Munich - Despite featuring as a holding midfielder for much of FC Bayern München’s quadruple-winning campaign under former head coach Jupp Heynckes, there remains an element of uncertainty surrounding Javier Martinez’s role with the record titleholders.
With versatility proving to be a hot commodity in modern football, the Spaniard - who joined the Bavarians from Athletic Club Bilbao for a record-breaking fee in 2012 - has filled a number of positions since the arrival of compatriot Pep Guardiola.
The former FC Barcelona boss has undertaken several experiments with Bayern’s star-studded line-up since stepping into Heynckes’ shoes last June. The most prevalent alteration has underlined his preference for a more flexible 4-1-4-1 formation as opposed to the rigid 4-2-3-1 system that proved so successful in the 2012/13 campaign.
With the wing-backs now encouraged to bomb forward, Martinez admits that his role has “changed somewhat”, as the lone holding midfielder is often required to drop in between the two centre-backs. “I don’t have as much freedom on the field anymore,” conceded the 25-year-old in an interview with local newspaper tz. “I don’t get forward as often and my game is a little more static. The coach [Guardiola] believes that I can play in any of the central positions and I’ll play where I’m needed.”
The winter break, though, has proven that Pep is yet to settle on his preferred position for Martinez, with the Spaniard featuring as a centre-back in all three of the Reds’ mid-season friendlies, most recently as part of a three-man backline in the 3-0 defeat to Red Bull Salzburg. “I made some tactical changes today because we wanted to have one more player in the midfield,” explained Guardiola.
Martinez has made just one competitive start at centre-back during his time in Munich, a 4-0 home win over 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the 2nd Round of the DFB Cup last season, but with Guardiola’s desire to dominate possession yet to be quenched, it could be the towering midfielder who is once again forced to adapt. “We trained a new system with three defenders. This was mainly so that we could have the ball a little bit more in the midfield,” elaborated Guardiola.
“We have to use these friendlies to try out new things, for me that is what they are about,” concluded the 43-year-old, who celebrated his birthday on Saturday. However, there was little hint from the Spanish head coach as to whether these experiments would have any bearing on the side or simply serve as another string on Bayern’s supremely talented bow once the Bundesliga restarts on 24 January.
In Martinez’s case, though not unaccustomed to operating at the heart of a backline having played there for Bilbao for the majority of the 2011/12 campaign, the winter break has at the very least once again underlined his value as a multi-faceted professional.
“I have no preference,” he told Marca when asked about his role during pre-season. “Maybe I prefer midfield, but central areas suit me and there’s a chance I could improve as a player in defence." Considering Martinez has remained unbeaten in 33 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern, the thought of him improving would be a worrying prospect for the rest of Germany's top flight.