Incoming Scottish manager Russell Martin will be hoping to turn the fortunes of the relegated Saints around. The former Scotland international is only a few years into his young managerial career but faces the biggest challenge of his stint in management to date.
Martin began his coaching journey at League Two side MK Dons and quickly installed a brand of possession-based football. Martin, took over the Dons in 2019 and demanded the style of play which many neutrals applauded. On one occasion, the Dons accustomed an eye-catching goal against Gillingham which was set up by a 56 pass move. Those kinds of numbers are not what you expect to hear in the third division of English football.
Despite the style of play, the Dons could only muster a 13th place finish in the 2020/21 campaign. The plaudits that they received in the division were to be having the most territory in games. Martin deserved huge credit however in his brief reign with MK Dons as he presided over developing players who have gone onto play in the Championship such as Harry Darling at Swansea City, and also the influential playmaker Matt O’Riley who now plies his trade with Celtic.
The impressive style of the 37-year-old caught the eye of Swansea who took a gamble and appointed the rookie on the 1 August 2021. The Swans, have that aura of Spanish like football since the days of Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers and so appointing Martin was the obvious choice to get the project back on track. Martin raided his former club to sign Darling and goalkeeper Andy Fisher.
The first season for Martin at the Liberty Stadium proved to be not successful. Not having a proper pre-season with a group of players who were more climatised to a safety-first approach under Steve Cooper, was always going to mean that this campaign would be a bedding in process. Swansea tried to play to there now managers style but found the going tough as they shipped some bad losses and failed to keep the back door shut.
Joel Piroe was the catalyst for the Welsh side to find the back of the net as the Dutch man scored 22 times in the 2021/22 campaign. Those goals were not enough to fire Swansea to the top-half and finished in a dismal 15th. Martin knew the 2022/23 season was one to which he would have time to bed in his preferred style. The arrival of former Wales international Joe Allen was welcome news for the Swans faithful and for Martin. The experience of the veteran was paramount for the style to which Swansea played.
The campaign started sporadically for the Welsh side with only two wins from nine, but the possession numbers continued to sparkle. In much of those games, Swansea attained the largest portion of the ball and averaged well over 500 passes per game.
The form of the Swans dwindled before and after the Christmas period and a late run after the Easter break saw them just falling short of the play-offs. The most interesting part of the final chapter of the season was Martin’s determination over sticking to his system. A run of seven victories from their last nine games saw Swansea finish in 10th. Swansea topped the possession charts in the Championship with the Welsh outfit having an average of 63.4% of the ball over the course of the season.
Those numbers are something that Martin will be looking to keep rising with the lowly Saints. He left the Liberty Stadium with a winning ratio of 36.36% and now has a huge task at hand to bring the Saints back at the first attempt. Keeping the likes of James Ward-Prowse and striker Che Adams will be something that Martin will be hoping to pin down. With Gavin Bazunu in goal, Martin has one of the best keepers in the division.
The arrival of Ireland star Ryan Manning and the exciting defensive midfielder Shea Charles from Manchester City are some of the early pieces of business that Martin has presided over. Martin has a brilliant reservoir of players to parachute the south coast side back to the big time, it’s just a question of how quickly he can implement his ideas across as this is a cut- throat division. Martin was given a three-year contract by the St. Mary’s hierarchy and will be hoping that he is the man to lead them back.
More players will likely follow in the coming weeks to backbone Martin’s style of play and with the season opener away at newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday on the 4 August, the Scotsman will be hoping to hit the ground running. The Saints badly needed a fresh voice and change, and Martin could be the one to motivate this group of talented players.