Paddy Davitt: Russell Martin’s popularity contest at Norwich City is an enduring theme
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Chief Norwich writer Paddy Davitt assesses whether Russell Martin can win over his detractors, in the latest part of a summer series.
Russell Martin's final act the last time he set foot in the Championship was to lift the play-off final trophy at Wembley.
The intervening 12 months have not been kind to the captain. Relegation for his club, Euro 2016 failure with his country and more questions about his contribution to the Canaries, plus the seemingly endless debate on his best position, which provokes bemusement from the defender himself whenever it is raised.
Martin is a loyal club man. A reliable, solid, experienced part of the dressing room; a constant between managerial upheaval, success and failure on the field and off it; the departure of David McNally a sour twist to their latest Premier League odyssey.
For those who question the 30-year-old's effectiveness only Robbie Brady and Jonny Howson started more Premier League games last season. Martin was a constant in a much-maligned backline that after the turn of this year looked far too vulnerable before Timm Klose's emergence.
In that climate, Martin's performances and seniority within the group will always attract greater scrutiny. That horror back pass in a fraught second-half against Liverpool at Carrow Road in late-January hung heavy over the defender. It came in the midst of a prolonged downturn which provided fresh ammunition for those who despair when they see him operate at centre-back. By way of mitigation, this is the same player in the same position who made the Championship team-of-the-year in that joyous ascent that culminated at the national stadium.
Martin's personal citation, when he was selected by his peers in that side, read: 'Norwich's skipper has led by example as the team have taken managerial changes in their stride. The Scotland international is equally comfortable as a raiding full-back or a dependable centre-back, and with more than 200 appearances for the Canaries under his belt he is looking forward to making many more.'
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Even his critics can hardly contest Martin is a valuable asset in the second grade. The more pertinent issue is where he fits into Alex Neil's plans, given the Scot has already highlighted the impact Ivo Pinto can make in the Football League. Steven Whittaker's contract extension indicates Martin may once again be earmarked for duty in the central position he has made his own internationally.
The clamour for something fresh, the desire for something new is understandable after a second demotion in the last three campaigns. Those who have been on board for every step of the journey, like Martin, like John Ruddy or Wes Hoolahan, are judged more harshly but City's prospects of bouncing back yet again at the first attempt hinge on Neil getting the balance right between renewal and retaining the status quo.
Neil's ability to trade successfully this summer is one facet, but his powers of persuasion in holding onto Klose for at least the first part of the new campaign is another. The Swiss international showed enough before injury intervened to suggest he is a figure you build a defence around. In that scenario, Martin and the rest of Norwich's other options will have to scrap to join Klose on the frontline. But Martin's longevity indicates it would be foolish to discount the skipper playing a pivotal role on his return to the second tier.