Russell Martin believes Norwich City would have cracked the Championship top six if Alex Neil had gone sooner
PUBLISHED: 16:28 04 May 2017 | UPDATED: 08:39 05 May 2017
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Norwich City captain Russell Martin has delivered a brutally honest verdict on the Canaries' failure to get into the Championship promotion mix.
Martin spoke for 40 minutes at Colney on Thursday to the assembled media, ahead of Sunday’s finale against QPR, and no subject was off limits from Neil’s dismissal, to the fractures inside the Norwich dressing room and what needs to change moving forward.
Alan Irvine has taken over for nine games following Neil’s exit but Martin feels an earlier managerial change may have paid off with a top six tilt.
“It is a difficult question. Being honest, yes, probably, but it’s a big if,” he said. “That is no disrespect to Alex Neil. This is not an assassination of him. We have not been good enough as players, myself included. He is an excellent manager and he will go on to be a decent manager elsewhere but at that point too many players were not mentally confident enough or ready enough to perform at their best. Once you are in that cycle it is difficult. You look at the difference since then. I can’t say more than that but it is my honest opinion.
“I think it has been a gradual process of improvement under Alan Irvine but when a manager goes it is because a board doesn’t feel it is going to get any better. There was a lot in the dressing room who felt the same way so the only way from there was to go up. Look at Alex Pritchard now, a different player, Josh Murphy has been more involved of late. Graham Dorrans was a big miss. He is seriously appreciated inside the dressing room, probably not as much outside but losing him to injury was a big blow. It is not just the managerial change, it is players getting a chance to perform and rebuild confidence.”
Martin was equally forthright after the 5-0 league defeat at Brighton during a prolonged downturn when he accused some of his team mates of downing tools.
“There were a lot of unhappy players in the dressing room at that point,” he said. “Any successful company, team whatever, you need everyone pulling in the same direction. At one point there was a lot of different agendas. We don’t have any bad people in the dressing room, they get fed stuff from people around them, agents and so on, whether they listen to all the social media stuff, it all affects certain people differently.
“Brighton was raw because of how we crumbled and half the reason I said it was because I wanted a reaction from some people and we didn’t get it quick enough. Anyone can be criticised after a game but the least you should be able to say is you tried hard and in certain games, when we have gone behind, Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday, we have not been strong enough mentally.
“There are no splits, no-one who is poisonous but you have a lot of players at different stages of their career, in terms of young people frustrated at not playing, others who perhaps felt they wouldn’t be here last summer moving forward, and that frustration sets in. It might even be sub-conscious but if you don’t buy in 100pc at some point it will come out. I am trying to be honest but I can’t say there is one thing wrong or blame Alex Neil. It was us as a group. Stuart (Webber) has come in and seen some of that. It is up to us to make sure from pre-season onwards the togetherness and the team spirit is there.
“Standards have to be set by leaders and enforced by people for the leader. We got so caught up in the business of winning matches and playing catch up other things were let slip. There are some players who will try to get on board, others will sit on the fence and go either way and some will be that far gone against a manager because they haven’t had a chance or they feel aggrieved about something it is difficult to get that balance. You need more of the fence sitters to come your way. Of course the senior players have tried but we didn’t do it well enough, especially in that nine game losing period. We had loads of meetings with each other.”