Marvin Martin is putting a difficult domestic season behind him as he speaks to UEFA.com about facing Ukraine in Donetsk, the scene of his dramatic France debut a year ago.
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Marvin Martin is looking forward to France's next UEFA EURO 2012 match against Ukraine at Donetsk's Donbass Arena with particular relish. Almost exactly a year ago, in the same stadium and against the same opponent, the FC Sochaux-Montbéliard midfielder made one of the most memorable international debuts in France's history.
Les Bleus were drawing 1-1 with Oleh Blokhin's side when Martin replaced Yohan Cabaye in the 76th minute. Two goals, one assist and 15 minutes later, he was being hailed as the country's new saviour. "I certainly have very good memories of this stadium," the 24-year-old told UEFA.com this week. "Hopefully I can create some more nice memories."
Martin's dramatic introduction sparked excitement. Bafétimbi Gomis aside, only the great Zinédine Zidane had previously struck twice on his France bow. Like Zidane, Martin is blessed with vision and balance. He had just contributed 17 assists to inspire Sochaux to a fifth-placed finish in Ligue 1, and the talk in France was that 'MM' might be ready to step in to the shoes of 'ZZ'. In reality, Martin's style is far less flamboyant than Zidane's was. He uses the ball quickly and simply, keeping the play flowing.
Laurent Blanc appreciates Martin's simplicity. The France coach thought the modest schemer might be capable of repeating his Donetsk heroics in Monday's Group D opener, sending him on for the final 12 minutes, but England's defence stood firm. "I was thinking about what happened here [a year ago]," said Martin after earning his 13th cap. "Several people spoke to me about it before the game. But once I got on the pitch I only thought about this game and the moment."
The two-time European champions dominated the closing stages and had a series of attempts on goal without finding a way past Joe Hart. Nevertheless, Martin does not regard the 1-1 draw a disappointing result, saying: "We played a good game. We went behind after a hesitant start but reacted well. That shows we have a good mentality. Then we controlled possession and created chances – I think we had 19 shots to England's three. It's a shame we couldn't snatch a victory but it was important not to lose."
Martin's maturity is evident when he speaks. He has needed to grow up rapidly over the course of a difficult year during which his form momentarily deserted him and Sochaux battled against relegation. "It was a complicated season," he admitted. "Some people were saying that me a few other players were responsible for the club's struggles, but we gave our answer on the pitch. Sochaux stayed up and I feel good about that. I didn't want to leave the club that had trained me in Ligue 2."
With his transfer to LOSC Lille Métropole close to completion – "we've reached an agreement and I should be playing for Lille next season," he confirmed – Martin is enjoying his time away with the national team. "It's a great pleasure to be involved and the change of environment has really done me good." Just how involved Martin will be in the coming weeks depends on Blanc. The former FC Girondins de Bordeaux boss has said he will consider making changes for the Ukraine match – and Martin's track record may work in his favour.
The Paris-born playmaker is not expecting another comfortable 4-1 win, however, against the early group pacesetters. "I think it'll be more difficult," he said. "Everyone saw the way they played [against Sweden]. They kept on fighting, even when they went a goal down." Like his colleagues, Martin singled out Andriy Shevchenko as the main threat. Ukraine, meanwhile, will be keeping a wary eye on France's diminutive No19.