In an exclusive interview with bwin, former England goalkeeper Nigel Martyn discusses how his former clubs have started the season. He gives us his thoughts on the managerial change at Crystal Palace, Everton’s prospects without Romelu Lukaku, Leeds’ bid to return to the Premier League and his hopes for Bristol Rovers, as well as the England goalkeeping situation.
So Nigel, a disastrous start to the season for Palace. What do you make of the hasty hiring and firing of Frank De Boer?
“I think from the outside it looked like a hasty decision, but obviously Frank was a great player and at the time when he was appointed it seemed as if it was a good fit. The young Dutch managers have come in and done really, really well in the Premiership and across Europe so it looked like it could have worked out well. Unfortunately, things haven’t really worked out at the start of the season and the club has acted quickly.”
You can speculate what went on behind the scenes but from what you can see watching the club on the pitch, what do you think went wrong in those four to five games? Palace are obviously not scoring goals, but can you see issues that can be addressed on the training ground in time?
“Yes they do need to score more goals. There is a heavy responsibility on Christian Benteke to get more of the goals, a bigger percentage than at most clubs. And with Wilfried Zaha, he’s also a threat that can help give you an attacking threat but it’s hard to point your finger on why they aren’t scoring goals.
“I think with the appointment of Roy he will probably put a simpler structure in place for the players to play from. I think he’ll make sure that they get as sound as they can at the back so he’ll be working on the back four and with the goalkeeper, as well and working with the midfielders to try and release the pressure further up the pitch.
“If they can hold out at the back then there’s less pressure on the strikers when their chance does come. It’s difficult for Benteke – if you’re one or two-nil down every time you get a chance, as the striker you are thinking ‘if I only get one or two chances I must score’.
“So I think getting that base at the back is probably the first issue to address and then you’ll find the team will play with a little bit more confidence when they’re not conceding and the pressure on the strikers lifts slightly.”
Palace seem to be hugely reliant on Benteke and Andros Townsend, especially with Zaha injured, to produce any kind of attacking threat. Do you think they’re getting enough from them? Do you think they’re putting enough of a shift in?
“I think you know what you get with Benteke, he’s never going to be one that’s going to run the channels. He’s a lot more of a threat in the box, he wants the ball delivered in to him, he is phenomenal in the air, so he’s more reliant on the service coming to him.
“It’s often easy to point your finger at your own strikers and say you’re not working hard enough and things like that, but they tend to want to save their energy for when they really need it in and around the box so his general hold-up play is OK.
“He’s got to make sure the balls that go up to him stick. If he can get hold of the ball up there and lay it off, Palace can get it wide and people like Andros can show their pace and get past defenders, get the crosses in and Christian then should be on the end of them.”
So Roy’s come in, he’s a local man, boyhood fan of the club, was on the terraces in the Fifties. Is he the right type of personality to turn things around? Do you think that’s what the club needs at this point in time, as a contrast from De Boer?
“Yeah I think so, he’s a safe pair of hands, he knows the Premier League inside and out, he will have a great knowledge of players as well so come January, if things haven’t improved he will know who he’ll want to get in to get Palace out of any trouble they’re in at that time. It’s really difficult, you’ve got tough games coming up thick and fast so it’s not going to be an easy start for him but the players have got to listen to what he wants and implement it on the pitch.”
Palace have got difficult games coming up, with Manchester City and United away and Chelsea at home. If you start the season with eight straight defeats, are you almost already consigned to relegation at that stage? Do you start looking to next season? How long can this run go on before it starts becoming not if but when?
“Looking from the outside in, they are tough fixtures coming up. On the flip side of that, it only takes one or two good results against those sides to turn things around. If you can get a draw here and sneak a win there, it does give you a heck of a lot of confidence.
“Obviously, if they do start with eight straight defeats that’s difficult but even then I don’t think you can really start looking at relegation. There are still 38 games to go. In 30 games you can pick up 40 points fairly easily. Obviously you need to pick up those points and they’re going to have to beat some good sides along the way, but with good results comes confidence.
“Over the last few seasons they have been a side really that have gone on long runs, suddenly for six or seven games they’re unbelievable and you think they could really push for Europe. Then they go and lose a whole load of games in a row. I think Roy will want to want to address that. I think he would want the good streak to happen but then he would probably make them more pragmatic in their play and not go quite so gung-ho as they do in certain games.”
Having changed managers four games into a season in what looks like a massive shift in style and emphasis, it’s obviously less than ideal. At whose door does the blame need to be laid and how much responsibility should Steve Parish and the American investors take? Parish this week admitted that appointing De Boer was a mistake and he got some credit for that, but was there a lack of due diligence? Do you think he needs to take some responsibility for where the club finds itself?
