Russell Martin will be rightly remembered as a great Norwich servant, says Jon Rogers. He’s been there through the good, the rubbish and the brilliant times. But now may well be the time a beautiful relationship finally comes to an end
Gordon Strachan and Alex Neil have something in common. Can you guess what? If you said they both love a bit of Russell Martin, that's not the right answer.
The answer I am looking for is short men. Short, angry men.
Carrow Road appeared to be full of them on Saturday. Now I fully understand the rage, the annoyance and the infuriation from some over the 4-5, and most of it seems to have landed at Martin’s feet.
But I’m not angry, Russell. I’m just disappointed. Actually, fuck this! I am angry too: go to your room, and write I WILL NOT PASS IT BACK FROM THE HALF-WAY LINE 100 times…
What? No, not across Timm Klose’s contract.
Personally, the back-pass didn’t worry me. It annoyed me, but that’s what silly, human errors do. They annoy. It was instinctive, of the moment, but the wrong decision. Like clicking ‘do not save’ on a word document that you’d spent 60 minutes working hard on. We’ve all done it and screamed BOLLOCKS… but at least you don’t have the added bonus of having 25,000 people calling you a “useless twat” every five seconds and telling you that you should never open a word document again, and ironically cheering every time you do press save for evermore.
Mistakes happen. Like Cam Jam missing that chance at Everton, like Robbie Brady not heading out for a corner in the 95th min on Saturday, like Alex Neil taking off Alex Tettey at Newcastle, like me buying a sausage roll at the kiosk. It all causes shit and distress – just various levels of shit and distress.
What did worry me about Russ was that the brilliant Steven Naismith accidentally/on purpose brought up the lack of communication in his post-match interview with Chris Goreham. Naismith didn't specify, but we knew what he meant. No one talked, no one reminded each other of their roles, no one took charge, no one grabbed everyone by the testicles and sung the World in Motion rap into their faces.
That’s Russ’s job.
It was such a noticeable difference to what Naismith is accustomd to that he felt compelled to mention it in the interview. Interestingly, when Norwich played Everton – Naismith’s old club – I clearly remember seeing Tim Howard, who had just made a decent save to push the ball out for a corner, punch himself in the face, then scream some ‘encouragement’ at John Stones and then doing some sort of chanting to himself to psych himself up as Nathan Redmond got an overenthusiastic round of applause for jogging towards the corner flag with the ball. I remember thinking that was crazy from Howard, but that’s what Naismith was referring to I assume: at Everton players were responsible for each other, themselves and the team. No one was going to let anyone down.
Ever seen Ryan Bennett scream into anyone’s face to concentrate at a corner? Jonny Howson? Declan Rudd? Brady? Graham Dorrans? Wes Hoolahan? Redmond? Seb Bassong? I’ve seen Tettey do it but on Saturday he was too busy buying a cork to do that. That’s what we needed Martin to be doing.
Martin is a lovely man, an ambassador for our wonderful club.
I was told a story where a friend and her 10-year-old son went up to him in a busy restaurant when out with his family, apologised and asked for a very quick picture. Not only did he get the picture, he got a five-to-10-minute conversation, and Martin took an interest in the boy’s fledging football career – asking him questions, offering advice, without ever losing that smile.
That boy made a new hero that day.
Ever seen Martin using his ongoing battle with ulcerative colitis as an excuse? The only time we’ve heard about it was when he became a sporting ambassador for Crohn’s & Colitis UK. That’s it.
I’m very aware that those are off-the-pitch examples of what a good man he is, and people aren't arguing about that. That connection with the ethos of the club is important to me. I know what good he does. If his ability off the pitch matched his ability on the pitch, he’d be worth £30+ million.
Russell is unique. He isn't the fastest, he isn't the strongest, he isn’t the most aggressive, or the most skilful defender we have. He’s never won the Barry Butler and he’s caused more negative debate about his position than any other player. He is both solid and a liability. He has become a Premier League captain without being brilliant. That takes focus and determination – imagineRedmond with that drive.
I have a feeling that his time as the first name on the team sheet may and should be coming to an end. It’s all gone a bit Apprentice between Alex Neil and his captain. It’s like when Alan Sugar takes longer and becomes more gentle to fire the kind one. The one with morals, the one who wouldn’t rip the eyebrows off another human to get a 1% edge over the next man.
And maybe that’s what we need now. Maybe Klose will rip Brady’s face off if he heads the ball back onto the penalty spot again. We will see, as he is sure to start against Tottenham.
As for Russ… Ooh he was there, man.
At Charlton away, At Portsmouth in his pants. That wonder goal verses Brighton. That fourth at Ipswich. Baby celebrations at Liverpool. Proud at Manchester United a few weeks ago, and captain at Wembley.
I don’t think we’ll ever meet a prouder person to put on the yellow and green.
I just hope we don’t let a backpass, and a slowly retiring lack of capability, sour what has been a truly wonderful career for a wonderful chap.
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