For those on the East coast of England he is known as ‘The Norfolk Cafu’, to some of us he is a Fantasy Football stalwart, but to many he is simply the unsung hero of a resurgent Norwich City side. He is of course, Russell Martin.
We spoke to the Canaries’ club captain about their chances in the Premier League this season, his time as an Englishman in the Scotland setup and former mentor Paul Lambert…
Norwich have made some impressive signings this season. How are the new players settling in and how do you fancy your chances this season?
“It’s an exciting time to be at the club. Plenty of players coming in and I think that’s a real sign of ambition.
“It adds competition and in football you have to evolve, and move with the times, otherwise you get left behind – and that’s what we’re doing at Norwich.”
Losing Grant Holt over the summer must have been a big blow. How have the squad gone about replacing him both on and off the field?
“It was a good move for everyone involved. You can’t underestimate what he did for this football club, but times change and you have to roll with it.
“We’ve got a really good dressing room and it wasn’t ever about one person – Grant would be the first to agree with that.
“Although we’ve lost Grant, there’s plenty of people in the changing room that will help make up for that.”
You’ve worked with Villa boss Paul Lambert on a number of occasions in your career. What can you tell us about him as a manager?
“I think I’ve had five or six seasons with Paul Lambert and all I can say is that in my career, probably no one has done more for me to this day.
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“He took a chance on me to bring me to Norwich from Peterborough and he played me as a youngster at Wycombe, so I owe him a lot.
“The job he did at Norwich was just unbelievable and I think he’ll go and do really well for Villa – I think he’s going to be a top manager.
“At this time Moyes is the right man for Manchester United but eventually a top job will come for Paul Lambert. He can use Villa as a stepping stone and kick on from there.”
Many people believed the game between England and Scotland was a refreshing change to the usual international friendly schedule – what was it like to play in?
“The friendly with England was the best atmosphere I’ve played in, I’m sure.
“In terms of competitiveness, the game was played at a fascinating tempo and I think everyone enjoyed watching it.
“I spoke to a lot of people who watched the game and they loved it, wishing there could have been more friendlies like it, because a lot of them are slow paced and people making a lot of changes, but to play in it was amazing.
“Hopefully it will happen every one or two years now.”
Managers weren’t happy about playing an international match so close to the start of the season, but how did the players feel about it?
“For players it is never ideal going straight from pre-season into an international match, especially one of that importance and tempo, but once it was announced, there wasn’t one player who didn’t want to be involved in any of the squads.
“Whether it’s the start of the season, middle of the season or end of the season – everyone wants to be involved in games like that. “
The summer was dominated by a number of big transfer sagas. Is the power shifting from the player back to the club?
“To be honest, football changes so quickly all the time, so I’m in no position to comment. I’m not a businessman; I’m not an owner of a club and not a player that’s been in that position.
“But for me, it’s not about power, the player has a contract at the club, and until the club and player decide they aren’t right for each other and it’s time to move on again – that’s it.
“If ever a club sells, if a player wants to get out, then the club has the ultimate decision on whether that player leaves or stays. So for me the club has always had the power and I think that will always be the case.”
Who is best player you’ve played against?
“Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez.”
What makes them stand out?
“Gareth Bale is such an athlete, so quick – as a full-back, when you look at players you try and find a weakness you can exploit and work at, however Bale or Suarez , Steven Gerrard as well, haven’t really got any.”
What about the best player you’ve played with?
“I think the best player I have played with is Rob Lee when I was at Wycombe. He was nearly 40-years-old but he was still such a good footballer.”
How about some predictions for the season? What are Norwich’s goals as a squad?
“We spoke about improving on last year and getting more points. Pushing in to the top 10 at any point would be great, but for us it’s all about improving on last year, getting more points, being positive and enjoying it.”
What about the Premier League as a whole? Relegation candidates and title challengers?
“Wouldn’t want to comment on the danger of relegation as anyone could end up there. As for winning it, it will be the same top four or five challenging but with Mourinho being back at Chelsea it’s going to make things very interesting.”
One last thing, one of my colleagues reckons and says you’re quite popular within the fantasy football community…
“Only 0.5% of players have picked me this season –apparently I’m too expensive now!”
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