Striker won’t forget the debt he owes to City
- Credit: PA
Chris Martin would love nothing better than to see Derby County and Norwich City lead the way in the Championship this season but as he told PADDY DAVITT there will be no divided loyalties when he faces his former club for the first time.
Chris Martin had to leave Norwich City to reach his full potential but the Derby County and now Scotland international striker will never forget the debt he owes his first club.
Martin admits the prospect of a maiden Carrow Road return in the Championship with the Rams this coming season is likely to prove a 'surreal' experience after a 14-year journey which spanned precocious teenage prospect to outcast.
The 25-year-old scored five goals in his first nine senior Norwich appearances under Peter Grant's stewardship that had the headline writers touting him with Manchester United. Glenn Roeder never quite shared the same opinion. Martin and his one-time academy sparring partner Michael Spillane were infamously dubbed 'Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum' and despatched to Luton on a season-long loan that ended in Football League Trophy success.
Paul Lambert harboured no such reservations as Martin formed a formidable spearhead with Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan in a 23-goal campaign that saw City storm to the League One title. But doubts re-surfaced as Norwich's ascent continued. Martin was increasingly a peripheral figure during a string of loan spells which eventually led him to Derby on a permanent basis and a starring role in their run to last season's Championship play-off final.
Martin's 25-goal haul was a personal triumph in the midst of Derby's epic Wembley failure against QPR which last week earned him a first international cap for the land of his father in a 2-2 Craven Cottage friendly draw with Nigeria.
Gordon Strachan was glowing in his praise for the boy from Beccles but Martin knows such recent recognition must be traced back to his formative years spent at Colney.
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'Yes, I think I am a far better player now than when I left Norwich. I feel I have matured as a player and as a person over the course of probably a couple of years towards the end of my time,' he said. 'I had to go out on loan spells and you are moving a young family around the country and perhaps that is when you get a little bit of a realisation of what it takes and what you have to do and what you have to do to prepare mentally and physically.
'That was a good period for me because it led me to Derby and I was refreshed when I went there and this season on a personal level could not have gone much better for me. I think this summer will probably be the time to reflect and relax, to be honest, because it has been a long season; a hard one. I think my first day back was June 17 last year so it has almost been a full year and by far the toughest of my career physically and mentally with the way we challenged and how we finished off at club level. Then to get international recognition is a massive honour and my aim now after having a taste of it is to get back here with Scotland.'
Martin realises he must continue to produce to remain part of the Scots' European Championship qualifying campaign after a prolific Championship season at Derby. Norwich City will be a special date in the calendar but there can be no sentiment from either party.
'Yeah, probably there will be one eye on the Norwich fixtures when they come out. I still know a few people there and I was at the club for 14 years, and that is a lot of memories and a lot of affection for the place,' he said. 'They will stay with me for life. It will be a little surreal as that will be my first time back at Carrow Road and also as part of an opposition side – if I manage to get picked. Hopefully it's good fun and I can score a few goals but I'm not sure about the celebrations.
'It will be interesting to see how Norwich go next year. I think they will be there or thereabouts, hopefully like ourselves. Perhaps they have a few people to ship out and possibly with the squad coming down from the Premier League you always generally tend to lose a few. They will try to get a few players in but they are on a good financial footing as a club and that won't be a problem. What I would say is they have a very good squad coming down and I expect them to be definitely challenging.'
The City academy graduate can count on the full backing of the Martin household for his first Norwich return, with a large contingent out in force to watch the recent international bow as a second half substitute against the World Cup-bound Nigerians.
'My mum and dad were there, my brother, my auntie, some friends, and it is nice to have that support,' he said. 'This has probably been my best ever season. I have been fortunate enough to play in good teams and this Scotland side is another one. If I get the chance I feel confident I can score goals for Scotland. The manager has the side very organised and I was impressed with the training.
'There were a few nerves because it is a big step. You are always a little bit anxious and hope you are going to do well. I think that goes out of the window when you get on the pitch and get your first touch and I felt I settled in well. It could not have come at a better team for me personally.
'It was a huge disappointment what happened at Wembley and the manner of the defeat was even harder to take because it was in the last minute and we felt we had dominated the game. That would be tough in any game, let alone a play-off final.'