Emiliano Martinez could afford a small smile now as he reflected on his journey from a tough upbringing and his family’s financial struggles to playing for Arsenal and starting an FA Cup final.
‘Yeah [my family can watch the final in Argentina],’ he grinned. ‘We can [now] afford to pay the bills!’
It was not always that way.
Emiliano Martinez has had to fight for everything he has earned during his football career
‘I had seen my dad (Alberto) crying late at night because he could not pay the bills,’ Arsenal’s likeable goalkeeper Martinez said during an emotive, endearing and candid interview.
‘I remember the day that me and my brother (Alejandro) ate and not my mum (Susana) and dad.
‘When I was living in Buenos Aires (400km from his home town Mar del Plata, while playing for Independiente) I would only see them twice a month, when I travelled, because they couldn’t afford the petrol to go and see me.
‘So I know what they did for me to reach the top, where I am now.’
Due to lockdown restrictions Martinez, 27, has now not seen his parents for a year. He fears it might be as much as another 12 months before they are reunited
There will be immense pride when he walks out at Wembley for tomorrow’s final against Chelsea.
Arsenal’s goalkeeper recalls his parents not being able to eat when he grew up in Argentina
But there will also be a tinge of sadness attached to one of the biggest days of his career.
‘As soon as I win, I would want to celebrate with my boy and my wife – that’s the circle of life. But yes, I wish my whole family was there,’ he said.
‘We came from a poor, poor family and for them to see me winning a trophy in front of 90,000 people and getting a medal would be something.
‘That is why when Gabi (Martinelli) came along I made sure somebody helped him. It is really important because I know how much you suffer in the first year.
‘I said to my mum when I turned 18 and moved into my first flat in Enfield, ‘I don’t want to come back to my country with nothing. I want to make a career here.’ I did not want to let them down.’
Martinez finally received a first sampled senior English football at Oxford United in 2012, two years after he arrived, before further loans at Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Wolves, Getafe and Reading, the temporary stint he vowed would be his last.
Unai Emery assured him last summer that he would have the chance to fight for the No.1 spot and Martinez became a cup regular.
His drive to provide for his family has seen him emerge as a standout performer for Arsenal
But it was under Mikel Arteta and following Bernd Leno’s knee injury that the door to the first-team really opened.
Martinez said: ‘People say ’10 years you never played.’ It’s not. It’s never played for Arsenal.
‘But I played and I dealt with a lot of frustration on loan and at the club and it made me the man and the player that I am today.
‘In football everything changes and now I am finishing the season playing every game. But it’s not over – I need to win that trophy.
‘We want to play in Europe. We want it more than them (Chelsea have already qualified for the Champions League). That’s the reality and that might be a big part in the final.’
The injury of Bernd Leno opened the door for Martinez to be the No 1 and he has shone
Despite those frustrations, including about a lack of game time during his various loan spells, Martinez’s unshakeable belief that he could be Arsenal’s No.1 has never wavered and is why he remained whenever an opportunity arose to leave.
He has been preparing for it for years, especially recently.
He revealed: ‘My wife was saying to me in lockdown: ‘why do you train so much?’ Because I thought I might have my chance, I might do it. And look, I have it.
‘When Bernd got injured at Brighton, straight after that I had to make a lot of saves. And I made it look easy because I was confident I had done the right thing to prepare for each game.’
Martinez’s home fitness and training sessions, using a full size goal in his garden and ball launcher machine, with some initial assistance from his wife Mandinha and two-year old son Santi, have paid off handsomely.
The 27-year-old has had to endure loan spells away but vowed to fight for his Arsenal place
Martinez said: ‘Someone has to feed the balls [into the launcher]. My wife used to throw the balls but she was terrible at it and I was playing with my boy, he was trying to put the ball inside the ball launcher as well.
‘We were fine, we had some green to play, but obviously we were thinking about the people who don’t have green or a garden, how tough it would be to live with a young child at home in the lockdown.’
Martinez has been one of Arsenal’s standout performers since the restart, impressing with his reflexes, handling and comfort on the ball, even contributing to their 18-pass semi-final team goal against Manchester City.
‘I used to play up front so I always had the ability to play with the ball, even though I am 6ft 4in,’ Martinez said.
‘I remember my dad always saying to me, ‘If you want to be a professional player, you need to use both feet’ from a very early age.
Now he will hope to have an influence over Arsenal’s FA Cup fate when they play Chelsea
‘I remember being left-footed when I was very young and then got an injury on my left ankle so I started kicking with my right foot.
‘Mikel, too, hates long balls. In games you cannot always play between the back but that goal against City and the goal against Watford was the same. You get risky passes, but you get great rewards.’
Arteta is likely to have a decision to make over his goalkeeper next season now he has a second stopper of genuine first-team quality in Martinez who insisted ‘I never accepted I’m a backup keeper.’
But his focus right now is Saturday’s final.
‘My agent called me the other day and said ‘how do you feel, what do you think about next season?’ Martinez said.
‘I said I don’t want to talk about next season. I have a contract with Arsenal. I need to play in the final and have my mind clear. Whatever happens in the final and next season, it happens. It’s football.
‘I can go anywhere but I have two years contract left in my Arsenal career. Let me win that trophy and ask the question again.’
Arsenal are likely to start as underdogs against Chelsea, just as they were against City.
‘I like to be the underdog,’ Martinez said, with a hint of a smile once more. ‘To surprise everyone.’
After all he has been through to reach this point it is no wonder he backs himself.