Is Derby icon Chris Martin surplus to requirements?
“With new managers always comes change. New backroom staff, new systems, new signings and new personalities are all to be expected with a change of regime at a club. These changes can ruffle feathers, restart careers, and totally transform clubs’ fortunes. Derby’s appointment of Nigel Pearson hasn’t quite seen a drastic turn around yet, but it has cast doubt over various players’ futures in the East Midlands, including fan favourites Johnny Russell, Jeff Hendrick and particularly key striker Chris Martin.
For many years, Rams fans have been almost literally crying out for a striker that can consistently score goals for the club. When Chris Martin arrived at the club on loan towards the end of the 2012/13 season, neither his previous track record nor 2 goals in 13 appearances for Derby suggested that he may be the man to fire the Rams upwards and become the long awaited talisman the club needed. However, after signing on a free transfer in the summer of 2013 at the end of his Norwich City contract, Martin went on to fire home 25 goals in all competitions and helping Derby to the Play-Off Final at Wembley. He then hit 21 goals in all competitions the following season and a further 15 in all competitions by the conclusion of the 2015/16 season. Quite a record for a man brought in on a free transfer.
However, after signing on a free transfer in the summer of 2013 at the end of his Norwich City contract, Martin went on to fire home 25 goals in all competitions and helping Derby to the Play-Off Final at Wembley. He then hit 21 goals in all competitions the following season and a further 15 in all competitions by the conclusion of the 2015/16 season. Quite a record for a man brought in on a free transfer.
However, despite the Beccles-born Scot commanding a regular place in the Rams lineup for the past three seasons, he may now find his position under threat. Derby have relied almost entirely on a 4-3-3 formation in recent years with much of the play revolving around Martin playing alone up front. If Martin played well, largely the team would play well.
With the arrival of Nigel Pearson, however, this over-reliance on 4-3-3 appears to have run its course. Teams had begun to stifle the Rams without needing to hazard too much of a guess regarding what system Derby would employ, this called for a change of system. Pearson has almost always opted for a style of 4-4-2 at his former clubs, using them to great success at Hull and Leicester and he appears to be heading down that route in his new appointment as Rams boss.
Throughout most of pre-season and indeed the opening day 0-0 draw at home to Brighton, the former Leicester manager has gone for a 4-4-1-1 formation, utilising a lone striker and a classic number 10 in the hole behind him. This may still sound as though it could work to Chris Martin’s advantage as the system still employs a lone striker. However, some fans argue that a lone striker in this system has to be mobile and look to drop off the shoulder of defenders, much in contrast to Martin’s target man, hold up play of dragging defenders out of position to bring others into the game – affectionately earning him the nickname ‘The Wardrobe’ for his ability to almost literally keep defenders in his back pocket for 90 minutes.
Pearson may have been thinking the same, appearing to prefer veteran and poacher Darren Bent up front, who went on to bag 3 goals in pre-season to Martin’s 0. This has led many to wonder whether Derby’s former talisman is still the right man for the job at the iPro and if it maybe time for Martin to move onto pastures new. Martin has always been a controversial figure, typically hot-headed and often moaning if he doesn’t get his way. His less mobile style of play also leads some to suggest he’s lazy, although anybody with a basic understanding of strikers will know it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Despite his excellent goal record for Derby – the first player to hit over 60 goals for the Rams in over 15 years – fans are generally divided on him, largely for the reasons above. There is also the belief that Pearson will not tolerate certain personalities within a squad, any that don’t hop on the wagon and leave their egos behind will be deemed surplus to requirements.
However, there could still be hope for Martin yet. To miss out on a starting place regularly over the next month is only logical given Bent’s record in pre-season, the former Villa man has earned his right to a place in the team and it would be criminal of any manager to deny him that chance, particularly after a frustrating season on the bench last year. Martin can still yet prove himself, his prolific record certainly gives him the right to prove himself to the manager and once again to a section of the Derby faithful.
Chris Martin is far from a perfect player, but even with a change of system, he could still prove himself essential to Derby. His goals alone speak for themselves, but his assists and chances created also hint at his importance to recent Derby teams, holding Derby’s highest assists for last season. Even when he is far from at his best, Martin is still the focal point of play and can still easily create opportunities and chances for wingers or advancing midfielders. Time will be the judge of whether he can once again fire the Rams to the top end of the table.”
Featured Image – All Rights Reserved by Adrian Jones & Chris Matthews.