Argentina’s World Cup final hero Emi Martinez wouldn’t be where he is today if it was not for his eight games on loan at Rotherham United in 2015.
As a football fan, you should never fall into the trap of getting too attached to your club’s loan players. But with Martinez, Rotherham fans could not resist claiming him as their own.
I watched on gleefully as a Rotherham United supporter when Emi Martinez came into his own on the biggest stage of all to help Argentina beat France on penalties in the World Cup final.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper enjoyed a brilliant tournament and the deserved Golden Glove winner pulled off heroics to prevent Kolo Muani from winning the World Cup for France deep into extra-time.
And from a France perspective, Martinez then went full pantomime villain and proved that he had mastered the art of sh*thousery as he saved Kingsley Coman’s spot-kick and intimidated Aurelien Tchouameni before the Real Madrid starlet shot wide in the 4-2 victory for Argentina.
Martinez has far from had it his own way in his career; much of his time at Arsenal was spent on the sidelines as he was restricted to just 38 senior appearances.
Five years before he was briefly their first-choice goalkeeper in 2019/20, Martinez joined lowly Rotherham on loan as they were battling to stay in the Championship under the brash-but-entertaining Steve Evans.
Joining in March, he came straight into the team and his talent was clear to see; Rotherham benefitted from having a goalkeeper way beyond Championship quality between the sticks. The love affair only lasted for eight games but his contribution was massive as the Millers secured themselves a rare second season in the second tier with a game to spare.
Martinez’s performances struck a chord with the Rotherham faithful as his form enabled Evans the freedom to head to Elland Road on the final day of the 2014/15 campaign in party mode wearing swim shorts and a sombrero. Truly a sight for sore eyes.
Fans of Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves and Reading presumably have similar stories of how they grew attached to Martinez before he left them high and dry.
Given that Evans tends to go through players as often as most people (well, most people not Steve Evans) go through hot dinners, Rotherham were treated to a couple of notable loan players during his rollercoaster spell in charge.
Rangers captain James Tavernier comes to mind as a beloved player Rotherham were lucky to briefly in League One and foolishly hoped would stay long term.
As I’m sure any fan of a smaller club knows, relationships with loan players who have thrived nearly always end in heartache. Yet we never seem to learn; we are pulled in and blindly get wounded each time.
There is a unique type of pain that comes from seeing a former loan player thrive at a rival club competing at a similar level. But this turns into pride if the player in question goes on to reach their lofty potential in the Premier League or on the international scene.
As a Rotherham fan, you are well aware that there is a glass ceiling to what they can achieve. Having the odd season in the Championship can be viewed as a success given the club’s limited budget. But joy can come further afield when players like Martinez come along.
He has achieved his wildest dreams in Qatar to play a major role in his country becoming world champions once again.
Realistically speaking, Rotherham’s role in his journey to becoming a World Cup winner is minuscule. Yet we supporters claim ownership of him regardless. Once a Miller, always a Miller.
That rings true when a former player had a role in a memorable season. The limited number of appearances does not matter because that affection is still there.
Martinez has definitely enjoyed the best career of any former Rotherham player. Ex-Miller Adam Le Fondre was damned good for Reading in the Premier League but the goalkeeper is the only World Cup winner to have featured for my club. And that feat will likely never be replicated again.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when loan transfers can go badly awry. A fling that both parties know should never have happened.
Rotherham have had more than their fair share of those loans down the years, but it all feels worth it when a young, enthusiastic prospect rocks up who is bound to become great down the line.
Martinez was just that and it was a joy to have him represent my club, even if it only lasted for a couple of months.
The 30-year-old bet on himself when he was sick of being a back-up dancer at Arsenal and he’s now rightfully the main man for Aston Villa and Argentina.
What a goalkeeper. A man for a grand occasion. Perhaps he is Kylian Mbappe’s least favourite person but as a Rotherham fan, he’s always going to be one of us.