The armchair scout: Gelson Martins
Yes, yes, yes there’s a World Cup on and we shouldn’t be focussed on the summer transfer silly season right now, I get that. But, in a month, when you suddenly discover Chelsea have brought Darius Vassell out of retirement, and that Mourinho is experimenting with a Scott McTominay – Charlie Adam midfield double-pivot at the expense of Paul Pogba, you’re going to wish you’d paid more attention.
So, I’ve once again got my notebook out and fired up YouTube to go on the hunt for knowledge about a player I currently have little understanding of. In this case, the Portuguese international, Gelson Martins.
Right now, Martins is in Russia as part of Portugal’s World Cup squad. Where he’ll go when the tournament is over though remains a mystery, as he certainly won’t be returning to Sporting Lisbon. Following an attack on the clubs training camp by some ‘fans’ earlier in the year, Martins is one of a number of Sporting’s stars to cancel their contracts.
This suggests that Gelson Martins will be available on a free transfer (Sporting are likely to look to complicate this though) – so let’s see what potentially none-of-your-money could get you. ‘You’, in this case, being Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal – the three clubs most heavily linked with Martins.
Position: Right winger
Club: Sporting Lisbon (contract cancelled)
Martins is a right footed, right winger who excels in beating his man and creating opportunities for his teammates.
That’s all well and good – but is he actually any good? Well, what else are online football stats databases for?
All the stats in this piece are taken from WhoScored, where you can find a full statistical profile on Martins. I’m only using stats from the 17/18 domestic season too, in Martins’ case in the Primeira Liga, and for any other player’s stats I throw in for comparative reasons.
Martins got plenty of football for Sporting last season, starting 30 league games and coming on as a substitute once. Across those games, in terms of end product, Martins racked up 8 goals and 8 assists. That’s a fair amount of end product for a winger and reflects well on the quality of his service.
That service is measured in key passes (passes that result in shots). Martins’ averaged 1.5 key passes per game.
For contrast, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha made 1.8 key passes. Yet Zaha only managed 3 assists last season. This is partly down to the fact that Zaha was providing for the remarkably profligate Christian Benteke. It also suggests though that the shooting opportunities that Martins is forging are perhaps of a higher quality.
For further comparison, Arsenal’s Mesut Özil racked up 8 assists and played 3.2 key passes per game. Again, this is evidence that whilst Martins’ creates less shooting opportunities, they’re generally easier to score from.
Creativity is only part of Martins’ game though. He is a player who often attempts to dribble past his opponent, leading to 2.6 successful dribbles per game, and 1.7 unsuccessful ones.
However, when compared with two of the best dribblers in the Premier League, Eden Hazard and Wilfried Zaha, Martins falls behind. Hazard’s dribbling figures of 4.3 successful and 1 unsuccessful attempt; and Zaha’s of 4.1 successful and 2.7 unsuccessful, show that Martins has room to improve.
Martins’ ball retention figures make for impressive reading, his average pass completion rate of 83.3% is up there with the likes of Manchester City’s Leroy Sané at 84.2%. He’s also a big improvement on Wilf Zaha’s figure of 75.3%.
Finally, Martins figure for completed crosses per game – 0.5, is very respectable and an important attribute for a winger.
Now all we need to know is how these stats look when manifested on the pitch.
The YouTube compilation
The first thing that becomes clear when watching Gelson Martins is that he’s fast. Really, really fast. He’s also able to retain his close dribbling skills whilst running at speed – no mean feat (or feet. Ahem).
He clearly enjoys attempting to trick and jink his way past opposition players. When this comes off it looks very impressive indeed, but given the nature of YouTube compilations, it’s hard to tell what this looks like when it doesn’t come off, and how often Martins might be playing his team into pressure by trying too much at the wrong time.
In purely aesthetic terms, it’s hard to ignore the air of clumsiness in Martins’ game. However, if it’s effective then that doesn’t really matter.
The other little red flag is how often the clips in these compilations tend to cut away after Martins has beaten his man but before we see if his final ball comes off. This could easily be an editor who simply prefers to focus on skills and dribbling, or it could be that the final ball is often unsuccessful. The other thing that needs to be taken into account is the quality of opposition Matins generally faces. The Primeira Liga really is quite far from the Premier League in that sense, and potentially flatters Martins.
Beyond that, Martins comes across as a fairly competent finisher and at the very least looks like an exciting and unpredictable player to watch.
Who should sign him, and should they really?
As was said earlier, Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal are the clubs being most heavily linked with Martins. So let’s take this on a case by case basis.
Everton – Martins feels like he’d be an excellent capture for Everton and a real coup. He’d get lots of first team minutes there and would provide great competition for Theo Walcott. It feels likely though that as a free transfer with more prestigious suitors (no offence Toffees fans), Martins might have set his sights beyond Goodison.
Liverpool – Liverpool need back up and competition for their holy trinity of attackers. Martins would provide that back up, but probably has a long way to go before usurping Sadio Mané in the first team. If he’s up for the fight though, Liverpool could do a lot worse, and they do need to find more depth in that part of the pitch.
Arsenal – Rather than being competition for Walcott at Everton, he could be his replacement at Arsenal. With the new man at the helm, Unai Emery, it’s hard to say how Arsenal will shape up next year, but it’s equally hard to see where Martins fits in to any best Arsenal XI. But, and it’s a big but, an out and out winger is something Arsenal certainly lack. By virtue of being the only player of his kind in the dressing room, Martins could quickly make himself a vital part of Emery’s squad and add a new dimension to the Gunner’s style.
Who will sign him? I’ve no idea. Whoever gets him though has got a tricky young winger, with bags of potential who already boasts end product in his game.
A good World Cup showing could go a long way to deciding his future.