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Pope Francis gifted Manchester United kit with Lisandro Martinez at the back

Pope Francis gifted Manchester United kit with Lisandro Martinez at the back

Lisandro Martinez is out of action, but the Argentina international’s exploits earlier in the season have ensured he’s still in the limelight.

The defender suffered an injury during Manchester United‘s first-leg encounter against Sevilla in the Europa League and was stretchered off by his Argentina teammates Marcos Acuña and Gonzalo Montiel. At the time, an Achilles injury was feared.

However, Erik ten Hag suggested in his post-match interview that things weren’t that bad. But Martinez has still been ruled out for the remainder of the season. Earlier this week, the 25-year-old underwent surgery to repair the fractured metatarsal.

Martinez’s importance in the United squad

Martinez is a huge loss to United, not just because of his elite defending, but also because of his top mentality. Former United midfielder Paul Scholes ahead of the Red Devils’ second-leg clash told BT Sport that the away stadium is made for a player of his character and aggressiveness. 

For now, though, the Red Devils will have to do with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof as their centre-back pairing for a large part of the remaining months.

The Argentina international, who followed Ten Hag from Amsterdam to Manchester last summer, has established himself as a fan favourite in the city. And the latest proof of that surfaced on Thursday.

The Pope presented Martinez’s shirt

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, presented Pope Francis with a signed Lisandro Martinez Manchester United shirt. This took place during an audience with an interfaith group from the city at The Vatican, as per the club’s official website.

When United and Martinez were informed of the situation, it organised a shirt signed by the centre-back. Pope Francis, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is known to be a keen football fan and an admirer of Martinez, who was an important part of Argentina’s World Cup-winning squad in Qatar. 

In addition to his signature, the shirt also carried a message from the United star that read ‘Su Santidad, Con mucho cariño, LM.’, translating to ‘Your holiness, with much love, Licha’.

Truly a top gesture from Martinez and everyone else involved!

Despite the serious injury, Martinez has overall enjoyed a top season both on and off the pitch. After a tough start against Brentford, the centre-back quickly found his feet and has ever since remained more or less a guaranteed starter in the team. He’s now working on recovering from the injury and there’s hope he’ll be ready for the club’s pre-season during the summer.

Martinez isn’t the only central defender United are missing at the moment. Raphael Varane is also out of action for the next few weeks after sustaining an injury in the same game.

In Casemiro and Maguire, Erik ten Hag will have enough physicality to shield United’s goal in most games, but it’s going to be near impossible to replicate the efficiency during the build-up phase they had with the Argentine, who has proven to be one of the most technically secure players in the Premier League this season.