“I always said this was my home and my family. Now I mean it literally.”
He’s known for his stoic scowl, but you couldn’t wipe the smile off the face of Josef Martinez on Wednesday, with the news now public that he’s signed a five-year contract extension with Atlanta United.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “A lot of people put in effort to make this possible, and we’ve been working on it now for some time. I just want to thank everyone, the club, my teammates and everyone else that made this possible, because they’ve supported me ever since I got there. I said last year that this was the dream that I wanted for my dream and my family, so I’m happy to make that possible.”
Josef’s achievements are well-known by this point, especially among Atlanta United fans. Not least of which is the fact that his 31 goals in the regular season last year were the most ever in a year for an MLS player. But don’t think he’s satisfied.
“My mentality is always to score, to always help my team,” he said. “That’s been my mentality since I got here, so that’s not going to change. Not every year is the same, so you won’t always score as many goals as I did last year, but hopefully I can.”
Many MLS stars have chosen to move on from the league in the past, but Martinez doesn’t see it that way. He’s found a home here, and he’s not giving that up.
“Surely right now in Venezuela they’re saying negative things about me ... They think I should be playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid. But for me, this is my Barcelona, my Real Madrid. It’s not about me being the star. This team has 11 stars on the field, plus the substitutes, plus everyone who works here for the club. That’s the important thing.”
He says he had other offers –– his performances over the past two seasons turned heads all over the world, after all –– but he says Atlanta has something that he’s never experienced before. “Affection can’t be bought,” he said, and it’s clear there’s a deeper connection to this city that other opportunities couldn’t match.
“I came from a humble neighborhood, so a dollar more or less isn’t going to change who I am… That’s not why I chose here. It’s because of the affection and care that everyone has shown me, from the club and the city. That’s what’s important to me.”
So don’t expect anything but the tenacious, lethal striker that has been leading the Atlanta United front line as the best striker in MLS for the past two seasons.
“I just know I’m going to keep working hard. I set the bar pretty high the past two years, so now we know it’s going to be different. A new season, a new start and new challenges, but we’re just going to keep working hard trying to get to that number.”
And when asked what this means for his career long term, he had a typical tongue-in-cheek response.
“Right now I’m just thinking about food because I’m pretty hungry, then thinking about the double training session we have tomorrow. I live in the moment.
Same old Josef, and he’s here to stay.