Fortitude isn’t a characteristic that would be readily associated with Rangers this season. It is a hallmark of Russell Martin.
The 32-year-old centre-back, who has joined the Ibrox club on loan for the rest of this season, will bring an “intrinsic drive” and “leadership qualities” in spades to his team, manager Graeme Murty enthused the other day. He presented Martin as a man who does everything in his power to be in peak condition for his professional life.
How the Scotland international has managed the bowel complaint ulcerative colitis – which has also afflicted Darren Fletcher – he has lived with for almost eight years says everything about inspiring attitude that frames his total commitment to the game.
Martin is an ambassador for charity Crohn’s & Colitis UK. He is not preachy about the steps he has taken to minimise the effects of the debilitating disease – every case is different, he stresses, but he hopes his charity role can give hope to others that you can stay healthy with the condition – but three years ago he switched to a strict vegan diet in his bid to do whatever he could to remain at the top of his game. It bore fruit, with regular Scotland caps and first-pick status as Norwich captain across that period. A situation that only changed at club level in the summer following the appointment of German coach Daniel Farke, whose reshaping of the Championship side left Martin out in the cold beyond August.
Yet because of his dietary switch, he has never felt better. “I’ve found something that works for me,” he said. “It was a full-on, strict vegan diet for a long time. Now, I’ll have a bit of fish every now and again. It depends how I feel, if I’m getting enough in. I won’t eat meat again, unfortunately, it’s one of my triggers.
“I weigh my own food out every day. I just feel that it’s a really short career. I try to be as professional as I possibly can, whether it’s diet, recovery, training, sleep. Although the sleep is difficult with three kids...But you’re a long time retired so for me it’s not a massive sacrifice to get the best out of yourself for another four or five years.
“My body fat is as low as I’ve ever been and I did all the sprint tests just before Christmas just to know where I am.
“Physically I feel really good. That has been the frustrating thing. Usually when you are out of the first team for that length of time it is because of an injury. I haven’t been injured, I’ve just been training hard.
“I don’t think I understood the severity of my condition when I was first diagnosed. I was sitting on the toilet 30 times a day but I thought it was something which would take medication to get over. I just got fed up with the medication to be honest. It didn’t make me feel very good physically or mentally.
“I decided to explore other avenues and found something that worked for me. I don’t have to take medication and I haven’t needed an operation. Unfortunately, Darren [Fletcher] did, so I have been lucky.
“I was diagnosed first and then it became public that Fletch was struggling with it so I made contact with him then. I hadn’t been in the Scotland squads with him because he had been ill but we had plenty of discussion about it. Fortunately he is back playing regularly now.”
A central role for a team playing at the highest level is what Martin craves at Rangers. And even beyond the coming months. “I feel energised by this, if I’m honest,” he said. “I’ve been at Norwich a long time and maybe when you are there you don’t realise but the club changes. The manager has changed and it’s the first time it’s happened to me in my career where I’ve not been playing football.
“It’s been a difficult four months and I want to come here and rejuvenate my career. Hopefully the international stuff will come with that.
“For now my focus is on doing as well as possible for Rangers for four months and seeing where it goes. We’ve all got a long-term plan and ideally I would do well enough here to give Rangers enough to say that they would like to keep me and that will give Norwich a decision to make in the summer.”