Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Introducing ‘Little Xavi’: Marvin Martin is France’s new playmaking hope

Following the relative disappointment of Friday night’s stale encounter against BelarusFrance head coach Laurent Blanc will be tempted to make changes to his XI for a friendly encounter against Ukraine on Monday night.

The second leg of France’s eastern European tour rolls into Kiev before Thursday’s match in Poland, and the coach will no doubt be eager for his side to play in a more confident manner than was achieved in Minsk.

While they never looked like losing against Belarus after drawing level through Florent Malouda, a lack of precision from the midfield meant that they were deficient offensively, and the forthcoming games provide a chance for some of the nation’s fringe players to showcase themselves.

One man who has been grabbing headlines at home but has yet to make a name for himself outside of France’s borders is Marvin Martin, and the 23-year-old is liable to make his debut, albeit off the bench, on Monday night.

Uncapped, the Sochaux player only made his real breakthrough in Ligue 1 this season and finds himself in the national team for the first time. There can be little doubt that his performances over the last year have merited his place in the spotlight.

Featuring for a side expected to struggle in Le Championnat, he was instead one of the major catalysts as they charged towards a top five finish, earning European football in the process. Along the way, he set a new record for assists in Ligue 1, notching 17 in total, far surpassing the previous best mark, which was set by Lucho Gonzalez of Marseille 12 months earlier, managing a mere 11.

Sochaux specialised on the counterattack, and Martin’s abilities in broken play were commendable, though it will be his command of a dead-ball that will arguably interest Blanc more. The France coach loves his side to be proficient from set-pieces, and in this regard the Paris-born playmaker shines.

Dubbed ‘Little Xavi’ by his club-mates, Martin actually stands the same 5ft 7in as his Spanish counterpart and possesses a similar style.

Such was the impression he made over the campaign as a whole, the No.14 would find himself on the shortlist for Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year. He was in illustrious company, with Ghanaian World Cup star Andre Ayew and France internationals Yann M’Vila and Mamadou Sakho the other players on the four-man list.

Further recognition has come from some of Europe’s biggest clubs, who have started to take a closer look at the man whose shirt number matches the Parisian arrondissement in which he grew up, playing notably with Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa as a youngster. In France, Marseille and Lyon have both reportedly added the player to their list of summer targets, while Lille are similarly interested. Meanwhile, German champions Borussia Dortmund have cast their eye over a player slowly starting to cause ripples in the European footballing world.

With the summer window not due to open in France until later in the week, Martin should take this chance to lay down a marker in the international game, particularly as big question marks still remain over the form of Yoann Gourcuff. He has risen to every challenge presented to him thus far, but breaking into the national team on a regular basis is undoubtedly his biggest test to date, though it could also be the making of him.


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