Martinez full of respect for Mbappe as Argentina's World Cup hero explains celebration antics

By Sports Desk February 10, 2023

Kylian Mbappe will go on to win the Ballon d'Or many times, according to his World Cup nemesis Emiliano Martinez.

Goalkeeper Martinez won the Golden Glove award for his performances in Qatar, as he played a key role in Argentina's triumph.

Having proved to be the shoot-out hero against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, Martinez made a crucial stop from Randal Kolo Muani in Argentina's thrilling 3-3 draw with France in the final.

The Aston Villa shot-stopper proved his mettle again in the shoot-out, though it was his celebrations in the aftermath of Argentina's victory that drew criticism from French fans.

Having made a rude gesture while in possession of the Golden Glove award, Martinez was filmed leading chants including a slant at Mbappe in Argentina's dressing room, while he also held a doll with an Mbappe mask stuck to it during the squad's celebrations in Buenos Aires.

Martinez was one of the first to comfort Mbappe, who scored a hat-trick in the final and converted his penalty in the shoot-out, after the game at Lusail Stadium, and insisted no disrespect was intended.

"I didn't mean to hurt anyone," said Martinez, who has been nominated for a FIFA Best award following his achievements in Qatar, in an interview with Ole.

"Throughout my career I've grown up with the French and I've never had the slightest problem. You can ask [former Arsenal club-mate Olivier] Giroud what kind of person I am. I really like the French culture and mentality.

"The locker room thing should never have come out. When France beat us in 2018, I remember there were songs about [Lionel] Messi. If a team beats Brazil, they will sing about Neymar. There is nothing personal against Mbappe. I respect him enormously. If we sing about him or about Neymar, it is because they are the best."

Explaining why he held the doll during Argentina's open-top bus parade through the nation's capital, Martinez said: "People threw a lot of dolls at us along the way, they threw almost a hundred at us during the journey.

"At that moment a doll with Mbappe's face fell at my feet, I picked it up because it made me laugh, I grabbed it for two seconds and threw it back, that's all. How could I make fun of Mbappe?

"He scored four goals! Four goals in the final... He must think I'm his dummy! I repeat: I have enormous respect for Mbappe. I'll even tell you one thing: he's the best French player I've ever seen."

"After the game I told him that he could be proud of himself and keep his head up because he played a great game and was one of the best players in the world.

"I also told him that it was a pleasure to play against him, that he almost won this final alone. He is a boy with immense talent. I realised facing him that he is different. When Leo leaves football, he will win many Ballons d'Or."

Martinez, who quipped his team-mates think he is "crazy in the head", also believes he is capable of not only playing in, but also winning, the Champions League.

"I'm still hungry, I want to win the Champions League," the 30-year-old said. "Obviously, I would like to do it with Villa, but it will be difficult because the club is still in its growth phase.

"I won the most beautiful title there is with the national team, and now I'm aiming for the biggest title for clubs.

"I would like to win a title with Villa, but it's complicated. You should never lose hope, we'll see what will happen. I have the feeling that I have the level to play in the Champions League and try to win it."

And what about linking up with Mbappe at club level?

"I came close to playing in Ligue 1 several times when I was younger," added Martinez, who acknowledged he almost quit football due to a lack of game time while at Arsenal.

"PSG is a great club with great players. They aim to win the Champions League every year. Who wouldn't love to play there?! Leo and Kylian are cracks! Partners that any player dreams of having."

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