“In hindsight he’ll feel he made the wrong decision but on the flip side, when he appoints him, if Frank goes and the club starts off like a house on fire, he’s a world beater of a chairman.“De Boer was appointed as a former player and manager of great pedigree. From the outside he seems to be very intelligent and football intelligent, so you can see why the appointment was made. It could be that Frank goes back to Holland and manages a team in Holland for two or three seasons and then gets another really good job in Europe somewhere. These types of things happen and maybe it’s just a little bit too soon for him to be in the Premiership.”
What pragmatically does Roy Hodgson need to do to come away with some points from the Etihad this Saturday?
“Well, he’ll be working hard on defensive shape. Obviously you’re not going to go to Man City and expect to dominate possession. You’re going to have to have lots of time without the ball, so he’s going to be working on the general shape of the team, to make it more difficult for City to break them down.
“The last thing he wants to do is give away a silly goal, a silly mistake or somebody be caught out of position. So he probably won’t be pushing his full-backs forward too early in the game. You’ve just got to sit in and try and keep it 0-0 as long as you can and see. If you do get a chance to break, you’ve got to take that chance, it’s no good just sitting in for 90 minutes because eventually they’ll wear you down.
“You do have to take some pressure off your back four but I think for long periods of time they’ll be defending, it’s a really difficult fixture. Manchester City have started like a house on fire as well, they’re full of goals at the moment. If Palace could come out with a point that would be great, three would be absolutely amazing, but I think if you’re being realistic you would heavily fancy Man City to win that game.
“From Palace’s point of view, you just don’t want it to be 3, 4, 5-0, you know. If you’re going to lose, it’s got to be a 2-1 or a 1-0, where you can actually take something from the game. You just don’t want a real drubbing.”
It’s been a bad 10-14 days for Everton, with results against United, Spurs and Atalanta in Europe. Is that squad big enough to compete on two fronts this season?
“You do need a really big squad it you’re going to go into the Europa League. It’s difficult because you start the season and you either concentrate entirely on the Premier League, or you concentrate hard on the Europa League and try and look after the Premier League a little bit. If you qualify for European competition then you’ve got to take it seriously.
“But I think if you’re going to do well in the Premier League, you will have to use a lot of squad players in that Europa League, especially at the start, so it’s difficult. I still think Ronald Koeman is searching for his best system to play. It’s a club that’s used to playing four at the back and he will tinker with three and things like this so I think they need to find their best system of play. If it’s different from what the guys are used to then it’s going to take a little bit of time to implement that.”
Everton were seen as having one of the best transfer windows of any Premier League club. Of those signings they made in the summer, was there one that really grabbed your attention?
“All of them, really. You know, they buy a top-quality young English goalkeeper which are few and far between. At the moment they have probably got the most sought-after young goalkeeper in England so you think, ‘well that’s great for this league’ but also for the future of the national side.
“Jordan is great, showing what a confident and good goalkeeper he is. But it’s the long term, it’s where they’re looking with that one. And Michael Keane was a good buy, he’s been very solid at Burnley, quite a few clubs were looking at him, so that seemed like a good bit of business as well. Sigurdsson the same, at Swansea he was their star man of the year and it might take him a little period to sort of fall into the system.
“He did score a world-class goal the other week, but you know it might take a little bit of time for him to fit into the system, where he really sits with the team. And obviously Wayne has come back back. Wayne’s not going to be Lukaku, his legs have done a little bit more miles but he’s still a great signing. I think Romelu is almost irreplaceable for a club like Everton.”
In terms of Lukaku, are you slightly surprised that there wasn’t what you could deem a like-for-like replacement? Were you surprised there wasn’t a striker signing that could be the figurehead of a team like Romelu was?
“A little bit. I suppose Wayne can hold the ball up. Obviously he’s a talented footballer. Again, his physical strength is what’s probably missing up front. Lukaku really was a bully of defenders, he could certainly keep two defenders occupied at all times and I think you know if Everton were struggling they got a ball up to him, he did something with it.
“He muscled a centre-half out of the way and really started attacks. From when he’s been under pressure, it’s just been one ball, he’s held it up and people have just spun off him. Wayne isn’t going to have that physical presence, so I guess he could do with some help up there, certainly somebody a bit more physical who’s going to worry some centre-halves but also hold the ball up a lot better.
