WHEN he is one of only three strikers chosen for a high-octane encounter against Germany, it is little wonder that Chris Martin describes his inclusion in the Scotland squad for the forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against the world champions as a “vote of confidence”.
Gordon Strachan has chosen Martin above Blackburn Rovers striker Jordan Rhodes, who has scored in successive games for his club in the last fortnight. Martin has been picked above Leigh Griffiths, who Strachan was prepared to play up front on his own last year in the fine 1-0 win in Croatia, and who again featured v England last August.
Consider also the case of Ross McCormack, who became the most expensive Scotland international player in history in the summer when moving from Leeds United to Fulham. McCormack, too, has been overlooked by Strachan.
All these players are, admittedly, experiencing challenging times at present. Rhodes was the subject of a transfer wrangle between Blackburn and Hull City, Griffiths has lost his place in the Celtic starting XI, although he came off the bench to score on Sunday against Dundee, and McCormack has scored just once this season as Fulham continue to languish at the foot of the Championship. But they were all still serious contenders for a place in the international squad.
As well as Martin, Strachan has opted to pick only the in-form Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher. All three are well-versed in the art of playing up front on their own, which is one reason why they are currently in favour with the international manager. Who starts and where is still to be established of course, but Martin looks set to experience at least some game-time in the Westfalenstadion this weekend.
“When you’re a striker and you’ve been scoring then you’re always certain that the next goal is just around the corner, so I might be able to nick one on Sunday,” said a confident-sounding Martin yesterday. “But who knows? I might not even get on the pitch. I’ve got to work hard this week and see where that takes me.
“I played as the one up front for Derby, and Scotland use that a lot so maybe that’s why I was chosen.
“These are the type of games every player wants to be involved in so it’s up to me to show enough that I get the chance but that goes for the rest of the lads as well. When you look at the players who have been left out of this squad there are some big names there, so I regard just being here as a huge positive. Hopefully, there are more call-ups to come.”
Stars dip and other ascend. Martin is certainly following the latter trajectory. With four goals in seven appearances so far this season – the latest strike coming in Derby’s 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town [fellow Scot Christophe Berra got the equaliser] – Martin is proving why Strachan has such faith in someone who, this time last year, admits he had few thoughts about representing Scotland.
It had already become established that he was eligible for Scotland through his father, who was born in Easterhouse in Glasgow. However, Martin thought the chance had passed him by. There was some interest from then Scotland manager Craig Levein in 2010 but that had seemed to die away.
In any case, the player was focusing on doing well for Derby County after experiencing some frustration towards the end of his time with Norwich City, who decided against taking up the option of another year on his contract. Derby, where he had been on loan, secured him on a free transfer last summer in what is now looking like one of the deals of recent times.
“The only real blot for me was losing the [Championship] play-off final to QPR at Wembley but I wouldn’t have imagined 12 months ago that I’d have been capped by Scotland,” said Martin. “It shows you how quickly things can change.”
Martin has now scored 31 times in 71 games for Derby and some believe the most surprising aspect of the summer’s wheeling and dealing in the Championship was not McCormack’s huge fee. It was that no club from the Premier League made moves to sign Martin. He has now just signed an extension to his deal meaning he is contracted to Derby until 2018. He is clearly feeling at home among the growing Scottish colony at the club, who are of course managed by former England manager Steve McClaren.
“As well as the lads in the Scotland squad there’s also Johnny Russell and Paul Coutts, so there’s always a lot of banter,” reported Martin. “It’s a good thing for me. Craig Bryson has been in quite a few Scotland squads so he’s been able to show Craig Forsyth and myself the ropes, which helps a little bit.
“I also know Steven Whittaker and Russell Martin from my time at Norwich and it’s good to have familiar faces because, if you were coming in [to the squad] on your own, there might be some trepidation.
“You’d then need to introduce yourself to everyone and get to know them and that takes time – and that’s only off the pitch, never mind on it.”
Back at his club, McClaren is quite happy to indulge in some cross-Border mickey-taking. There was a time when Martin, who was capped by England at under-19 level, might have been siding with the former England manager. Not any longer.
“There’s a bit of banter back and forth about the Scotland-England thing, to be honest,” said Martin. “He gives us some stick but he didn’t do too well as England manager so he gets it back as well.”
“I can’t really divulge what’s been said,” he added.
Someone suggested there might have been mention of a brolly. “To be fair to him, he actually brought out an umbrella when he did the ice-bucket challenge the other day,” smiled Martin.