RUSS SADDLES UP FOR COACH TRIP...
IF FATE is kind, then Russell Martin may one day make it into management – and the groundwork has already begun.
After his lengthy association with Norwich concluded at the end of last season, the 32-year-old waited until October to start the next chapter of his career, joining Walsall on a year-long deal as player-coach.
Reunited with Saddlers boss Dean Keates, Martin is a major part of the Walsall management team alongside his old Peterborough teammate and assistant Andy Davies.
He’s also started his coaching badges and is currently working towards the LMA’s diploma in football management qualification but there’s plenty of life left in Martin’s legs yet – the man formerly dubbed the ‘Norfolk Cafu’ just has one eye trained on the future.
“I’ve always been interested in coaching. I start my pro licence in January with the SFA and it’s the reason I find myself at Walsall working under the manager that I am, someone I know and trust,” said Martin, who had made five Saddlers appearances heading into this weekend.
“Everyone says ‘play as long as you can’ and nothing can ever replace that but, at the same time, I’m also aware that I’m not getting any younger, so you’ve got to start preparing.
“Gone are the days when you get to 35 and go ‘what do I do now?’, especially if you’re going to get into coaching and management because there’s only a limited number of jobs and plenty of competition for them.
“They’ve really involved me in everything; all the analysis and everything. I’m playing at the minute, so it is hard to take too many sessions but I’ve done lots of individual stuff and I’m enjoying it.
“I think one of the reasons Dean brought me in is because he wants a voice in the dressing room and a coach, almost, when we’re out on the pitch. Hopefully, I’ve made a difference.
“Eventually (I’d like to become a manager) – otherwise I wouldn’t be doing these courses – but it’s not something that you can just jump into.” With so much more to take on board than ever before, this is a season of unprecedented change for dad-of-three Martin. The right-back watched on from afar as Scotland beat Israel to win their UEFA Nations League group in midweek and, having won the latest of his 29 caps in March, he admits his international career is effectively over. “I had a chat with the manager (Alex McLeish) when he first came in,” said Martin. “I really enjoyed playing for Scotland but we had a chat and agreed that it’s time for the new lads to come through.
“It becomes difficult, at times, the international stuff because you’re always away from the kids. I loved being involved and you never say never but I enjoyed watching the new group on Tuesday.”
To matters at the Banks’s Stadium, then – in just under a week’s time, Walsall renew hostilities with yesterday’s opposition Sunderland in the FA Cup second round.
A round away from being in the hat with the big boys, Martin says there can be no understating the importance of the tie.
“In terms of a round two draw, you couldn’t ask for a bigger club,” said the Saddlers player-coach.
“The manager, myself and Andy have all said that the cup can be a great platform for people to show what they’re about.
“It gives them a real chance to test themselves against better opposition if they get through to that third round and maybe play at a huge stadium in front of a huge crowd for the first time.”
FRESH CHALLENGE: Russell Martin, right, in action for Walsall against Charlton and, inset, celebrating promotion to the Premier League in 2015
CHAT: McLeish BOSS: Keates