In this exclusive interview with DW, Bayern Munich midfielder Javi Martinez talks about his upbringing, his relationship with head coach Jupp Heynckes and his potential basketball career.
DW: In football, you need big stars and star players, but you also need players in the background. How is life in the shadows?
Javi Martinez: I don't mind it when other people are on the front page of the newspapers and are making the headlines. I'm happy with that. I know that I have to do the hard work, the work that maybe people don't look at so much, but I don't care. That's my job. I just want to help the team, to give the opportunity to my teammates to play the way they need to. I'm happy doing that.
Would you consider yourself a humble professional then?
Yes, of course. I think being humble is one of the most important things in a sporting life. I know where I've come from. I've worked a lot, and my parents have worked a lot for me, so I have to keep humble.
You have given a lot of credit to your brother Alvaro for helping make you the player you are today. Could you elaborate on that?
Some people have idols like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but my brother was my idol. When I was eight or nine, my brother played for Athletic Bilbao in the reserve side, and to play for Bilbao was my dream. I used to watch his games and travel around the north of Spain, and I would say to myself: 'I want to be like him, and play like him.' He was my mirror, my example for everything. There were some funny moments. When I was younger I wanted to be a goalkeeper and Alvaro told me that if I could save one penalty out of 10 against him, then I could be a goalkeeper. I had no chance. I had to be an outfield player.
He also helped you move to Bilbao. Tell us about that.
When I moved to Bilbao, it was a big change for me. Before, I was living with my parents and my family in my hometown and I knew everything around me. But when I moved, it was a new life, a new city. I only asked for one thing when I signed the contract; that my brother could come with me. At the time, he was playing for a team in Barcelona, but he left it all to come with me, along with his girlfriend. That wasn't easy for him and I appreciate and thank him for that, as it was very helpful for me.
But isn't it true that you almost didn't become a footballer? We've read that you were a very promising basketball player, and also thought of becoming a travel writer!
You're right! I was pretty good at basketball when I was young, and I had to choose between basketball and football… maybe you could have been talking with an NBA player now! With regards to the travel writing, I love traveling around the world and taking pictures. I would love to go to Australia and travel with a backpack for three months. I have heard it can sometimes be dangerous, but I don't think so. That is my dream.
Back to football: Since Jupp Heynckes' return, you have moved back in to the midfield. How has he helped you in your career?
I have to thank Jupp, because he was the one who brought me here six years ago. A transfer fee of €40 million ($49.2 million) was a lot of money for a 23-year-old, and he gave me a lot of confidence. I needed some time at first to adapt myself to the team, but in the first game I was available to play and I was already on the pitch. I only played 20 minutes, but it was good for me to get into good shape and it helped. Not just for me, but for the whole side, he is like a father. He tries to protect us all the time and I think that is good for us.
That is something that is encapsulated by "Mia San Mia." What does that phenomenon mean to you? Is it easy for players coming in to accept and adopt that mentality?
Some players accept it and some players don't but it was easy for me because it is similar to Athletic. It's like a big family here. We have a great feeling together. We have great relationships, not just between the players, but also the board and directors. When we need something, we can call them and they will do everything to help us. We feel like we are at home, and that is the most important aspect of "Mia San Mia."
Martinez (right) seen here with teammates Jerome Boateng and David Alaba has readily bough in to Bayern's "Mia san mia" philosophy
This is a big year, with the World Cup coming up. There is a lot of depth in the Spanish squad. What do you think your chances are of being on the plane to Russia?
I know it is difficult. There are many good players in Spain and the competition is tough. But I trust my conditioning and I will try and do everything to be there. Hopefully I can help my team. It's a dream to play at a World Cup, and this would be my third, so hopefully I will be there.
Javi Martinez was born in 1988 in the Basque country. He first played for Athletic Bilbao, whom he joined from Osasuna in 2006 for €6 million. He then moved to Bayern Munich for a club record €40 million in 2012. Since then, he has been hit by several injuries, including a cruciate ligament rupture in 2014, but he has still managed 168 appearances to date. He has won the Bundesliga five times, the German cup three times, as well as the Champions League in 2013. He has played 18 times for Spain, and was part of the squads that won both the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships.