Malaury Martin freely admits the start he has made to his Hearts career has been nowhere near good enough. However, the French midfielder is adamant he has the strength of character to overcome his early struggles and justify the club’s decision to hand him a three-and-a-half year deal in January.
Martin has started only seven of Hearts’ 18 matches since making his debut away to Raith Rovers four months ago. He was substituted in his last two starts at half-time in both of the Scottish Cup matches against Hibs in February. He understands why there has been a supporter backlash against himself and his team-mates as the season has petered out meekly since an ill-fated January transfer splurge.
“It has been difficult for me because I have not been happy with my performances,” said Martin. “It [his performance level] was not what I expected when I arrived. It was difficult for me because I had not played for a few months before I came here and I was not in my best shape.”
Martin insists he has not been taken by surprise by the intensity of Scottish football or the demands of playing for Hearts. “No, not at all,” he said. “When you arrive in a new league, you know what you are walking in to. If I decide to come here on a long-term contract then I know what I am coming to. Sometimes it takes one or two weeks and you play fantastic and everything goes well. But sometimes it takes a little bit more time and you have to work harder to be at your best.”
Martin is confident Hearts will see the best of him once he forces himself back into the starting line-up. The former Monaco, Middlesbrough and Lillestrom player’s belief that he can overcome this form dip and flourish is enhanced by the knowledge that he has twice battled back from serious injury. “Of course, I will not give up, it is not my mentality,” he said. “I have had cruciate operations on my left knee and my right knee, once when I was 21 and then when I was 25.
“I was out for eight months one time and six months the next and everybody told me I was finished with football because not many players have come back from two but I am still here. This is my mentality. It makes me stronger.
“It is part of football when you don’t play as much and as well as you want and you have critics. But you have to continue to fight and believe you can be better and you can help the team. I like proving people wrong. When you have tough moments you always learn and they always make you stronger, that’s how it is. It has not been easy, but I have still enjoyed it here. Sometimes when you go through tough moments you see your personality and character.”
Martin is well aware that the Hearts supporters are disenchanted with their team. Their exasperation was made clear when only a tiny minority of a sell-out crowd remained in the stadium to see the players return to the pitch for the end-of-season farewell after their last home game of the campaign ended in defeat by Aberdeen last Sunday. Martin has no issue with the fans demonstrating their anger.
“Criticism is normal when you have passionate fans like that,” he said. “I’ve only been here four months but I know the history and I know what these fans have done for their club. It’s normal that they have expectations, but don’t think the players lose a game then go home and party and enjoy ourselves.
“We don’t like to lose. At every big club like Hearts, fans have expectations and if things are going wrong they have to protest and put pressure on us. That gives us motivation to show people that they are wrong. But it’s fine. I would rather play in front of passionate fans than fans who don’t care. It’s always full at Tynecastle and that’s fantastic. Sometimes it’s difficult and they boo us but when we score we enjoy it a lot because you hear the people cheering. It’s not an empty stadium.”
Reflecting on the chastening 3-1 defeat by Hibs at Easter Road two and a half months ago in which he and captain Perry Kitchen were replaced at half-time, Martin said: “It was difficult but as a team we didn’t play well and two players came off. But we learn and it makes you stronger and it makes you want to fight. I am a good player, I have qualities and I am going to show you what I can do.”