How Gelson Martins Is Reviving Monaco From Relegation

“Seven Sporting Lisbon players have rescinded their contracts in response to an attack by fans; a group of 50 people attacked the players and staff following a loss in the last matchday which saw Sporting fail to make next year’s edition of the Champions League.” The words of the Portuguese Players’ Union last summer spelled doom for a frustrated club, and initiated a mass exodus for Sporting’s prized possessions.

With the summer transfer window underway, these footballers became desired targets for teams across the continent. Of the seven, two started for Portugal throughout their Euro 2016 run, one challenged for the European Golden Shoe a year ago, and one of them established himself as one of the most exciting attacking midfielders in Europe. Still, there was an added tinge of excitement to a fifth member, one who had not attained the consistency or importance as the aforementioned players, but who had enough talent to induce a stadium-wide jaw drop. 

That member was 23-year old Gelson Dany Batalha Martins, simply known as Gelson Martins, who was coming off a very busy but rewarding 2017/18 campaign. From the Portuguese Primeira Liga and the Taça de Portugal to the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, he was a regular starter, participating in 46 matches. In this period, he managed to score 11 goals and provide 9 assists for Sporting.

After bouncing back and forth from different teams rumors, Martins officially landed in Spain where he signed for Europa League champions Atlético Madrid. On a free transfer, Atleti had gotten a bargain, obtaining a young player to complement manager Diego Simeone’s style of football; or at least that’s what the football community believed.

Despite the widespread excitement, Gelson Martins stayed glued to the bench, making just one start in La Liga throughout the first half of the 2018/19 season. Simeone preferred to opt for Thomas Lemar, Ángel Correa, or Koke on the flanks, and Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa, or Nikola Kalinić up top in his renowned 4-4-2 formation. In need for consistent playing time and an opportunity to hone his skills, Gelson left on loan in January to AS Monaco, a club in dire need of a savior. 


Who is Gelson Martins?

Born in Praia, Cape Verde, Martins started his footballing career in Portugal with Futebol Benfica, before joining Sporting Clube de Portugal in 2010. Here he remained, earning promotion to the first team in 2015 after five successful seasons with Sporting Clube de Portugal B. At 23, he had made 140 appearances for the club.

As a result of his consistent and encouraging performances, his worth continued to increase exponentially, reaching a market value of €35 million this past summer. Before the infamous training ground incident had occurred, it looked as if Sporting would struggle to keep hold of Martins ahead of the 2018/19 season – several suitors in Europe were already knocking on their door. In the end, however, they saw their talented star leave for nothing,  as he rescinded his remaining three-year contract with the club and moved to Atlético Madrid on a free transfer.

Failing to leave his mark in Spain in the first half of the 2018/19 campaign, Gelson Martins is now looking to achieve success on his loan spell with Monaco.

Playing Style

An attack-minded footballer, Martins has the potential to be one of the brightest wingers in Europe. Right-footed, he has established his playing position on the right-wing, something that may seem odd to most at first. Gelson is not an inverted winger, as is custom these days for players who prefer to cut inside towards goal, he is a traditional winger who drags his opponent down the touchline and attempts to beat him with pace and trickery.

While he’s able to play on either flank, he prefers to stay on the right side of the pitch, where he has excelled so far: he loves give-and-go’s and short, simple passes – which is represented by his 83.8% pass success rate before this season and 81.4% this season – in addition to taking on his opponent.

Strengths and Weaknesses

As mentioned previously, Martins is a great passer of the ball. Typically, he likes to keep the play as simple as possible as his side try to break down their opponent. Occasionally, he spots a run from his striker, wing-counterpart, or attacking midfielder, and carves out a great opportunity for a chance on goal. His dribbling is essential to not only his success, but his team’s success: he can create an opening with his divine skill and set a teammate up with a luscious through ball.

Keeping to his right foot only, he loves to spin off the incoming defender by using his first touch off a pass to flick the ball around the opponent. He also is very fond of the elastico move, tricking defenders into thinking he is going one way, but moving the opposite way. He’s used the elastico to facilitate his path towards goal, as evidenced by his 12 shots in just 11 appearances this season (seven of these 11 appearances are from the bench).

This takes us to his next strength – his acceleration – arguably his finest strength. Gelson’s first few steps and change in pace take him past the opponent virtually every time. Add his dribbling to this factor – this is why the right side of the pitch suits him so well. With one or two quick touches, he is long gone down the flank, looking to find one of his teammates through on goal.

He also fancies hitting the ball behind the defender and chasing onto it, as no one can keep up to him. This is especially true when he stutters for just a half-second before taking flight.

Gelson Martins’ primary weaknesses come down to his frail build. At a height of 173 cm (5 ft 7 in), he is pushed off the ball far too easily and rarely wins any aerial battles. An underlying weakness within the player seems to come from his mental ability and confidence, due to the lack of trust shown by Simeone, as well as Gelson’s own inconsistencies. Last season, Gelson completed 60% of dribbles (111 successful dribbles of a total of 182 attempted); this season, he has a rate of 44% (14 successful dribbles of a total of 32 attempted).

How will Gelson Martins fit in at Monaco?

The 2016/17 Champions League semi-finalists have been terrible this season, with fewer points than matches played: 24 matches into this Ligue 1 season, they have a total of 19 points – with a record of 4-7-13 – and sit in 18th spot in the table. Leonardo Jardim, who had been in charge of the club since July of 2014, was dismissed from his job in October of 2018 to make way for Thierry Henry. However, the ex-Gunner’s first spell as a professional manager did not last long.

Henry was relieved of his duties at the end of January, less than four months after his hiring. Jardim has since been reappointed, and with him came eight players over the January transfer window: Fodé Ballo-Touré from LOSC Lille, Naldo from FC Schalke 04, Cesc Fàbregas from Chelsea, and Martins, Adrien Silva, William Vainqueur, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, and Carlos Vinícius on loan. These were all important signings to bolster the side.

Just two weeks in, Martins is already making a monster impact at the principality. In the first 24 minutes of his debut against Guingamp, he pulled off two assists. Monaco eventually capitulated to a 2-2 draw and elimination on penalties, but Gelson had immediately enchanted the Monaco faithful. 

As per France Football, Leonardo Jardim was negotiating Gelson’s loan deal during Thierry Henry’s final days as manager, when the club were debating whether to part ways. Jardim nearly signed with other clubs during that three-month gap since his October departure, but eventually, just as Monaco were organizing a massive transfer haul to dig themselves out of the relegation zone, they brought Jardim back, and with him came the Portuguese prodigy.

Since Jardim’s return, Gelson has started all three league matches on the right wing of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Against Toulouse, Martins assisted the first goal – as he set up Aleksandr Golovin – and had a huge part to play in Fàbregas’ strike to put Monaco ahead, as he raced off the left-hand side of the pitch to center a pass. A 2-1 victory and a hand to play in both goals scored.

Against Montpellier, he scored the first goal of the match with a terrific volley, whilst in the second half, Radamel Falcao scored off a rebound following his shot on goal. A 2-2 draw, once again being a part of both goals.

Lastly, in yesterday’s clash against Nantes, the Portuguese attacker scored the only goal to give Monaco all three points.

In just three matches, we have seen Gelson Martins’ ability to the full extent. With Monaco having already climbed out of the relegation zone, they’ll need him at his best to continue their ascent into mid-table and beyond.

By: Steven K. Moore

Photo: Getty