“The way the manager wants to play, to keep the ball on the floor and pass it through to Wayne with sympathetic passes up to him, but sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League you just don’t get time to do that and clears are a little bit aimless and smelling of panic. You definitely do need somebody physically strong up there to cope with that and perhaps that might be something that they might have to look at come January.”
Were you surprised with how much Lukaku celebrated when he scored against Everton for Manchester United last Sunday?
“Yes I was a little bit surprised if I’m honest. He had quite a few great seasons at Everton, the fans loved him and it doesn’t take much to show a bit of respect. Yes, you are happy to score for your new club, but it doesn’t take a lot to show a bit of respect to your supporters on the other side. I think that would have been nice. It was the first thing I said when I was watching the game was ‘I can’t believe he’s just done that’. I think we would all rather he hadn’t done it and perhaps had a little more respect for the supporters who have absolutely loved him before.”
What’s a good season for Everton? What would you say is a minimum league requirement, taking Europe to one side?
“I think with the money they have spent and things like that, Lukaku’s a real loss, you don’t get somebody scoring 20 goals every season, that is a huge loss to a club that’s not had a lot of great goalscorers so if you take Lukaku out of it they’ll not score many.
“They’re not amongst the biggest scorers so I think that’s the important thing. If they can get the goals then I think their normal place in the league would be a fair return – sixth, seventh or eighth for example. With the signings at the start of the season I actually thought that they might be able to challenge Arsenal and Tottenham, but having not directly replaced Lukaku I think that will prove to be beyond them this season.”
How good can Jordan Pickford be? How soon is realistic for him to have designs on that England number one jersey?
“Well, as a player you will be wanting it straight away. He will be going out there trying to perform well for Everton every week, that’s what he’s got to do, that’s got to be his focus. If he keeps having good games for Everton, the rest of the things come naturally.
“As a goalkeeper, you want things too much force yourself to be in the action all the time. The one thing you learn as a goalkeeper as you get older is you don’t necessarily need to be in the action the whole time, you just need to do your job when called upon.
“I think sometimes goalkeepers perhaps have been guilty in the past of going looking for work that perhaps isn’t theirs to do because they want to show all the time what they’re doing. Jordan is a very, very confident young man and a very talented goalkeeper. He’s doing absolutely fine at the moment, he’s just doing his job and not coming for crosses that are going to be really difficult to come for.
“He needs to simplify his job as much as possible as he’s got all the talent there, he’s got all the attributes, he’s a big lad, he slides well, he covers the ball well, his distribution is amazing and the decision-making will improve as all goalkeepers get better as they get older.
“There will be the odd mistake along the way as that’s inevitable with young goalkeepers. If he makes one, it’s water off a duck’s back for me, as you can see he’s got the talent so, if there is a mistake along the way, I’d tell him not to worry about it, just keep doing what you’ve been doing and you’ll be fine.”
So let’s move on to Leeds, another of your former clubs who are top of the Championship after eight games. You can’t really ask for much more of Thomas Christiansen this first season so far, can you? He came not really being known but so far, so good?
“Absolutely. I just think that the whole feeling around Leeds United at the moment is different. I think the new owner has come in, and he’s done the right things. He’s got the supporters on board, he’s tried to get everybody integrated or pushing in the same direction.
“Yes, perhaps the manager wasn’t a name we’d heard of before, but like I’ve said many times with lots of appointments of Leeds managers, whoever’s appointed you have got to give them a go. You have to support them, get behind the team and the start of the season has been good.
“For me, the whole feeling around the club is different this season, it’s everyone all together, the players and the owners, the management, everybody seems to be happy and together, and that’s so been missing at Leeds United in the last few years.”
You talk about the players. Who have been the stand-out performers for Leeds so far?
“Stuart Dallas seems to be one that’s coming up with some good performances on a regular basis. Aside from individuals, I just think the manager has galvanised them and has put them all together and he’s just got that team spirit going.
“He’s made a few changes and he’s brought in faces that we haven’t really heard of but so far they seem to have come in and be doing really, really well. I think it’s a team full of players that are prepared to give their all, and all be in it together. It’s amazing how far you can go with that mentality.”
The term ‘sleeping giant’ gets overused, but how big would it be for the club and city to be back in the Premier League? It’s early days but general football fans often talk about how the Premier League would be a better place for having Leeds in it because it’s such a historic, big club. What would it do for the area?
“It would be amazing. I was lucky enough just to be at Leeds when it was in the Premier League and finishing third, fourth, fifth, every year and the city was buzzing. I think having been out of it so long, it would just be huge for the city and the supporters.
