. I’m managing more and more exercise, and that’s good for me mentally.” After four months on the sidelines, the 26-year-old is acutely aware of one thing: the ruptured cruciate in his left knee is one thing, but his mental state is another entirely: “My leg has to become healthy, and my head has to stay healthy.”

It was back on 13 August during the Super Cup clash in Dortmund that a cross came over from the left and Martínez set himself for a scissors kick in the BVB box. “Just at the moment I stretched my leg, I collided with a Dortmund player and my knee made an unnatural movement. I felt the pain straight away,” he recalled. He was still prone on the turf when the doc voiced the dreaded words: it could be the cruciate!

Martínez underwent surgery in Vail, Colorado a week later, and spent wearisome weeks on crutches afterwards. “That was the most difficult time. You can’t walk, and you basically can’t do anything. Friends, team-mates and the physios kept geeing me up and wishing me all the best. It helped me. But I was really down at times and avoided contact with the team. It wasn’t an easy period.”

Traditional Christmas

However, working out on the machines is helping Javi banish the memory of those days. “I have the feeling he’s doing well, although he’d obviously rather be out there on the pitch with the team,” revealed Philipp Lahm, “but he’s headed in the right direction.” Martínez' training schedule through Christmas incorporates upper body drills but is focused on rebuilding muscle strength in the injured knee.

“I’m working hard every day, but I have to be patient, and that’s the toughest thing of all,” said the Spain international, who will go home for the holidays with a tailored training plan. However, his first priority is rest and relaxation. He is due in his home town of Ayegui to celebrate Christmas with his parents and three siblings. “There’ll be 14 or 15 of us. My mum’s a great cook. We traditionally have quails and salad followed by seafood.”

Javi is then planning a trip within Spain. “I’ll go somewhere and try to forget everything for a couple of days: football, my knee. I’ll just relax and enjoy it,” he said. As for New Year’s Eve, Martínez will uphold a Spanish custom, perhaps even more devoutly than ever: “At midnight, we eat 12 grapes one after another in time to the 12  strokes of the clock.” It is supposed to bring good luck, and Martínez would happily accept some good fortune as he painstakingly works his way back to full fitness.