Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez won’t be thinking about Rotherham United when he walks out to face France in tomorrow's World Cup final.
But Danny Lafferty fondly recalls their days as Millers team-mates, even if he had a hard job convincing his own kids that he played with a potential World Cup winner!
The Aston Villa 'keeper, 30, has been a star in Argentina's remarkable resurgence in Qatar having bounced back from a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia.
At 35, captain Lionel Messi has been busy reeling in the years with dazzling displays of jaw-dropping brilliance and grace.
He is on the cusp of lifting the one trophy to elude him up to now - and the one that would cement his standing as the greatest of all time.
Martinez’s rise to the top of the world hasn’t been quite as glamorous as the trophy-laden, golden path that Messi followed at Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
In between joining Arsenal 13 years ago and moving to Villa in 2020, Martinez cut his cloth on loan at Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Wolves, Getafe and Reading.
He only spent three months at Rotherham, having joined on emergency loan towards the end of the 2015 season.
Lafferty, a league champion with Shamrock Rovers in 2020 and FAI Cup winner this season with Derry City, joined on a similar short-term deal from Burnley around the same time.
And that is why at least one house in Derry will be cheering not only for Argentina and Messi on Sunday, but Martinez too.
Lafferty, 33, laughed: “I’ve been watching all the games and said to the kids ‘I played with him’. They just looked at me and said ‘’WHAT!, WHERE?’. And I go….’Rotherham!
“Cian is 13, football mad and has just been accepted into Derry City’s academy. He’s asking me loads of questions and taking it all in.
“Caleb is six and a bit young yet. It’s probably going in one ear and out the other but he’s enjoying the games and we’re watching them all.
“But the boys didn’t believe me when I said I played with the Argentina goalkeeper. They were just looking at me, shocked.
“They thought I was joking but I told them a few things about him and they were just staring at me. They wanted video evidence as proof!.”
Their time together at Rotherham was brief but Lafferty revealed how Martinez left his mark with the Millers after making an immediate impact.
“He was a great lad,” said the new Sligo Rovers recruit. “Both of us were only there for a few months, when you could do emergency loans.
“I don’t know how it came about or how Steve Evans pulled it out of the bag to get a ‘keeper from Arsenal on loan.
“But you could tell even then that he was a serious ‘keeper. It was a huge achievement for Rotherham to stay up as they had only got promoted to the Championship.
“Emi played a big part in that and kept us in games with some big saves. You could see his talent.
“When he broke into Arsenal’s first-team for a bit, I wasn’t surprised at all having seen him up close.”
Lafferty continued: “There was no language barrier either. Having been at Arsenal from a young age, he spoke perfect English and he fitted in brilliantly.
“He wasn’t one of those where you say ‘he was such a quiet lad in the dressing room’. He had a good bit about him and plenty of banter. Just a really nice lad.
“But he had all the attributes to be a really good goalkeeper. His communication was very good and you felt he would save you in games.
“Even in training you could never score past him. He was a big physical presence and with his English being so good, he was a brilliant communicator.”
Lafferty has followed Argentina’s fortunes closely because of his former team-mate and feels the momentum behind them will be hard to stop.
“Argentina have got better as the World Cup has gone, which is generally how it works with the teams involved in the latter stages,” he added.
“They are getting stronger and stronger and the semi-final performance against Croatia was easily their best yet.
“Myself and the kids will be glued to the final anyway, but it would be great to be able to say that you played with a World Cup winner.
“From Rotherham to the World Cup final! It’s mad even thinking about it. It would be a special moment for the guy.
“I want Argentina to win and I want Messi to lift the trophy. But I’ll be cheering them on for Emi too.”
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