“There is a long, long way to go and a lot of big clubs in the Championship that are yet to really flex their muscles but it’s been a great start. I wouldn’t want to heap any pressure on the players but it would be an amazing thing for this city and this set of fans.
“Leeds United is a massive club, it is an iconic club and if all things were right in the world then yes, you would be in the Premier League, but they are not at the moment. The club fell out of the Premiership at the worst possible time too, just before the big, big money came in. You look at clubs like West Brom, Southampton and Burnley and you could be talking about spending £200m just to get to the level of being an established Premier League club like those clubs.
“The thing with a club like Leeds is that if they got into the Premiership, they could really kick on with the fan-base and size of the club. To get there, they need to look at the likes of Brighton and Huddersfield who were consistent through the season and showed what can be achieved with a tight-knit group.”
Now moving on to England and Joe Hart, the man still in possession of the number one jersey for England. Do you think he’s still the best man for the job? How will two successive seasons on loan – three clubs in three seasons – impact him on the international stage?
“Ideally he would obviously like to be settled at a club, just for his own peace of mind. Your best form will happen when you are happy with where your career is and Joe’s future has been a little bit up in the air, what with moving to Italy and then coming back to West Ham.
“It hasn’t been ideal in any shape or form but he’s managed to keep his performances to a good level and when he’s played for England he’s done really well so he’s holding on to that jersey. Obviously Joe will know there are other goalkeepers now starting to bite at his heels, but at the moment he is in charge of the jersey and if his performances stay at the same level then Gareth will keep picking him.
“We all like to judge who’s the best but if somebody is performing for you every time you pick them, you are going to carry on picking them irrespective of other people’s views. Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Fraser Forster – they’ve got to keep making sure that their performances are high every week to keep the pressure on him and Joe’s got to make sure when he’s turning up for West Ham he’s got to play well too.
“But he knows that, barring an absolute disaster, which isn’t going to happen because he’s too good for it, he’s going to play in the next England game and if he does well in that one he’ll play in the following one.
“I know what it’s like to be the goalie that’s challenging and pushing and I had David Seaman in front of me. I got voted three times in a row as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League but Dave was still the number one for England and I couldn’t argue with it because every time he put on a shirt for England he never let us down, he always came up with a really good top performance.
“It’s frustrating as a number two or number three because you’ve got to keep working in behind him but I think competition keeps everybody’s standard high.”
Who would be your pick if there was an injury to Joe and there would have to be someone thrust in to a big game? We’ve talked about Jordan maybe as the future but who is best placed of the ones there now?
“I like the look of Jack Butland, I think he’s just ahead of Fraser Forster and Ben Foster. It was unfortunate for him last season to have got his injury and miss a huge amount of games but he’s back now and his performances are already back where they were before.
“He’s playing for a side in the Premier League at Stoke that perhaps aren’t expected to do too well but you do get quite a lot of chance as a goalkeeper to show what you can do in a side like that. For me, Jack is the one that is pushing Joe the hardest to be the number one in Russia.”
As a former team-mate, what will Gareth Southgate be like managing a team at a World Cup? How do you think he’ll differ to what might have gone before and is there a unique twist he might put on it?
“Gareth won’t leave any stone unturned in his search for success for the England side that is for sure. I don’t want to be too negative but we have to be honest and say we probably are not in the top six teams in the world.
“Realistically, getting to the quarter-finals would probably qualify as a good tournament for this England team. We all hope for more and pray for more, but I think Gareth just wants to get the team settled and playing well, et that tournament mentally locked in and get them looking forward to the games and not dreading them.”
What have you made of Bristol Rovers’ start to the season and the likelihood of joining Bristol City in the Championship?
“It’s really hard for Bristol Rovers financially to compete with a club the size of Bristol City. I think the size of the club that Rovers is and the budget that it has, realistically it’s probably in the division that it should be.
“Maintaining that every year is good and just trying to develop the team that perhaps you can start to actually push towards the top of that league would be good. League One is getting more competitive. We all talk about the Championship and I used to think that was the hardest division to get out of, but the quality is starting to filter down and now League One is a really hard league to get out of. If Rovers could secure a top-10 finish this season, I think that would represent a pretty good campaign.”
Is there one goalkeeper that stands out as the best you shared a dressing room with?
“I guess I’m going to have to say the men who probably kept me from playing more times than any other. Dave Seaman was absolute quality. I think if we look at great English goalkeepers, I think we’ve had three – Banks, Shilton and Seaman.
“We have had some other very good ones along the way like Ray Clemence but to me, David Seaman is the great England goalkeeper of my generation. I always knew it would be hard to get past him as he was just that good.”
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