Marvellous Marvin Martin a fine example of French youth

Mevlüt Erding is dying for a piece of chocolate. But the striker’s secret is out thanks, in no small part to his former Sochaux teammate and best friend, a cheeky little scamp with two first names called Marvin Martin. “With just one piece, you get the impression that he instantly puts on weight,” the rascal laughed to Le Parisien. “It has always irritated him.”

But Erding can forgive Martin. After all, he might not be at Paris Saint-Germain today if it weren’t for the influence of his mate. “During the clasico between PSG and Marseille, we used to separate the dining room with two tables,” he recalls. “There was one side pro-Paris and the other pro-Marseille. Marvin was one of the fiercest supporters of PSG. It was unbelievable. 

“As he is from the Porte de Vanves, he told me about his nights at the Parc des Princes in the Auteuil stand. You felt the magic in the way he talked about it, and it’s partly thanks to him that I’m a fan of Paris.” Indeed, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Martin will get his dream move back to the capital this summer after a fine season with Sochaux.

Voted Ligue 1 Player of the Month for January, Martin is statistically France’s best passer with 11 assists, the same number with which Marseille’s playmaker-in-chief Lucho Gonzalez won the award in the 2009-10 campaign. Laurent Blanc has described the 22-year-old as “very talented” and there is even talk of a call-up to the France squad for a Euro 2012 qualifier with Luxemburg and a friendly with Croatia later in March.

“I have it in the corner of my mind,” says Martin. “I won’t get carried away. I am happy at Sochaux and still have a lot of experience to acquire.” In spite of Martin’s apparent mischievousness, and the fact that, according to defender Damien Perquis, “he's still in his kid’s world, always laughing,” Sochaux coach Francis Gillot thinks he is “the perfect teammate” and “very nice to manage.”

While it’s true Martin has a Playstation stashed in his room for duels with his new BFF, the Algeria international Ryad Boudebouz, and Gillot has to organise fun training exercises to keep the pair occupied as if they were both suffering from ADHD, there is a rare humility about the youngster.

“There is no selfishness in his game,” says Erding. “It reminds me of Mesut Özil, the midfielder from Germany and Real Madrid. When we played together at youth level, he finished the season with 16 assists.” As matter of fact just like Özil, who recently told Spanish magazine XL Semanal of his budget airline trips to Mallorca and habit of shopping in Zara rather than D&G, Martin is just as modest off the pitch, as he is on it too.

“You must never forget where you come from,o” he told SoFoot. This “Parisian urchin,” as one coach calls him, who dreamt about following in the footsteps of Erding and Jérémy Menez at Sochaux and donning the yellow and blue No 26 shirt, chose instead the No 14 for very personal reasons. Not because of its links with Johan Cruyff or Thierry Henry – but rather because it’s the number of his arrondissement in Paris.

Every time Martin scores a goal – such as the magnificent lob he conjured up against Nice – he crosses his arms in poignant celebration. “It’s a thing between us. It comes from a TV series. It is to pay tribute to our neighborhoods, our brothers and friends.”

When L’Équipe went to meet him at Sochaux’s picturesque training ground in Seloncourt, they witnessed Martin drop off Jérôme Roussillon, a member of the youth team. The 18-year-old doesn’t yet have a driving licence and needs a lift into work every now and again from the club’s star player. Martin is only too happy to be of assistance.

He steps out of the car, smiles and shakes the hands of the Sochaux academy players that follow his path to the Château du Bannot, all the while talking animatedly and never once declining an audience, signing an autograph here, offering advice there. 

“He is someone who is open to others, who loves football, which isn’t always the case,” says Éric Hély, the coach who brought Martin through the ranks at Sochaux and made the little magician his captain in the 2007 Gambardella Cup winning side. “Marvin is affectionate and likes life within the group. He comes with his teammates to watch the reserves and eats at the academy on some evenings.”

"Yay!" Martin bear-hugs best buddy Boudebouz

It’s not what you would necessarily expect from one of France’s brightest emerging talents, not in an age when a national team goes on strike at a World Cup, nor when players like Hatem Ben Arfa, Stéphane Sessègnon and Dimitri Payet quickly follow suit at their clubs, and certainly not when – in the words of the legendary former Auxerre boss Guy Roux – coaches and directors don’t speak the language of the banlieue [low-income suburbs].

Thankfully, Martin is a bit different. The diminutive playmaker is something of a rarity and so are Peugeot-backed club Sochaux. “Youth development is in our genetic code,” claims chief executive Alexandre Lacombe. “We are here to produce players for Ligue 1, but also to shape young adults and citizens too. It’s interesting to know whether the players of tomorrow have clear ideas as well as two feet on the pitch.”

With that in mind, Martin is perhaps the personification of Sochaux’s ethos. He has represented the club at every level and is not only a well-rounded footballer, but a well-rounded individual too. Dominque Ravaudet, his old coach at amateur club Montrouge, says: “I have the impression that the same boy is in front of me as back then. He is still kind and smiling. His biggest quality is his humility. He grew up in a very structured setting, with a father who was always around and very discreet.”

Credit must go to Sochaux. It bears remembering that 16 of the 29 players in the first team squad have come through the academy, including such exciting prospects as striker Cédric Bakambu – a member of the France Under-19 side that won the European Championship last summer – and Pierrick Cros, the youngest first-pick goalkeeper in Ligue 1.

After ending up in 16th place last season, which incidentally was Sochaux’s lowest finish in a decade of being back in Ligue 1, the few veteran players within the side complained that the club was naïve in its policy. “We have said for a long time that we need players of experience,” said one. “We’ll need to sign four players to replace Stéphane Dalmat,” said another. 

Sochaux did listen, but only selectively. David Sauget, a 31-year-old full-back, was brought in from Grenoble, but his fellow additions – defensive midfielder Kévin Anin and striker Modibo Maïga – were still both in their early 20s. 

Bakumbu, Cros, Maïga, Sauget and Gillot

Today, Sochaux are eighth in Ligue 1 and play the best football in France outside of Lille. At the turn of the year, no team had attempted more dribbles or more shots from outside of the box. The attack that was firing blanks – just 28 goals in the 2009-10 campaign – is now being supplied live rounds from the ammunition factory in Martin’s feet.

So what next for him? “Sochaux are good, but it’s a shame they are a club who are not too ambitious. And me, well, I am ambitious,” Martin says. “I want to win titles and play in the European Cups. If I can do it here, then all the better.” Either way, one imagines it won’t be long until one of the big teams hears about him on the grapevine, leading Sochaux to ask or maybe sing how much longer this particular Marvin will be mine.