It took only two games for some to question whether Lisandro Martinez could make it at Manchester United. (More Football News)
In a matter of months, however, the World Cup winner from Argentina has established himself as a bedrock of United's four-pronged trophy challenge and become one of the most dominant defenders in the English Premier League.
“In the beginning, in Argentina, it was the same (to doubt),” Martinez said. “But it's normal because, in football, it's not normal to play as a center back with my height.”
At 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters), he was dismissed as too small to play center back in the league and United's shocking 4-0 loss to Brentford in August was evidence to some that he was out of his depth.
Jamie Carragher, a former Liverpool center back who is a television commentator, described the Argentine's height as a “huge problem” for United manager Erik ten Hag.
“I can't control that. It's just an opinion,” Martinez said. “I understand when people say that, they show me who they are. It's not my problem.”
United paid almost $58 million to sign Martinez from Ajax last year, after Ten Hag identified him as a key part of his rebuild at Old Trafford. The pair worked together for three years at the Dutch club and Martinez's ability to play out from the back with his left foot was considered vital to the new manager's plans.
Focus, however, was on his height, rather than his ball skills after United's back-to-back losses in the opening two games of the league, including the humiliation at Brentford.
Martinez was not only a target for opposition players, but critics as well.
“It was tough, for sure, because it was not the start that we wanted,” he said. “It was hard, the result, the way that we lose, the attitude was really bad.
“The team, we changed directly the mentality. It was like, OK, we are in the ground, but now we have to prove, to fight again. Sometimes it is good to see the bad things and then you have to change on the pitch.”
Few would have expected United to still be in contention on four fronts after such a troubled start.
On Thursday, United knocked out Barcelona from the Europa League with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. On Sunday, the team can win the first trophy of the season when it plays Newcastle in the English League Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
A Premier League title challenge is also on for third-placed United, and the team is in the FA Cup fifth round.
While Ten Hag values Martinez's technical qualities, his fighting spirit has seen him become a favorite among fans.
“Argentine players are always like this, we are passionate,” Martinez said. “Football for us is like everything so that is why we always give everything of us. As a kid, I remember when I was really young, like four or five years old, I start to fight and I start to cry when I lose, so it is something we have in the blood, we have in the heart. It's our culture.”