Russell Martin accepts ‘huge failure’ tag if Southampton stay down

<span>Russell Martin has endured sleepless nights on the job but hopes the pressure pays off at Wembley on Sunday.</span><span>Photograph: MI News/NurPhoto/Shutterstock</span>
Russell Martin has endured sleepless nights on the job but hopes the pressure pays off at Wembley on Sunday.Photograph: MI News/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Russell Martin’s job may be secure whatever happens at Wembley but he accepts that Sunday’s EFL Championship playoff final between his Southampton team and Daniel Farke’s Leeds will define his Saints managerial tenure.

Martin was last summer tasked with returning the club to the Premier League at the first attempt, and has received the financial and moral backing of the owner, Sports Republic. “I will be deemed a huge failure if we don’t go up on Sunday,” said Martin. “Or it will be deemed as really successful. That is down to one game, which is madness.”

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In March, Saints posted an £87m loss. They were relegated in the 2022-23 season after the manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, was sacked while Nathan Jones lasted just 14 games before Rubén Sellés failed to save them. Sports Republic, founded by Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft and financed by the lead investor, Dragan Solak, bought the club in January 2022 and has footed a significant bill. A return to the Premier League is the ready cure to those financial ills.

Martin admitted a season including four losses during September had given him “sleepless nights” but that club finances were not the reason. “In terms of pressure here the owners have been brilliant, so good,” he said. “To give me the opportunity in the first place and to understand the size of it and be patient in September when a lot of people were circling and expecting me to be under pressure. They were so calm.

“I’ll always be grateful for that. I hope I can give them what they deserve on Sunday. But we have a really clear plan for both scenarios; everyone’s really clear and comfortable with that. But it’s better for everyone if we get to the Premier League on Sunday. The sleepless nights come from caring about the people you are asked to lead as your job and trying to give the best version of yourself every day to them.

“They are enjoying owning the club for the first time since they came in. Relegation gave them the chance to put their stamp on the club.”

Kraft was quoted as saying this week: “We believe in [Martin] and what they’re doing and don’t want to be an organisation that changes course all the time.”

Southampton finished fourth in the 46-game Championship table, their 87 points three behind Leeds, managed by Martin’s former Norwich manager Farke. Martin captained Norwich in the 2015 Championship playoff final, an easy 2-0 win over Middlesbrough but, once the German came in, he was considered surplus to requirements. The former Scotland international was, though, keen to point out that any bad blood had dissipated.

“After we played them at our place we had a drink with the staff and it’s always been very cordial and polite between us. Listen, this is football and it’s never personal – we never had a personal problem. I think people still want us to have one now because it’s a nice story. But he was a young manager at the time, I was an old player whose hip and back were giving up on me, and he was honest with me.”

Southampton beat Leeds twice during the regular season, following up a 3-1 home win with a final-day 2-1 victory at Elland Road. Martin dismissed any omens, instead depicting Wembley as a one-off of the highest stakes.

“Every single player on the pitch will be nervous, their family will be nervous, the coaching staff will be nervous,” he said. “If you’re not nervous for such an occasion you’re probably a bit of a dangerous person at some point.”