Football: Martyn thankful for Wilkinson

`From my experience he will get us very well organised. The team will have to get lots of shots in'; The last Elland Road signing by the England caretaker manager is well aware of his qualities.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
GOALKEEPERS ARE reputedly a breed apart, and Nigel Martyn can certainly claim that distinction within the England squad for tomorrow's friendly against France. Alone among the players inherited by Howard Wilkinson, he worked with him at club level - and indeed played a reluctant role in the events that led to his being free to join the Football Association hierarchy.

Two and a half years ago, Martyn was in Leeds United's goal for the 4- 0 home defeat by Manchester United that led to Wilkinson's tenure being terminated the following Monday morning. It was an afternoon that began and finished badly for the Cornishman, now 32, who remembers what happened in between with no great fondness either.

He scored an own goal inside three minutes, while in what proved to be the final act of Wilkinson's eight-year reign, he was helpless as Eric Cantona sealed the fate of the man who had taken them both to Elland Road. "Losing to our biggest enemies was probably the last straw," a mud- spattered Martyn reflected after training at Bisham Abbey yesterday.

Now, with that peculiar combination of symmetry and irony which football accepts as commonplace, Cantona's compatriots provide the opposition for Wilkinson's first senior match since he left the Premiership and became technical director at Lancaster Gate. Martyn detected little change in his demeanour, noting that he was still "dry and witty", although he has witnessed a less urbane side to his character.

Weeks before Wilkinson's sacking, Martyn made his Leeds debut at Derby. The most expensive British keeper, a pounds 2.25m signing from Crystal Palace, he looked set for a winning start when his new club led 3-1 with less than a sixth of the match remaining. But it finished 3-3, and the manager was not best pleased.

"I can remember him shouting and banging the table in the dressing-room," said Martyn. "He's not a cup-thrower, but he did have a go at people because we made mistakes late on."

Martyn played only five times for Wilkinson, yet he formed a favourable impression of the man-management qualities he might bring to the England job. "I had a choice between Leeds and Everton when I left Palace. Leeds made me feel much more welcome, which was down to Howard and the chairman at the time [Bill Fotherby]."

In terms of tactics, too, Martyn saw positive attributes. "From my experience he'll get us very well organised. The team will have to work the ball wide, get lots of shots in and generally put the opposition on the defensive."

Martyn had not played internationally for three years before Wilkinson gave him the platform to impress Glenn Hoddle. He has since won a further six caps and, though David Seaman is likely to face France, he is probably closer to being England's No 1 than ever before.

"David has come back [into the Arsenal side] from injury and kept two clean sheets straight away," Martyn said. "I know Howard signed me, but I think track records are important for managers to fall back on when they start a job. All I can do is play well and wait."

England's track record in the European Championship campaign might best be described as patchy. While Wilkinson may or may not be in charge for the remaining qualifying matches, Martyn made it clear the coach viewed tomorrow's game as more than a spectacle to set before a full house at Wembley.

"He has told us that a good result would get us in the right frame of mind for Poland next month. He hasn't looked beyond Wednesday night for himself, but he is looking forward for us."

Tony Adams is also closely acquainted with Wilkinson's style - but as an opponent in many attritional struggles between Arsenal and Leeds. "His teams were always very determined, strong, organised and physical," he said. "And he had good players."

Adams was openly critical of Hoddle after last year's World Cup. However, he took no satisfaction in his demise, saying: "There's a sadness when someone loses a job, whatever you feel about the individual."

The experience of a dramatic upheaval at Highbury, where Arsene Wenger assumed George Graham's former mantle, has taught Adams not to fear change. "I'm very open-minded," he said. "When it happens I just say: `Right, let's go again'.

"I think it's business as usual with Howard. I'm a professional footballer; I get on the field and do my stuff. And it was great to be out there this morning."

Now was not the time, he suggested, for him to comment on Hoddle's departure. But at least one colleague thought he sensed a fresh spring in the centre- back's step. "Gareth Southgate took the micky out of me," explained Adams. "He said: `For you to be training, there must a new manager'."