Athletic Bilbao have moved swiftly to replace Manchester City-bound Aymeric Laporte with a controversial move for Real Sociedad and Spain central defender Iñigo Martínez.
Martínez has been officially named an Athletic player and will make the move across Bizkaia after Athletic deposited the 32 million euros required to trigger his release clause. Athletic banked 65 million euros from the sale of Laporte and officially announced the arrival of Martínez on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old defender signed a new contract at Anoeta in 2016 to run up to 2021 and negotiated a drop in his clause from 40 million euros. Both Barcelona and Juventus had been interested in his services previously.
Athletic to break transfer record for Martínez
The transfer will be the highest fee paid by Athletic for a player in the club’s history and represents a significant blow for Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay, who has previously fended off interest from their regional rivals for winger Mikel Oyarzabal. However, another approach from Athletic is expected in the summer.
Direct moves between Anoeta and San Mamés are extremely rare and deeply unpopular. Most players who have represented both clubs have played elsewhere in between, although there are exceptions: Xabier Castillo moved to San Mamés from Anoeta and spent four seasons there while Luciano Iturrino made his debut for Athletic in 1989 against Real Sociedad. Iban Zubiaurre Urrutia moved from Sociedad to Athletic in 2006 but made only two Liga appearances for the Lions.
Martínez had a trial at Athletic as a youth but instead joined Sociedad’s Zubieta academy and came through the ranks before making his senior debut in 2011. He once said that he would never play for Athletic and that he thought it unlikely that the “enemy” would pay 30 million for his services. An offer to double his salary at San Mamés apparently altered his stance.