Russell Martin to Southampton FC: why Swansea manager is the perfect appointment - but fans must be patient

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The Saints confirmed the appointment of the former Norwich City defender on Wednesday (21 June)

Just weeks after Southampton FC's relegation from the Premier League to the Sky Bet Championship was confirmed, plans are in motion to fast-track their return to the top flight.

Not only is new director of football Jason Wilcox now firmly in place, but the Sport Republic ownership have found their man to spearhead the Saints next season. Swansea City manager Russell Martin, who Saints fans might remember playing in the backline for Norwich City when they were in the Premier League, has just take charge down on the south coast.

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But who is Russell Martin, what is his record as manager, what style of play will he bring and will he be a sucesss? Here is my verdict on the imminent appointment.

Who is Russell Martin?

Russell Martin is the favourite to take charge at St Mary's - Credit: GettyRussell Martin is the favourite to take charge at St Mary's - Credit: Getty
Russell Martin is the favourite to take charge at St Mary's - Credit: Getty | Getty Images

Russell Martin is an English professional manager and retired football player who is 37-years-old and was born in Brighton. He is currently in charge at Sky Bet Championship side Swansea City and previously managed Milton Keynes Dons between 2019 and 2022.

Across his 15-year playing career, Martin mostly played his trade as a central defender for Norwich City, who he initially joined on loan from Peterborough United in 2009 before making the move permanent a year later. He went on to captain The Canaries and accrue more than 300 appearances. Other previous teams include Wycombe Wanderers, Rangers, Walsall and MK Dons.

Martin also represented Scotland at international level, qualifying for the nation through his Scottish father. He made his debut against Wales in 2011 and went on to play 28 further games for his country.

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In his personal life, Russell Martin established a charitable foundation in his hometown of Brighton called The Russell Martin Foundation which provides access to football, education and health courses in the local community. He has also been a vegan since 2014 in a decision to help with his issues with ulcerative colitis, while he also part-owns Erpingham House which is the largest vegan restaurant in the UK.

What is Russell Martin's record and playing style as a manager?

Russell Martin has just under four years of experience as a professional football manager or head coach, first taking charge of MK Dons after hanging up his playing boots in November 2019. Even though his first season saw the club place 19th - which finished prematurely due to the Covid-19 pandemic - the second saw them 13th in League One when his side scored a record-breaking 56-pass move.

He was then appointed by South Wales outfit Swansea City in August 2021, guiding the team to a 15th place finish. In the recent Sky Bet Championship 2022/2023 season - which looks set to be his last at The Swans - they finished a respectable 10th.

Martin has built up a reputation of prioritising a possession-based style of play and has cited the likes of Pep Guardiola, Daniel Farke and Chris Hughton as his inspirations. He is known to set up his teams in either a 3-4-2-1, a 3-5-2 or 4-1-2-1-2 formation with an emphasis on passing the ball and pressing the opposition.

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Following the conclusion of the 2020-2021 season, only Barcelona and Manchester City had a higher average possession percentage in Europe than Russell Martin's MK Dons.

Talking about his tactics, Russell Martin said: "People still react to that and say it’s boring, but everyone has a different opinion, the more we have the ball, the more we can control the game and take the fight out of opposition teams. It’s a 90-minute game plan to try and dominate the ball."

What has been said about Russell Martin to Southampton FC?

In the last few game weeks of the Premier League season, it had been confirmed that Southampton are amid interviewing candidates to replace current manager Ruben Selles. The likes of ex-Chelsea and Brighton boss Graham Potter, as well as former Aston Villa gaffer Steven Gerrard, and Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney have been heavily touted for the role.

But the south coast club's hierarchy began to show heavy interest in Swansea City manager Russell Martin and outlined him as one of their top targets to fast-track the club's promotion from the Sky Bet Championship. Now after a month of uncertainty as a result of compensation issues, they have finally got their man..

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According to reports, Martin was initially scheduled to have a meeting with the Swansea ownership in the US following the conclusion of their EFL campaign over a new contract with 12-months left on his current deal. But due to interest in his services from the Saints, that meeting was cancelled and it has now been reported that its more of a when than an if the 37-year-old will take charge.

Southampton FC reporter for The Athletic Jacob Tanswell tweeted on 19 May: "Russell Martin is set to become #SaintsFC's new manager. Martin remains in the UK despite scheduled talks with Swansea and though no formal approach has been made by Southampton, a deal is close".

Russell Martin to Southampton FC just makes sense - but fans must be patient - Credit: Getty / Graphic by Ethan EvansRussell Martin to Southampton FC just makes sense - but fans must be patient - Credit: Getty / Graphic by Ethan Evans
Russell Martin to Southampton FC just makes sense - but fans must be patient - Credit: Getty / Graphic by Ethan Evans | Getty

There was some delay to make the announcement, as according to The Athleticboth the Saints and Swansea are disagreeing over the compensation package to take him and some of his backroom staff to St Mary's - with confusion as to whether or not they have to pay the Premier League club clause in his contract.

Explaining the issue, Jacob Tanswell from The Athletic tweeted: "#SaintsFC's hire of Russell Martin has been delayed over the past week due to disputes over the compensation fee. Swansea believe Southampton should pay Premier League compensation.GK coach Andrew Sparkes has left to make way for Martin's backroom staff."

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Will Russell Martin be a success at Southampton FC - my verdict

When you have had the last couple of miserable seasons that Southampton fans have had to endure, there is always going to be some trepidation about Martin's imminent appointment. Especially as owners Sport Republic got it so wrong previously with both Nathan Jones and Ruben Selles.

Yet this appointment, in my opinion, is the perfect fit for Saints. Not only does this show all the signs of a long-term plan to return to the Premier League, changing the club's ethos from the physically demanding Red Bull pressing system, which was introduced by Ralph Hasenhuttl and mimicked by Selles, to something more possession based, but he is a young promising coach who is almost definitely going to be backed in the summer with a huge squad overhaul expected.

But one thing is for certain, Southampton fans must be patient. Martin's Swansea team completed 27,339 passes last season which is 1,323 more than any other team in the Championship. Too many times at St Mary's Stadium you'd hear boos and feel a nervous angst throughout the ground whenever the squad were not pumping the ball forward and just passing it around the back - something that will be commonplace when Big Russ takes the helm.

The pressure is on Sport Republic to make this appointment a success, after the failures of Ruben Selles and Nathan Jones - Credit: GettyThe pressure is on Sport Republic to make this appointment a success, after the failures of Ruben Selles and Nathan Jones - Credit: Getty
The pressure is on Sport Republic to make this appointment a success, after the failures of Ruben Selles and Nathan Jones - Credit: Getty | Getty

It is not going to be the scintillating football that the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman and the aforementioned Hasenhuttl established. The Championship is renowned for being a physically demanding league with 46 games to play - eight more than the 38 games in the Premier League - so it's a smart decision for Southampton to move away to something more apt with squad fitness in mind.

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Pressure will be on Martin to get it right from the off as Sport Republic will want to return to the English top flight at the first time of asking, but in order to be successful we all need to be patient. In the end we all want the same thing, Southampton Football Club to march on to the Premier League - back where they belong.

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