David Freezer: Let's hope Russ can start enjoying his football again
It's great to see Canaries legend Russell Martin back in football and taking the first steps in coaching which could one day bring him back to Norwich City.
It’s great to see Canaries legend Russell Martin back in football and taking the first steps in coaching which could one day bring him back to Norwich City.
Having trained with West Brom alongside Wes Hoolahan last month, the former City skipper faced a lengthy wait to fill the void but has pitched up in League One with Walsall.
After a loan spell which didn’t work out too well with Rangers during the second half of last season, a deal with a Championship club hadn’t seemed likely, so fair play to Russ for going back to the third tier – a level where he has enjoyed success in the past.
At 32 years old he hopefully still has plenty of games left in his legs at a decent standard and has chosen carefully, joining former Peterborough team-mate Dean Keates, who currently has Walsall sat seventh in the League One table.
Russ was spotted at Wycombe during City’s Carabao Cup game at Adams Park at the end of last month, so I’d wondered if a return to his former club was on the cards.
It’s the player-coach role which seems to have sealed the Saddlers deal though for the man who captained Norwich to Wembley glory in 2015, who played key roles in a League One title success and subsequent brilliant promotion to the Premier League.
The ‘Norfolk Cafu’ endured his fair share of ups and downs along the way, before struggling to find his form amid the sweeping changes of the new Canaries regime at the start of last season.
He made the honourable – and no doubt difficult – decision to cut ties with the place he’d called home since November 2009, at least temporarily, but kept himself busy, catching up with friends, family, former team-mates and even squeezing in a trip to the Bernabéu to watch Real Madrid in action.
Now he joins a potential promotion chase and a club pursuing a return to the second tier for the first time since 2004, where his experience as a Scotland international with 29 caps and 519 appearances in senior club football will make him the ideal mentor.
This is a player who was willing to train and play with the under-23s during pre-season when it was clear a return to the first-team squad under Daniel Farke wasn’t close, unlike some out-of-favour players...
It was pointed out when Martin’s exit was announced by City that Martin has played more games (125) in the Premier League than any other player.
That is carefully worded of course, as Bryan Gunn (304), Mark Bowen (289) and Ian Crook (273) are a long way ahead of that in terms of top-flight appearances for the club when forgetting about Sky’s 1992 re-brand of the English game.
While yesterday’s 25th anniversary of the great win in Bayern reminded us all of those Canaries legends, Martin’s exploits alongside the likes of Grant Holt and Hoolahan earned his place in those upper echelons – 309 games to sit 22nd in the club’s all-time appearance list shows how successful he was.
So after what must have been a difficult time for Martin, let’s hope this Walsall deal allows a loyal Norwich servant to start enjoying his football again.
He may well dream of becoming head coach at Carrow Road one day but Farke has that gig wrapped up for the foreseeable future after the fine return to form ahead of this international break.
The trip to Forest was already looking difficult before Teemu Pukki’s injury blow while in action for Finland earlier this week.
Aitor Karanka’s team haven’t lost at the City Ground for six months and have been beaten just once this season. Return home with a point today and it will arguably one of the best results of the season.
Yet the manner of the resurgence in the last month or so means even an upwardly mobile Forest team, with a good manager and a summer influx of expensive talent, hold little fear for the Canaries at the moment.
The style in which the likes of Moritz Leitner and Marco Stiepermann have been able to dictate the pattern of play for City has breathed so much confidence into supporters.
If this City team click and find their passing groove, few teams at this level will be able to handle it.
With little pressure on their shoulders this afternoon and with the fit-again Onel Hernandez – so impressive before succumbing to his hernia issue – there is every chance City can continue their six-game unbeaten away run.
My team for today: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann, Klose, Lewis; Tettey, Leitner, Buendia, Stiepermann, Hernandez; Rhodes
• A lot of love for Lewis
The reputation of Jamal Lewis seems to grow week by week, with his award success the latest landmark in the young man’s career.
My first memory of Lewis was during the FA Youth Cup quarter-final at Manchester City in 2016, when he was the star man on the left wing in a 2-0 defeat at the Etihad Academy Stadium.
Less than three years later and he has 34 appearances to his name for City and five international caps for Northern Ireland, so it’s little surprise to see the left-back in the running for awards such as the EFL’s young player of the month.
And while that’s deserved recognition, I was pleased to see Lewis acknowledge he needs to ‘kick on and improve’ when accepting the award, after a couple of defensive errors during games for his country in the past 10 days.
He’s making fine progress but the 20-year-old is not the finished product yet. He’s an athlete but is still developing his final ball. Nail that and the reports of Premier League interest will soon intensify.
• That’s more like it
I’ll finish with a nod to City’s under-18s, who shook off a difficult start to the season with their first win in eight games yesterday.
David Wright’s side brought an end to a run of seven straight defeats in U18 Premier League South, beating Swansea 3-1.
Goals from Zach Dronfield, Saul Milovanovic and Tyrese Omotoye were enough for the victory in a game played at Warwick University in Coventry.
U18s boss Wright explained this week that the academy focus has shifted towards individual development and away from results for the youth teams this season, with academy manager Steve Weaver explaining that the U23 squad is more like an U19 squad to accelerate development.
Conceding 34 goals in seven losses isn’t going to help with confidence at any level though, so fair play to City’s youngsters for getting their season up and running, bouncing back from a 7-0 drubbing at Tottenham in their previous match.