When Inter Miami CF striker Josef Martínez was struggling through a nine-game scoring drought this past spring, he remained calm. That’s noteworthy, because there was a time in his life when a slump would have put him in a really foul mood. Now that he’s a father, Martínez admits that his perspective on the sport he loves has changed.
“I always wanted to be a dad,” Martínez says. “It’s the most beautiful thing in life. Now, I can have a bad day and come home but [my son] doesn’t know what happened. He just looks at me and smiles.”’
Before moving to Miami earlier this year, the Venezuelan-born Martínez (age 30) spent six years as one of Atlanta’s most beloved and recognizable sports figures, earning the nickname “El Rey” (The King) for his prolific scoring and undeniable swagger. When Atlanta United won the MLS Cup in 2018, he garnered three MVP awards and the Golden Boot, the award given to the player who scores the most goals in a regular season. In two seasons, he scored six hat tricks. Suffice it to say, he was on a tear until a knee injury sidelined him for the 2020 season.
Then things went south—literally. Martínez has always been known as a passionate player who hates to lose. As Atlanta began to struggle, he made no secret of his feelings about why that was and who was to blame. Former Herons coach Phil Neville approached Martínez after a match, he recalls, and said maybe someday he’d like to come play for him.
“I told him, ‘Maybe this is possible,’” Martínez says. “I thought, because of the circumstances in Atlanta, it would be difficult for me to remain there.”
He had already been spending most of his vacation time in the Magic City. But when his son was born in November and had to spend the first two months of his life in a Miami hospital, the idea of playing in Miami grew more appealing. “I wanted to be near my son, and I needed to do that,” he says.
In January, Miami welcomed him with open arms. Pepito’s Arepa Bar in Doral (known for its large Venezuelan population) sold limited-edition pink arepas with a custom Josef Martínez logo pressed into them. Wynwood was full of Josef graffiti, and a large billboard that read “Hablame, Miami. Josef llego.” (“Speak to me, Miami. Josef arrived.”) presided proudly over Doral. “I feel at home here and have lots of friends and family nearby,” Martínez says. “I am happy that the club gave me this opportunity. This is my home.”
Martínez doesn’t let the attention go to his head. He gets up early to train, then comes home to eat and spend time with his son. Padel ball and PlayStation are some of his favorite downtime activities, but he heads downtown for dinner from time to time. Mostly, he likes to stay at home, rest, and be with friends.
Still, he’s a striker—and he knows it’s his job to score. Facing one of his worst professional slumps this spring, Martínez came off the bench when his old team came to town, scoring two goals to lead his new squad to victory. He describes it as the strangest moment of his career.
“I still have a lot of love for [Atlanta],” says Martínez, who in that game became the fastest player in MLS to score 100 goals in the regular season. “Even though I represent Miami now, I have a heart for the team, the club, and the city because they supported me, even in bad moments. I didn’t want to face my former teammates, but God had something saved for me in that moment. Life moves on, but for me it was an emotional [match].”
Though Martínez has found his footing in his new town and with a new team, Inter Miami has struggled to rack up wins this season. In early June, as the team languished at the bottom of the MLS East, Neville was fired and replaced with Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Martínez’s former coach in Atlanta. “I’ve known the coach for many years,” Martínez told reporters. “I know how he wants to work. I know the ambition he has to achieve big things.”
At the same time, the blockbuster signings of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba sparked talk that this team could make things interesting in the second half of the season. Of the addition of Messi, Martínez told reporters: “We want to learn from the most successful person in the world, and we are very happy to have him with us. We all give him space. We know he is enjoying himself. We are also enjoying him. … It has been a positive few days for everyone—the city, the team. You can see it in the results.”
Now, Martínez and his teammates are working together to fight their way into an MLS playoff berth. “We’re never going to put our heads down,” he says. “We’re going to continue to battle and fight and get those wins. This is a strong environment and we will continue on this stretch and this path.”