Canaries youngster Josh Martin - has he got a head start on his team-mates?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
If Josh Martin does manage to convince Daniel Farke that he can be a secret weapon in Norwich City’s survival battle, then he may well have a jump on some of his team-mates.
Most of them are used to playing in front of tens of thousands of fans at packed houses, but the prospect of playing Premier League matches behind closed doors is nothing new to the 18-year-old.
Martin’s only experience of first team football is a place on the bench at Burnley in the FA Cup – earned on the back of some impressive performance for the Under-23s - three goals in five games plus an FA Youth Cup hat-trick.
“For me I haven’t played games in front of thousands of people, so I don’t know how that feels,” said the young winger.
“I know some of the players are saying ‘it’s not the same’, but for me I’m just looking forward to hopefully making my debut and hopefully helping the team.
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“It’s a good opportunity for me to impress and enjoy myself really. I’m really looking forward to it, whether there’s a crowd or not is the same for me. I’m just very excited to be in this position and humbled as well.”
Martin had a taste at Burnley of what is to come this season - and loved it.
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“It was a great feeling,” he said. “Something you don’t get often, even just warming up on the side, you don’t get fans, they don’t know you but they’ll say something to you and you kind of thrive off it, you want to go on the pitch and prove them wrong, you don’t fear it or anything.
“When you’re sat in the crowd you think ‘that’s quite scary’ but when you’re actually there you kind of thrive off it, to go and perform on the pitch and get a boost from the crowd.
“I was really hoping to get on, I didn’t but it was a great experience for me.”
While some may doubt Martin will be involved, consider Max Aarons, who made his first team league debut in the fiery atmosphere of an East Anglian derby at the age of 18 - and has never looked back; Jamal Lewis was 19, Todd Cantwell 20.
Martin - who has just signed a contract extension – is now rubbing shoulders at the Colney training centre with the players he hopes to emulate.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “It’s kind of surreal when it first happens, you kind of get a bit like ‘wow’, but you get used to it, you become friends with a lot of players, you become close with them and it just becomes normal, they become your mates. You see them every day and it becomes like a bond.”
The coronavirus pandemic has forced a pause in Martin’s progress, but he clearly spent lockdown well.
“My mindset was to be as strong, as fit and as fast as I possibly could be when I come back and to come back mentally strong, to give 100 per cent and as much as I can to the team,” he said.
“I’d wake up in the morning, I’d go to my programme (of fitness), have some breakfast and then probably spend some time with my family, maybe go out for a walk, just spend time with my brothers, my mum and dad.
“Then another sessions just to top off, maybe on the bike or something, because you just want to keep pushing yourself every day. “When you’re sitting down too much you feel like you’re not doing enough, so I just want to keep working every day. “There is a WhatsApp group and everyone is excited to come back to training – it’s really boring just sitting at home and doing individual training, you want to be playing football with everyone and getting back into the games, so everyone’s looking forward to that.
“Everyone seems to be in the right frame of mind, on it and strong, feeling positive about everything. Everyone has a smile on their face and I think that’s the most important thing.”
It really is a whole new ball game, even returning to Colney, where there are strict Premier League protocols in place as the transition was made from individual work to contact training.
“It was like ‘wow, I haven’t been here for a long time’ but you get used to it quickly,” he said.
“The first two days you’re getting your mojo back and back into your stride but after those two days you’ve said hello to everyone, everyone has bonded again, you get a feel for the place again and it becomes just like before, like a second home.
“There were a couple of near misses to start with, people went in for the ball and then realised. But all the coaches have told us you’ve got to stay apart and socially distanced, and you get used to it.
“We’re back to full contact training now so we’re kind of back to normal.”
There’s little doubt that mental agility will play a big part when the Premier League starts again in around a fortnight’s time – for even the most experienced pros. Martin’s attitude to his career shows a maturity that will stand him in good stead.
“For me it’s what we’ve got to do,” he said. “It’s our job and it’s the best job to have, as a kid you want to play football and this is what it takes to be the best.
“So I’m very professional, in my mind I try to be as humble and on it as I can, so that I can be the best I can.
“So I’ll do whatever it takes to get to my full potential, so if that means eating foods I don’t like, waking up early, early nights, training extra hard. It’s hard and a lot of people don’t want to do it but once you get used to it, it just becomes part of daily life you start to enjoy it and actually thrive from it.”