As fans and followers exclusively of high-quality soccer, no one here at Deadspin picked up on the somewhat curious case involving the wonderfully nicknamed MLS player Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martínez and his mutually terminated contract with Real Lago Salado. Reported then only as a “personal issue” that led Martínez—then one of Lago Salado’s designated players—to ask out of his contract to return to his native Argentina, we now have the heart-rending details that compelled Martínez to high-tail it back home: the poor guy’s dog has cancer.
Burrito Martínez signed with MLS a little over a year ago from Argentine club Boca Juniors. He was expected to do big things for his new employers, hence the designated player contract. But after only a season in MLS, he and Lago Salado abruptly announced the early termination of Martínez’s contract. Here’s how Lago Salado’s GM put it, from MLS’s website:
“It’s unfortunate, but there’s certain things about soccer that you can’t control,” RSL general manager Craig Waibel told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He and his wife bought a house, they bought cars, it wasn’t like they came here planning not to have it fit like a glove. It just didn’t.
“It has nothing to do with the experience or soccer with the club, it literally was a personal decision that he needed to make for his family. When I have a player come in and express the things he expressed, about the concerns he had, it’s disappointing because he’s such a talented player and someone I really liked and enjoyed as a human being. The human side of this can’t be forgotten.”
It feels like Waibel wanted to clear up this odd turn of events by explaining the real reason why Martínez wanted out, but probably didn’t feel it appropriate to put it out there himself. Luckily, we know know what drove Martínez home:
Translation: “Ex RLS Burrito Martínez reveals that he rescinded his contract with Real Lago Salado to accompany his dog, which has cancer, this semester. Big heart”
Martínez went deeper into his motivations of leaving MLS in an interview with Argentine TV channel TyC Sports. While concern for the sick dog was the primary motivation, he claims, he was also motivated to help out Vélez Sársfield, the local team with which he made his name. From Infobae:
“One of my dogs has cancer and we are doing chemotherapy. They gave him six months to live. So, I rescinded my contract [with MLS] and the ball was in my court. Given Vélez’s situation and the affection I have for them, because the club isn’t capable of paying loans or buying reinforcements due to their economic problems, said ‘I’ll come, play for six months, I’ll leave the dog and after that continue my career, my personal challenges and my fulfill my dreams,” he told the program “Estudio Fútbol” on TyC Sports.
Apparently, the sweetheart deal he’d negotiated with Vélez out of his compassion for the struggling club went sideways when the club tried including clauses in the contract that Martínez hadn’t agreed to, so now Martínez’s future is up in the air. But we’re not here for that; we’re here for the dogs.
Indeed, Martínez is a noted dog-lover. Just take his bio on his (protected) Twitter account: “Burrito Martinez. Amante de los animales . Animal lover”
He gave sat for an interview with Univisión upon joining MLS where he described his devotion towards man’s best friend:
What are the causes that you are most passionate about and involved with?
“With my lady we help dogs, it is something that we always try to collaborate with. Help people, help those who have less.”
How do you help?
“I do not have a foundation, come across people or give them clothes or a plate of food. I take in dogs from the street, bring them home, take them to the vet and when they are in good condition and well recovered I look for a family to give them for adoption.”
Yep, the man has basically been running a dog shelter out of his own house. Argentine paper La Nación went digging for even more anecdotes of Martínez’s outsized love of pups and found a couple other interviews where the forward went into further detail into his process. The paper found quotes from Martínez saying that even after he finds adoptive homes for dogs that he’s rescued, he makes sure to check in on them to make sure they’re doing well, and that some time ago he reckoned he’d personally taken in “more than 100" dogs and rescued over 300. Oh, and there’s this:
By turning down MLS’s riches to spend time with his dying canine friend, and by at least attempting to play for cheap to help his favorite Argentine club, no one can question this man’s loyalty—to man and beast alike. Good look to you, Burrito, and to all the doggies you’re generosity will continue to help.