Reading sat in a precarious 21st place in December 2018. The club had sacked Paul Clement several weeks earlier after a disappointing (to say the least) campaign to that point. Some fans saw the sacking as somewhat unjust, but just hours after a 1-0 defeat at home to Middlesbrough on December 22nd, Jose Gomes was appointed as the new manager of The Royals.
A new era at the Madejski…
The Madejski Stadium home goal had become target practice for opposition teams by January 2019. Anssi Jaakkola’s introduction as temporary custodian of the number one shirt in Berkshire shored the defence up, with some very respectable performances. However, Gomes made it clear from the off that he felt a revitalised Reading side was needed to keep them away from the drop.
Emiliano Martinez was Reading’s fourth of five loan signings that month, arriving from Arsenal on January 23. He was joined by midfielders Ovie Ejaria and Lewis Baker, striker Nelson Oliveira and defender Matt Miazga. Up until that point in his career, Martinez had gone out on loan to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but not played more than 13 times for any of them.
A solid start…
With the arrival of Jose Gomes as first-team manager came a new goalkeeping coach: Jorge Baptista - he replaced the outgoing Dave Beasant who had been in the role since the summer of 2015. The Royals’ goalkeeping department looked much fresher, and a new era had officially begun from top to bottom at the club.
January 29 saw Emi Martinez’ first start for Reading, with the match against Bolton Wanderers ending in a 1-1 draw. Martinez impressed from the off, with two crucial saves in both halves helping Reading head back to Berkshire with a point; one high to his right in the second half standing out especially.
‘A reassuring figure between the sticks’
Since then, Martinez has started every single one of Reading’s games, being a reassuring figure in between the sticks. He cemented his place as number one by pulling off some fantastic saves - in particular against Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic..
‘There were two unbelievable saves in opposite top corners by Martinez – one with his right hand and one with his left late on in the game.’
BBC Radio Berkshire’s Mick Gooding on Martinez vs Ipswich Town (A).
Martinez’ performances have clearly been noticed at Arsenal. Reports came out in the national media that Gunners manager Unai Emery wanted Martinez to return as the number two to German international Bernd Leno when his loan spell in Berkshire finished.
Comfortable with the ball at his feet, the Argentine fits into Jose Gomes’ style perfectly. As well as this, Martinez’ distribution has notably improved during his time with The Royals. He regularly hits target man and top scorer Yakou Meite with sidewinders from his own area, despite the jury being out on that part of his game earlier in his spell.
‘Fantastic handling ability’
One of the most apparent things about Martinez’ game is his handling. Coming from South America, you’d have thought Martinez was coached the ‘stylish’ way – parrying and tipping, not catching. His time at Reading has definitely proved worthy, however, as Martinez sports some of the catch-phrased ‘safest hands’ I personally have seen.
Dealing with high balls is another of Martinez’ strong points. He has relieved the pressure on The Royals’ defence many times due to his willingness to come for crosses.
However, this does come at a cost occasionally, with one of Martinez’ mistakes so far for Reading coming against Bristol City. Attempting to parry away a deep cross to the far post, Martinez got nowhere near the ball, allowing Bristol City’s Josh Brownhill to nod into an empty net.
Despite this, Martinez has been an ever-present in Jose Gomes’ new-look side, and rightly so. The Royals have always had fantastic goalkeepers among their ranks. In recent years, Adam Federici, Alex McCarthy, Marcus Hahnemann and Ali Al-Habsi have all been between the sticks at the Madejski, and Emiliano Martinez should be compared to them.
On wanting to be number one…
‘Obviously I love Arsenal, but it’s time for me to make it there, or go somewhere else. I promised my dad I was going to make it and I will make it’
Martinez in an interview with Goal.com
Undoubtedly, Martinez has saved valuable points for Reading during his loan spell so far. With the fans at the Madejski clearly warming to him, Martinez may want to stay put. On solid ground as Reading’s number one at the moment, will the proposition of the Premier League or moving abroad prove too attractive? Only time will tell.
By Sam Hudspith - The Goalkeeping Blog.
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