A stocky five-foot-seven man gets a through ball pass from one of his playmakers. They find him on target as he sinks a superb finish past the opposing keeper. Next frame, the same man stands inside the penalty box, calm and composed. As always, he’s the man for this job: a penalty kick. As the whistle blows, he approaches the ball and makes a slight hitch, as if he was making a dance move. It has become his signature style, and in a cool fashion, he sinks the ball in the back of the net.
Golden boot. Record-breaker. Champion. These are what Josef Martinez, the 27-year-old Venezuelan striker will be remembered for, by the city of Atlanta.
Coming from a country historically marred by a government involved in corruption and abusive rule, life wasn’t always easy for Josef. Growing up, he was reared by his grandparents. He recalls the time he needed to choose between buying a bus ticket or food. Making these choices from time to time did not leave a scar; Josef would eventually find his way.
However, living outside of his comfort zone was challenging. For a guy who had spent all his life in Venezuela, making the transition to a new culture, climate, and language would be a challenge. He persevered and pushed through, even admitting that he enjoyed it. After all, people say, “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
When he had the chance to play for one of the greatest South American coaches,Tata Martino, he took it, and the rest, they say, is history. He first joined the team on loan and then after scoring multiple times, he earned the club’s trust. He later became one of the greatest players the team has had so far – scoring 31 goals in one season, breaking an MLS record. Be it a stunning finish or a penalty kick, he quickly caught the eyes of his doubters and the hearts of his believers. He would go on to help win the championship for the city.
Not being the tallest and biggest guy on the field proves that you can excel in soccer no matter your physical size. Fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Neymar are also perfect examples of that. For a man who once had to decide between walking four hours home after soccer practice or skip a meal, he definitely has come a long way.
Off the field, he doesn’t shy away from being a fighter for what he believes in. He has publicly spoken out against the abuses of his own country’s leaders, despite the danger it poses to his family and friends.
Josef has had his season cut short due to a devastating ACL injury during Atlanta United’s first match, but one thing is for sure – this man is sure to rise above any challenges he may face.