Josef Martínez isn’t at CF Montréal on a whim. He’s there for success, both individually and collectively, and to make the kind of impact he knows he still has in his locker.
Above all, he’s there to win.
“The first time they told me to come here, I was very happy I followed my dreams,” the Venezuelan told reporters at his first media address as a CFM player on Wednesday. “It’s a young team and I want to contribute to the team’s success while achieving my goals.
“The most important is they have a dream, they have a culture. I want to be part of that. I like the project, I love the city, I like the ambition the club has to win the Canadian Championship. Obviously, it’s a team, but I want to try to win a trophy and win the games, to conquer a playoff and win everything.”
What turned out to be Martínez’s only season at Inter Miami didn’t go entirely to plan for the 30-year-old. The hopes were that he would be Miami’s main man, a plan that quickly changed during that remarkable summer when MLS’s bottom club welcomed Lionel Messi to the kind of fanfare never seen before in the league’s history.
Martínez ended up as something of a supplementary piece in Florida, but it was hardly a wasted season: the former MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner helped the club win the Leagues Cup, scored 12 goals in all competitions, and got to experience playing with one of greatest footballers there has ever been, something he thanks God for.
While Josef Martínez arriving in Montréal hardly has the same level of significance and fanfare as Messi touching down in Fort Lauderdale last summer, it is a move that can have its own considerable impact in Québec.
His name evokes memories of some of the greatest individual seasons that the league has ever seen, when the striker scored 68 goals in 78 games across two campaigns in 2018-19, capturing an MLS Cup as well as the league MVP award and a host of other individual accolades along the way.
Things have changed since then, of course. An awful ACL injury in February 2020 ruled him out of action for 14 months and he has never been quite the same explosive, scintillating player that he was in Georgia.
But to dismiss Martínez as washed-up or a signing clouded in nostalgia would be folly and to do him a disservice. He’s a top-tier finisher by MLS standards with a natural talent for finding the back of the net that lingers. Getting a player of his quality, pedigree, and renown in this league on a one-year TAM deal is a savvy move by CFM President Gabriel Gervais and sporting director Olivier Renard.
There’s the bare fact that his 12 goals last season were double the tally of Montréal’s highest goalscorers last year. But, whereas five years ago Martínez’s allure was all about the goals, his appeal now is far more well-rounded.
“He is someone who will improve our sporting project, who comes to help us score goals and achieve our objectives, which are clearly to enter the playoffs and win the Canadian championship,” Gervais said after Martínez signed. “But beyond that, he is a veteran who can help our young people continue to progress. I can’t wait to see him out on the field.”
Heading into this offseason, CFM’s striker department was not only light in goals but light in MLS experience and nous. With three-time club top scorer Romell Quioto largely missing, the burden of scoring fell on Sunusi Ibrahim, Chinonso Offor, Jules-Anthony Vilsaint, Mason Toye, and midseason acquisition Kwadwo Opoku. That quintet netted just 15 goals between them in MLS play as only three teams scored fewer times than Montréal.
A player like Martínez will be motivating, perhaps even inspiring, for that group to work with and play alongside. He’s a veteran who’s been there and done it all in MLS, a winner at heart. “I don’t like to lose,” he told the media. A simple statement, but one which this club could have done with having more of last year.
Is he past his best? You’d have to admit he is, at least in terms of the goalscoring statistics and the electricity that used to define his game. For all of his ambition, caution should be exercised. Letting hopes and expectations gather momentum like a runaway train rarely ends well in soccer. That’s particularly true for a player of his injury history. But while pace and sharpness can abate with age and injury, innate goal instincts are harder to lose. Martínez was quick to assuage concerns over his condition.
“After my last surgery two years ago, I don’t have any problem with my knee. The last year was difficult; you have to understand when to push more, because there were many matches and little time to recover. I’m trying to be healthy and ready for what’s to come. I still have energy, I am ready.”
In that context, it’s important to remember that this is not Josef Martínez the Designated Player, not in terms of his expected performance level nor in terms of his salary. This is Josef Martínez the TAM piece. While that sounds like splitting hairs with MLS-speak, it makes a big practical difference. There are big hopes for the Venezuelan in Montréal — “he is a player on whom the club is banking a lot,” says Gervais — but a crucial point is that the club aren’t pinning all of their hopes on him.
Part of that reason is that he is not the sole addition at striker under new head coach Laurent Courtois, joining Uruguayan hitman Matías Cóccaro, a player he is excited to get to know. “He’s a tough player,” Martínez said of his fellow South American. “That’s important in this league. I hope we are a good match together. I’ll be able to help him because I’ve got a bit more MLS experience. We’re going to fight together.”
While Cóccaro is an intriguing untested addition, Martínez’s presence will excite fans, neutrals, and media alike. The power of that three-pronged appeal should not be underestimated in Montréal, where there has often been a disconnect between the team and the regional and national market.
While it’s still early days, the club seems close to finding a new relevancy within the sports media landscape in Quebec and Canada. The recent gold standard in that regard was the Wilfried Nancy year in 2022, led by an exciting brand of soccer and positive results to match. Courtois is already making a superb early impression and the feel-good factor is evident in the record-breaking season ticket sales.
Martínez can undoubtedly help fuel that. He’s a calibre and character of player who gets supporters in seats, sells shirts with his name on the back, and turns all kinds of heads in Quebec and elsewhere, including south of the border. It’s boring business talk, but it all matters in the increasingly intertwined worlds of soccer, business, and the marketing of those two things as both distinct entities and a joint venture. He sums it up pretty well himself: “It’s a show and I want to be a part of it.”
Ultimately, CF Montréal have got themselves one of that highly valuable breed of player: those that fans and players would much rather have on their team than face in a game. The 2023 version of Josef Martínez is still just that, even if not to the same mesmerizing extent as the 2018 Josef Martínez. The crux of that all boils down to two things more than anything else: what he has done in this league before, and what he still wants to do.
At 30 years old, he is the ninth-highest scorer in the history of the league with 105 goals in 161 games — more than any other player currently contracted to an MLS team — and 66 behind all-time leader Chris Wondolowski. He has designs on closing that gap.
“I want to reach Wondo,” Martínez said on Wednesday. “That’s my thing, that’s my goal, that’s my dream — and help the team to win trophies.” They’re lofty ambitions, but can you blame him?