Brentford boss Thomas Frank admitted they targeted Lisandro Martinez in their 4-0 win over Manchester United, as Jamie Redknapp claimed the 5ft 9in defender cannot play at centre-back in the Premier League.
Martinez, who was signed for £56.7m from Ajax last month, was taken off at half-time in the defeat as he struggled to cope with the physicality of Brentford and was outmuscled by Ben Mee for the Bees’ third goal.
The 24-year-old also came in for criticism last weekend on his Premier League debut as Brighton won 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Asked whether his side deliberately targeted the 24-year-old, Brentford boss Frank told Sky Sports: “We knew we’d more likely either win it or the second ball around it.
“Of course we looked at what Brighton did well against them, and Brighton are also like us in the way they want to play.
“Normally Brighton always build from the goalkeeper, but they went long every single time so of course we looked at that.
“We knew we had that weapon so that’s why we did it.”
Redknapp: Every team will play on Martinez at centre-back
The Argentina international is the shortest central defender in the Premier League – at 5ft 9in (1.75m) he is a clear inch shorter than any other regular centre-back in the top flight.
“If you’re going to sign a 5ft 9in centre-back, he’s not going to be able to compete in this league,” Redknapp told Sky Sports after the game.
“He might be okay in the Dutch league where it’s not quite as physical but when you play here you know week in, week out teams are looking to expose any weakness like Brentford did today, like Brighton did last week and like Liverpool will do.
“Every team will play on him because he’s 5ft 9in and not tall enough. He’s actually a small midfielder let alone a small centre-back.
“He’ll need time. Maybe he can play in midfield. Technically he’s a good player, he’s played in the Dutch league and he knows the game.
“But as a centre-back in this league I think it’s really difficult and you get exposed very quickly.”
Neville: My height stopped me from playing at centre-back
Former Manchester United right-back Gary Neville, who is 5ft 10in, admitted he could not play at centre-back due to his height.
“When I heard he was 5ft 9in it took me back,” Neville told Sky Sports after United’s defeat. “I loved playing centre-back and I was a centre-back in the youth and reserve teams.
“I probably played about 40 or 50 games at centre-back in my first 150 games and I’d seen Paul Parker before me who’s an outstanding centre-back.
“But there’d always come a point whereby physically it became too much for me and he had to take me out of centre-back and put me at right-back because I physically couldn’t handle the 6ft 2in strikers that were up against me in the box on set-pieces and on crosses.
“I had to give up that feeling that I would be a centre-back and the boss Sir Alex Ferguson tried it for about three or four years where he kept putting me back in.
“But honestly, it would be very difficult in this league to actually succeed, no matter how good you are and that’s not writing the player off.”
Martinez, who has signed a five-year deal at United with the option of a further 12 months, can also operate at left-back and as a defensive midfielder.
Asked where he can fit in at Old Trafford, Neville said: “Maybe on the left in a back-three – that could potentially work.
“Maybe playing in midfield, because we know he can do that. I think he’s got tenacity and, to be fair, I wouldn’t judge him at all at this moment in time.
“But to say he could play in a back four away at Brentford against Toney and Mbeumo – he physically can’t compete with them.
“I couldn’t when I was playing as a centre-back when I was younger, and I thought I was a decent centre-back who knew my position and knew the game. But I couldn’t do it because Gary Pallister had to keep coming over to swap with me.
“When I saw him [Martinez] swapping with (Harry) Maguire in the first half at the long throws, it reminded me of Pally who used to swap with me.
“If you’re having to swap positions at centre-back to compensate for the other one it’s just not great and that’s what continually happened. They did target him in that first half.”