The French midfielder says that while he is 28 “on paper”, he still feels 24 “in my head”. There is, he explains in excellent English, much still to be achieved. A fulfilling stay at Hearts can atone for these so-called lost years.
The strength of his desire to realise his potential is underlined by a decision early in his career to swap Monaco for Blackpool. When injury impacted on his stay there, his willingness to move on to Middlesbrough was again indicative of someone determinedly putting his wish to play football before living the high life.
But Martin has been badly served by knee injuries, with the most serious sustained in a friendly with Kilmarnock when at Blackpool. But this setback didn’t put him off coming to the Scottish league, especially after hearing head coach Ian Cathro’s plans.
“It was a simple decision to come to Hearts after I talked with the gaffer,” he said yesterday.
“He convinced me to come. I like his philosophy and the way he sees football. We talked for maybe 45 minutes and I said ‘yes’ to the project.”
He has come to Edinburgh with the intention of providing some substance to a career that has long threatened to ignite since being identified as among the finest talents in the land in his late teens. That the land in question is France simply enhances credentials that were further established at first club AS Monaco, under then manager Didier Deschamps.
No-one could fault his ambition. “I’m here to win,” he said. “I hope we can win the cup first and qualify the team for the Europa League. After that, we will see for the league next season. I am here because I’m really ambitious to win titles.”
Hearts and Martin are still on course in the Scottish Cup but must improve on Sunday’s showing in their replay against Raith Rovers tonight. Martin joined three other team-mates in making his debut in the 1-1 draw in Kirkcaldy at the weekend.
It was his first match since leaving Norwegian club Lillestrom SK two months ago. “I did okay,” he said, having got over the shock of seeing old friend Jean-Yves M’voto, the former Paris St Germain defender now at Raith Rovers.
“We played together with the national team when we were 16,” said Martin. “He was playing for Paris at the time. I didn’t expect to bump into him in Scottish football. I didn’t know he was there. I was in the dressing room and I heard ‘Malo’ behind me. It was nice to turn around and see his big face.”
Martin is fully aware of the strong ties between Hearts and France, including major players in the club’s history such as Gilles Rousset and Stephane Adam. He described himself as someone who likes to read a lot and he made sure he was well briefed before agreeing to join Hearts on a three-and-a-half year contract.
“When I joined I looked at the history,” he said. “I looked to see if there were French players and I liked the history. I hope I can also be part of the history here.
“This club has won a couple of titles and that is important. It’s great to join a club where history is important and the fans are behind the team. You see some big players have been here.”
But then Martin is used to being around stellar names. “Monaco is Monaco,” he shrugged. “There will always be big names going there.” He trained alongside the likes of Patrice Evra, Yaya Toure and Christian Vieri. But he was able to separate the surrounding stardust from the brutal reality of where his own career was going.
“I cancelled my contract because at that time the club was unstable,” he explained. “The people controlling the club changed totally what they were doing and I was not in their plans. I got the opportunity from Blackpool and that was great.
“After that I got my first knee injury but I don’t regret anything. I had been there [at Monaco] for 10 years. Everything was good and it felt like home. But when people you trust change totally and say they didn’t want me any more, for me it was a big disappointment. I was young. It was strange. They’ve had a lot of coaches since.
“It’s different from Monaco to Blackpool,” he added, perhaps unnecessarily. “My family is still there and I go back all the time, but, for me, the football was the most important thing.”
Cathro believes Martin’s experience, combined with this desire to win something, is why Hearts are getting such a good deal. The head coach looked forward to the player fulfilling his potential at Tynecastle.
“He’s at a point in his career where he can tell the team to speed up or slow down,” he said. “He has that rhythm and quality.
“As he gets more and more comfortable, he will grow into an important player for the club.
“In some cases, a player’s big moments can come later in their careers,” he added. “He’s hungry to work and make sure his major successes lie ahead of him rather than what has gone before.
“I look forward to working with him and watch him grow and influence the team.”