As international debuts go, the 17 minutes that Marvin Martin played for France against Ukraine last Monday night were special by any standards. He made nine successful passes out of nine, took three shots and scored two goals, made one successful dribble and another assist, taking the corner from which fellow debutant Younes Kaboul scored in the 4-1 win.
By Wednesday, the hype machine was in full flow, with
The Zidane comparison has not worked in the past for Johan Micoud, Hatem Ben Arfa, Samir Nasri or Yoann Gourcuff, and it's really only been made in this case because, on August 17, 1994, Zidane also scored two goals on his France debut, a 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic. Martin himself knows as much. He was embarrassed when his teammates gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name in the dressing-room after the game. That's why he later sought out France coach Laurent Blanc: "I told him that I know the hard work is still to come for me."
Martin was barely known before this season: rejected by the national academy at Clairefontaine when he was 12 for being too small (just
He joined an impressive crop at the Sochaux academy. Ryad Boudebouz, 21, Geoffrey Tulasne, 23, Cedric Bakambu, 20, and Pierrick Cros, 19, have all broken into the team in recent seasons under coach Francis Gillot. Martin was a regular for the perennial relegation candidates for 18 months, but this season exploded as the team overachieved by finishing in eighth place. Sochaux's attacking style of football, in what has become renowned as a tactically cautious division, centered around Martin, who made a league-best 17 assists for his teammates (and just one short of Ligue 1's all-time record).
Martin laughed when
It now seems highly unlikely that Martin will stay at Sochaux, especially as Gillot disappointed his young charges by taking the Bordeaux coaching job this week. As Auxerre found out this season, any Ligue 1 team that surprises itself by qualifying for European competition often struggles the following season. And it's hard to imagine Sochaux doing any better than last year. His agent, Jean-Marie Cantona (Eric's brother) has said Martin wants to leave Sochaux, while the French press say this week's exploits have raised his fee from €7 million ($10M) to €11 million ($15.7M). Lille, Lyon and his boyhood team Paris Saint-Germain are all reported to be interested.
More significantly, though, Martin could now become a symbol of Blanc's France side. Just six weeks and two games after the
There is a caveat, as shown the cautionary tale of the last Sochaux-produced playmaker to represent France. Camel Meriem was a bit older, 25, when he made his France debut, but he too labored under the "new Zidane" billing. By then, he was already struggling to cope with expectations at Marseille, and he moved to Monaco, before spending a season with Aris in Greece and, last year, rock-bottom Ligue 1 side Arles-Avignon. Meriem only played three times for France and his career was on the slide ever since.
On Thursday, Martin made his first start against Poland, and played a more understated role, unsurprisingly, in France's 1-0 win. If he can keep Gourcuff out of the team, it would be a major step in Blanc's efforts to Spain-ify France's style of play. Just as it has been all season for Sochaux, Martin's timing has been just perfect.