West Ham United’s season may have ended a month ago and the FIFA World Cup is less than 24 hours away, but Toni Martinez still has a big job to do.
The Hammers youngster has spent the second half of the 2017/18 season on loan at Spanish Segunda Division side Real Valladolid, helping Los Blanquivioletas finish fifth and win through to a two-legged Play-Off final showdown with Numancia for a place in La Liga.
The first leg will be played at Numancia’s Nuevo Estadio Los Pajaritos on Wednesday evening, with the return set to take place in front of a capacity 26,500 crowd at Valladolid’s Estadio Jose Zorrilla on Saturday night.
Martinez, who has made eleven appearances for Valladolid, would love to end his loan spell by firing the Castilian club back to the top flight after a four-year absence.
Promotion to La Liga will be a dream come true for me and for Real Valladolid
“I am very exciting about being in the Play-Off final,” the 20-year-old told whufc.com. “That was our goal when West Ham and me decided that I should come to Valladolid. It's a very important match, one of the most important, if not the most, in my short career.
“Promotion to La Liga will be a dream come true for me and for Real Valladolid. This club deserves to be back in La Liga. When you become professional player you always want to play games like this one against Numancia.
“I am only focused on Wednesday’s game in Soria and then I'll be focused in Saturday’s game in front of our supporters.”
With Valladolid playing with just one central striker in the Segunda Division’s leading scorer Jaime Mata, Martinez has found himself on the substitutes’ bench most weeks, but was handed a late cameo by manager Sergio Gonzalez in Sunday’s Play-Off semi-final second-leg win over Sporting Gijon.
With confidence being shown in him, Martinez wants to repay that faith in the final, should he be handed another opportunity.
“I feel confident to play if the manager considers it as he did in our last game. I'm always ready to help the team whenever they need me.
“We are a strong team with many good players, this is our biggest strength.”
Whatever happens against Numancia, who finished one place below Valladolid in sixth in the Segunda Division table before defeating third-placed Real Zaragoza in the Play-Off semi-finals, Martinez has taken much from his loan spell in his homeland.
“Personally it's being an excellent experience. I have had the chance to play in my country, and I'm living great experiences, like the Play-Offs, and I'm very excited about it.
“Professionally, I've grown as a player. Segunda Division is very competitive, one of the hardest leagues in the world, in which every team can win against any rival.
“If you win three matches in a row you find yourself fighting in the upper part of the table and if you lose three matches you are in the lower part. We just need to win two more now!”