RUSSELL MARTIN has told his Southampton stars that playing in the Championship is more fun than getting stuffed each week in the Premier League.
Martin, 37, who has taken charge at St Mary’s after two years at Swansea, knows through bitter experience that suffering heavy defeats on a regular basis in the top flight is not particularly enjoyable.
So this is why the ex-Norwich defender, who suffered the drop in two of his four Prem seasons, reckons Southampton’s stars will thrive on their role reversal.
He said: “I know that for a lot of the players who get caught up in a relegation fight each year, it becomes a real grind just to try and stay in the Premier League. They do not admit it publicly because of what comes with the Premier League.
“Obviously there are many great things about it.
“It sounds crazy because, as a player, you want to be in the Premier League but, sometimes, being in the Championship can be more enjoyable. Certainly I found that.
“I did not have the luxury of playing in a top team in the Premier League but I was always looking at the next point and where it would come from as we tried to survive. At least you know that in the Championship, you always have a chance.
“Now, I am hoping our players here at Southampton will be excited by this challenge even though it is relentless compared to the Premier League.
“I hope we will enjoy being the aggressor and trying to be the dominant team, rather than trying to fight to stay in the league.
“We are trying to win something and get promoted. The mentality has to change to do that but it will be enjoyable.”
Southampton went down with Leicester and Leeds so this year’s Championship looks set to be one of the toughest, unlike last season when Burnley dominated.
Martin, who has developed a reputation as a coach whose teams play possession-based football, said: “There will be bet-ween 10 and 15 teams who fancy having a go. Last year, you expected West Brom,
Stoke, Norwich and Watford to be right up there and they all underachieved so they will be desperate to bounce back.
“Alongside those four teams, you have the three relegated clubs in ourselves, Leeds and Leicester.
“Outside of that, you will have Coventry who were outstanding last season and did so well to get to the play-offs.
“Middlesbrough under Michael Carrick will be backed financially and you have three promoted clubs — Wednesday, Ipswich and Plymouth — who will be fancying themselves.”
Martin has always been an old head on young shoulders. He was Peterborough’s youngest captain at 21, took over as MK Dons boss at 33, Swansea at 35 and now the Saints.
At 30, he set up the Russell Martin Foundation to help youngsters in Sussex.
Martin, who grew up in Brighton, said: “We started with two people and 12 kids and now have 28 full-time staff and it turns over nearly £2million although it all goes back in.
“We started with a football academy but we branched out and we are giving provision for kids who are struggling in mainstream school.
“Two of my brothers did not finish school and if they had had something like this, it would have made a huge difference.”
Now, though, Martin’s priority is to get Southampton off to a flying start.
He said: “The atmosphere will be great and Hillsborough is an amazing place to play. It is a tough start and we have Norwich at home the next week.
“We want to start well but we know it will not be perfect from the start.
“Our team will be playing in a different way to what they are used to.
“But the attitude has been great, there has been no sense of entitlement from the players and they are all excited to get going and start well.”