First Look: Cuco Martina

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Name: Rhu-endly ‘Cuco’ Martina

Age: 25

Date of Birth: 25/09/1989

Nationality: Dutch

Club: Southampton

Position: Defender

Height: 6ft 1in

Weight 12st 1lb

Preferred Foot: Right

Ronald Koeman has enjoyed some success in his Eredivisie shopping trips, snaffling up Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic last season, and he’ll be hoping for more joy with new signing Cuco Martina. The 25 year old is an international for Curaçao and will be the second ever player from this small Dutch Caribbean island to play in the Premier League, along with ex-Swansea man Kemy Agustien. He also worked under Ronald Koeman’s brother and current Saints assistant Erwin Koeman during a spell with RKC Waalwijk in the Netherlands. Koeman was quick to praise Martina, saying that “he is another hungry player who is excited about coming to our club, and will provide healthy competition for places in our defence.”

Born in Rotterdam, Martina was signed by RBC Roosendaal in 2008 on a free transfer aged 19 from the youth ranks of Feyenoord. RBC Roosendaal now play in the Vierde Klasse, the eighth tier of Dutch football, after they declared bankruptcy in 2011, but in Martina’s time, they were a second division side. He made a total of 68 appearances in three years with the Brabant based club before signing for Eredivisie outfit RKC Waalwijk in the summer of 2011 on another free transfer.

2011 would prove to be a year full of personal milestones for the young defender. After signing for Waalwijk, he was called up to the Curaçao national side, managed by Dutch legend Patrick Kluivert and he featured regularly for them throughout 2014 World Cup qualification process. In the 2011/12 season, Martina would feature 23 times for Waalwijk, notching up nearly 2,000 minutes of football and helping them to achieve an impressive 9th place finish. But it was the 2012/13 campaign when the defender came of age. In 2012/13, despite the club dropping to 14th, Martina would make 36 appearances for Waalwijk playing primarily as a right back and was praised for his consistency over the domestic season.

In the summer of 2013 after his impressive season with Waalwijk, a few of the bigger clubs in the Netherlands began circling for Martina’s signature and on July 30th, his transfer to FC Twente was confirmed for a fee of £245,000. His first season with Twente was a little hit and miss. He made 16 appearances, but he clearly struggled to nail down a consistent spot in the starting eleven after making ten of those appearances from the substitutes bench. He also played 11 times for Jong FC Twente, the club’s reserve team that plays in the Dutch second division. Despite this, Twente managed to finish third with the help of their star man Tadić, now of course his team-mate once more, and they secured Europa League football for next season. Similarly to his spell with RKC Waalwijk, Martina’s second season would be a big improvement on his first. He became a regular in the FC Twente back four and made 39 appearances in all competitions. While the 2014/15 season would be a personal improvement for the 25 year-old, it was a disappointing campaign for FC Twente as they finished in tenth place. But by then, Martina had already caught the eye of Koeman.

One characteristic that instantly stands out when looking at Martina is his versatility. During his 39 appearances last season, 57% of them were played at right back, but the 25 year-old also played 24% of them as a right centre back and 12% as a left centre back. The other 7% of his appearances saw him deployed as a central midfielder to help tighten up the Twente defence when seeing out important games, helping them to cling onto crucial draws or wins. Versatility in the modern game is crucial, and you will find now that most teams around the world will stock their squads up with one or two players like this who can fill in wherever when required and perform competently. This would have been one of the main attractions for Ronald Koeman to bring him to St.Mary’s for what promises to be a long and hectic season for Southampton.

Another impressive attribute that Martina possesses is the ability to pass the ball well. Most comfortable in defence, he will not need to rake 40 yard diagonals which instantly find the feet of a winger bursting down the wing, but instead be consistent and reliable with his passing out from the back, which he is. Last season, he clocked up 1,559 passes with 1,267 of those being successful which resulted in a pass completion rate of 81%, a stat only bettered by Ricardo van Rhijn of Ajax (84%) and Santiago Arias of PSV (83%) in the whole division. Especially now in the Premier League, the game demands a technical competence from every player on the pitch and knowing that Martina will be able to take care of the ball in defence is something that will fill his manager and his teammates with a lot of confidence. One example of his passing ability can be seen against SC Heerenveen on November 1, 2014, where he came through two challenges before splitting the defence with a delicate touch putting midfielder Hakim Ziyech through on goal, only for him to be denied by a fine save from the goalkeeper.

Despite being a defender, Martina does not tackle all that often. This is perhaps because he has developed his own jockeying style which is more reliant on his reading of the game rather than his physicality. This is also why on the surface he looks to be a bad tackler, as only one full-back with more than 20 appearances in the Eredivisie last season averaged fewer tackles per 90 minutes (1.3) than the 25 year-old. Instead, he forces opposition wingers and strikers to try to take him on, which is when he closes down all of their potential avenues with his technique, forcing them to retreat or to lose the ball. Despite this lack of tackles, he made 1.88 interceptions per 90 minutes and wins 54.55% of every single duel he faces, both aerially and on the ground. Martina also only committed three defensive errors last season, with only one of those leading to a goalscoring opportunity. While he has found a style that suits him, he can be caught out by pace often which is something that may come to concern Southampton.

Despite being somewhat of an unknown quantity, Martina will provide squad depth and cover which will undoubtedly benefit a Southampton side who look to compete on all fronts next season, not to mention their involvement in the Europa League which puts a strain on even the best of squads. His ability to play in multiple positions across the pitch such as right back, centre back, left back and even as a central midfielder will be invaluable to The Saints, and despite being signed primarily as cover, there will be opportunities for him to play. Once given these opportunities however, he needs to grab them with both hands and show the Koeman brothers that he deserves to be picked regularly, rather than just being used as a rotational option.

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First Look: Cuco Martina
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