Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez said he has fully recovered from a “minor heart issue” resulting from his bout with COVID-19, and remains so committed to the Five Stripes’ cause that he wants to finish his career with the club.
Speaking to reporters on a Zoom call ahead of Wednesday’s match against FC Cincinnati, Martinez recounted how he contracted COVID-19 while at the Copa America with Venezuela’s national team. After quarantining for 12 days, he returned to the U.S. where tests revealed an issue with his heart.
“There was a complicated week for me because we’re talking about your health,” he said with the help of a translator. “But thanks to God, everything is resolved, and now we’re here, thinking about [Wednesday’s] game.”
Martinez was speaking just days after Atlanta fired manager Gabriel Heinze with the team mired in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 2-4-7. The Atlanta forward declined to go into much detail about his relationship with the Argentine, who forced Martinez to train apart from the team due to an undisclosed issue.
A report in The Athletic detailed how Martinez told upper management that this season would be his last in Atlanta. Heinze’s departure now clears the way for Martinez to remain with the Five Stripes.
“There wasn’t a problem,” Martinez said. “Obviously, I respect the decision that the club has made. I have to be professional about this. The issues were resolved.”
It later emerged that Heinze violated terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the MLS Players Association and MLS by, among other things, not giving players mandated days off. A Fox Sports report detailed how Heinze refused to allow his players to drink sufficient water during training, and that the team’s medical staff had to intervene.
“I think we have to move forward,” Martinez said. “What’s in the past, is in the past. We respect all the decisions of the coaching staff. But I think the most important thing now is for us to lift our heads up to continue moving forward, and we have to work together as a group to try to return to winning games.”
Martinez said he hoped that Atlanta, under interim manager Rob Valentino, will get back to the attacking style the team displayed in its first two years in the league, which included an MLS Cup triumph.
“I don’t know exactly what was missing, or what was needed to get those results, but sometimes in soccer, the best team doesn’t always win,” he said. “But what I do think is that we need to be able to score more goals and have some more clarity in our attacking. But we also had some games, where we were ahead and we let the results escape us in the last minute.”
Martinez then reiterated his desire to finish his career in Atlanta.
“I have this year then I have two more years [on my contract],” Martinez said. “The first time I came here, I said, ‘This is my club, this is my city and I love to be here.’ I want to retire here. I love this club.”