A role and responsibility Russell Martin relishes – the Norwich City captain opens up over form and favour
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Form, leadership and where his dad always wanted him to play – Norwich City skipper Russell Martin opens up to Michael Bailey ahead of Christmas…
The instruction from Alex Neil was – as they tend to be – straight forward: The only opinions that matter are his and those inside the dressing room.
Dealing with the reality of the world outside that environment however, can be anything other than straight forward.
It is one of football's cycles that players switch from fans' favourites to a source of all ills. And the reasons why can flitter through the air like yellow and green confetti.
So with 244 appearances, 15 goals and now more than six years at Carrow Road, Norwich City captain Russell Martin has experienced it all – and far more highs than lows.
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Asking supporters, pundits and columnists alike – myself included – about his season's form so far is one thing. But it is Martin's own assessment that carries the greatest weight. Also, the greatest honesty.
'I was very happy until Newcastle,' said Martin. 'I thought I was playing well – I was playing well, that's my opinion and the manager's opinion. Then Newcastle happened.
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'I went to right-back against West Brom and if I'm being honest, I was rubbish that day – it was the first time I'd played right-back in a long time. We went three at the back at Manchester City and I felt really comfortable there. I enjoyed it. I took one for the team with the sending off, which happens and I'd do the same again. Then I couldn't get back in.
'Since then I've enjoyed it. The second half against Everton and at Old Trafford, I think I played well so I'm fairly happy.
'But you see what happens. I've been here longer than most, I'm captain, I accept I'm going to get more stick than most – and the centre-back thing for a few people is still hard to digest. But it doesn't bother me. I'm not on social media and all that. I get told by my friends and family more than anything – they get more annoyed than me.
'But I'm happy. People can say what they want. I'd love to sit down and go through it with some people, because their opinion won't change regardless of how I play. But that's fine. Even the best footballers have their detractors.
'Things like Newcastle are going to happen in the Premier League. We're humans. We're not going to play well every week. I feel like with where we are, we're such a big part of the community and the city, we're talked about a lot and it means so much to people – but they sometimes don't realise how much it means to myself and to the other lads. It means more to us staying in the Premier League than anyone else. It affects us more than anyone else. Norwich City Football Club will still be here whether it's in the Championship or Premier League. We might not. I don't want another relegation on my CV, it's as simple as that. So a couple of games aside, I'm happy, I feel really good and I like the status I've got within the team and the squad.'
That position exudes the air of a leader, of course. It comes with the armband. But it's a responsibility Martin is happy to see shared – in fact, he has been demanding it.
'I've said it all season to the lads, we need to take more responsibility,' added the 29-year-old. 'I think at times we take the gaffer too literally and we try to do everything exactly to the letter, but things happen on the pitch he can't influence.
'We have been quiet as a team in the past. There are only a few of us that are vocal. And it's not all about 'Come on, rah rah' – that's not leadership. It's about giving good information, setting an example on the pitch and making sure you direct the people next to you and in front of you. That's leadership. I'm sure fans want to see ranters and ravers, but it's about being in the dressing room, being there for the lads and making sure you are a voice and a sounding board. There are a few of us in there that try to do that and the gaffer trusts us to do that. He said we need to take more responsibility and we have done that.'
So after some epic performances away from Carrow Road, this year's excursions come end at White Hart Lane as City take on Tottenham – a special place for Martin.
'My old man used to take me to White Hart Lane and tell me, 'You'll play here one day' – he wanted me to play for Spurs but that's not happened,' smiled Martin. 'I love it there, love playing there. It's a great atmosphere and we've played well when we've gone there in the past, so we need to do that again.
'Boxing Day adds its own thing too. It's special for fans – it always was when I when I used to watch.'
A special day off the back of a special win, from a captain determined to make sure the highs don't stop with the turn of the year. Even the greatest of Norwich City critics will wish for that this Christmas.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey