Lautaro Martínez’s development takes a back seat to the focus on Argentina surrounding Lionel Messi. However, the Inter Milan star is by no means a passenger to Argentina’s recent string of successes.
Argentina extended its unbeaten streak in all competitions to a staggering 33 games with a 5-0 thrashing of Estonia. Consequently, Argentina slowly rises back to the pinnacle of international soccer. In fact, many considering them among the early favorites for the 2022 World Cup.
Despite a stellar history and talent, the Messi-led era is largely underwhelming. World Cup heartbreak in 2014 preceded successive failures in the Copa America. Argentina hit a low as a soccer nation in 2017. Star strikers Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín failed to live up to their club performances. Argentina’s lack of clinical finishing cost the side dearly. However, Lautaro Martínez, colloquially known as El Toro, spun this narrative on its head.
The young forward from Bahía Blanca is unstoppable for club and country. With 21 goals in just 38 international caps, the Inter Milan striker played an integral role during Argentina’s 2021 Copa America and 2022 Finalissima glory. As the nation turns its focus to La Albiceleste, Argentine hearts hope that the striker’s magnificent run of form continues in Qatar.
Since his time in Argentina’s youth squads, Lautaro looked like a star. Named the best player in the COTIF tournament, he was the top scorer for the nation’s youth team. He followed these successes at a club level. Magical performances with Racing Club’s youth academy earned him a spot with the senior squad. He made a substitute appearance replacing Inter and Argentina legend Diego Milito.
After another two years of strong performances for Racing Club, the forward earned a move to the Nerazzurri. Inter Milan has a tradition of producing Argentina talent at the top. Clearly, Lautaro Martínez was in good hands at the San Siro. Compatriot Mauro Icardi immediately took Martínez under his wing. The duo formed a strong partnership in preseason. Yet, tactical adjustments soon returned Lautaro to the bench.
His debut season showed flashes of brilliance. A last-gasp winner against Napoli represented the turning point for the young striker. Off-the-field drama left club captain Mauro Icardi out of the squad. Therefore, Lautaro finally had a chance to prove his worth as a starter. He answered the call.
Lautaro Martínez development breaks through for Inter Milan
His inspiring derby performance and overall consistency impressed many Inter fans. To be fair, most of the Inter supporters had enough of Icardi’s drama. Lautaro continued his strong performances to the end of the season. His consistency up top inspired Inter to a second-consecutive Champions League qualification.
The following season started with controversy for the Nerazzurri. Incoming manager Antonio Conte ousted Mauro Icardi and opted for Romelu Lukaku to complete the pair up top in his coveted 3-5-2 formation. With Lautaro finally an undisputed starter, the 19/20 campaign gave him room in the spotlight to star for one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Alongside Lukaku, they formed one of Europe’s most clinical partnerships. Inter had a strong season. It finished second in Serie A, the club’s highest finish since second in 2010/11. In Europe, Lukaku and Martínez propped the San Siro side into the Europa League Finals. Only Sevilla could stop the Italian club in the end. They continued the next season just where they left off, with the duo combining for 41 goals in the league.
Scudetto then departures from key figures
The following season, Lautaro and Lukaku improved even further. A combined 41 goals in league play alone led Inter back to Serie A’s summit. Inter’s 19th Scudetto solidified Lautaro Martínez’s spot among the great strikers in Europe. Following the season, Lukaku and Conte both departed, but Lautaro’s loyalty kept him in Italy.
The 21/22 season had its ups-and-downs. Lautaro had his highest scoring season in professional football at 29 goal contributions in 49 games. The Argentine was critical to Inter Milan’s Supercoppa and Coppa Italia victories. His goalscoring droughts were disheartening to Nerazzurri supporters. Yet, these failures can be just as much attributed to poor tactical decisions by Simone Inzaghi.
Plus, no striker paired with Lautaro quite like Lukaku. Edin Džeko attempted that role alongside Lautaro most often this season. Wayward touches and disjointed passes damaged Martínez’s linkup play. Lukaku or Juventus option Paulo Dybala could be on the move this summer, with Inter as a serious candidate. That could work wonders for Lautaro, who is still just 24 years old.
Overall, Lautaro Martínez’s development could go beyond his early successes. He possesses all the qualities sought-after for a striker in the modern game. A bulky build, rapid acceleration and quick feet are just a few of the tangibles in the Argentine’s toolkit. Then, aspects like leadership and high-pressing nature allowed both club and country to reap the rewards.
One shortcoming of Lautaro’s that became increasingly evident was his inconsistency from the penalty spot.
If Lautaro is able to shore up this aspect of his game, he looks prime to be a clutch player that La Selección will count on for many years to come. His unrivalled passion coupled with his undeniable quality bodes well for Lionel Messi’s dream of bringing a World Cup trophy home to Argentina. The two have formed an excellent pairing, as their chemistry extends far beyond their years together. At just 24 years old, Lautaro will hope that he can add another illustrious trophy to his cabinet this winter.
With the weight of a nation on his shoulders, El Toro will hope to set the pitch alight on the world’s biggest stage.
PHOTO: Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images
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