Balance of risk and reward for Norwich legend at Swansea
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Could it be a case of too much, too soon, for Russell Martin? Or is the new Swansea manager continuing along the path to potentially taking charge at Norwich City one day?
Canaries fans will be keeping a close eye on how the former defender fares after deciding to swap managerial progress at MK Dons for a move to a South Wales club facing up to a fourth season outside of the Premier League.
The 35-year-old received plenty of praise for the foundations laid at Stadium MK, initially steering the Dons clear of relegation trouble in League One after taking over from Paul Tisdale midway through 2019-20.
Last season finished in 13th place but bore many similarities to Daniel Farke’s first in England, when the word 'transition' was unavoidable and the German was clearly implementing a possession-based style of play.
Ironically enough, among the many changes during 2017-18 was Martin going from signing a new contract initially to finding himself surplus to requirements and on loan at Rangers from January.
After 309 appearances, two top-flight promotions and more Premier League appearances (125) than any other City player, Farke stressed in interviews that Martin should always be held in the highest of regards for his success as a player – captaining Norwich to a first triumph at the new Wembley at the 2015 play-off final.
While some of the low points during that time - and Martin’s willingness to front up to media questioning during those tough times - meant that his relationship with some supporters had soured, the vast majority appreciated his good character and deserved status as a club legend.
He retains good relationships with key figures at Carrow Road, bringing his MK Dons team to Colney for a friendly during pre-season in 2020. So as he started to gain traction as a manager it has inevitably left plenty of supporters to wonder if a return to Norfolk could happen one day.
Clearly, that is not any time soon. Farke has just signed a new four-year deal and Martin is embarking on the next stage of his journey at Swansea.
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But former Canaries striker Cameron Jerome was playing under Martin at Stadium MK last season, prior to joining Luton this summer, as was Martin’s former team-mate Andrew Surman.
Jerome spoke to the Talk Norwich City podcast in November and said: “I think he will manage Norwich one day – 100 per cent. I think he’s a perfect fit.”
Part of that is based on the style of play Martin is becoming well-known for.
The Dons comfortably averaged the most possession (60.3pc) and pass success completion (83.3pc) in League One last season but finished in mid-table having ranked eighth for goals scored (64) but also 11th for goals conceded (62).
Those possession stats made headlines as they were bettered only by Premier League champions Manchester City (60.8pc) in England last season, with Norwich averaging (58.3pc) on their way to the Championship title.
That was part of the decision to allow Josh Martin to head to Milton Keynes for this season after the skilful midfielder had shown signs of a promising future with City. It remains to be seen how Martin’s exit will impact the 19-year-old but it seems likely the Dons will look to build on the foundations already in place in terms of playing style.
The former Canaries skipper arrives at Swansea at an interesting time as well, as Steve Cooper’s departure was announced in mid-July as a mutual parting of the ways following the play-off final defeat to Brentford.
Martin isn’t working under a sporting director for the time being, with Swans legend Leon Britton stepping down from that position in July 2020 and Julian Winter arriving as chief executive two months later, having previously held the same position at Watford and Sheffield United.
Winter came in after Trevor Birch had left his role as chairman to become director of football operations at Tottenham and took over a club still coming to terms with seven years in the Premier League coming to an end.
US investors took over in 2016 and a series of unsuccessful managerial appointments led to relegation and fan unrest about a perceived lack of investment and poor recruitment.
The Swans announced fresh US investment last year when the owner of Houston Dynamo joined the board and this season will be their first without Premier League parachute payments, combined with the financial losses brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He currently has three former Norwich teammates in the squad in Ryan Bennett, Kyle Naughton and Korey Smith, and also takes Matt Gill with him from MK Dons as a coach.
So while Martin has taken a big step up the EFL ladder by joining Swansea and his “clear philosophy” has been welcomed in a statement from the Swansea Supporters Trust, he could have a tough job on his hands.
Make a success of it and he could well find himself a contender for the vacancy at Norwich in the future but a lot can happen in a year in football. He could be in the top flight in 2022 as City return to the Championship.
Equally, Martin has a football academy in his hometown of Brighton and has spoken about taking advice on his new job from Brighton boss Graham Potter, who previously impressed at Swansea before joining the Seagulls.
Yet at this early stage of his managerial career, if things don’t work out with Swansea, the current glow around Martin’s potential will soon disappear and he could well need another project further down the EFL ladder to continue his development.