Cuco Martina says he is reaping the benefits from the expertise and dedication of Everton’s experienced management team.
Martina has played every minute of every Premier League match since Sam Allardyce took charge of the Toffees in November – and the Curacao international has seized his “great chance” in terrific fashion.
Operating in an unfamiliar left-back berth, Martina has grown into the role, defending assiduously and, more recently, adding attacking ambition to his game.
The 28-year-old has created goals with left-footed crosses for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Oumar Niasse in the course of Everton’s past two matches – a feat natural right-footer Martina attributes to countless hours spent working on the training ground with first-team coach Duncan Ferguson, who had a lethal left foot in his playing days with the Blues.
Allardyce’s assistant Sammy Lee, meanwhile, has spent time studying match footage with the player to help him adjust to performing away from his usual right-back position.
And Martina, whose run of successive Premier League starts extended to 14 in the 3-1 home victory over Crystal Palace a fortnight ago, says he is feeling more confident and settled with each passing game.
“The manager gave me a great chance and I took it with both hands,” Martina told evertontv.
"The first few games [at left-back] were a bit difficult for me. But the more games you play on the left side, you can change your way of standing and way of defending.
“I do some extra training with Duncan to train my left foot so I can use it more... because I know I can.
“Sammy Lee shows me a lot of videos of myself, some things I can change and do much better. And the good things, too. He has shown me different views on a lot of things.”
Allardyce recently heaped praise on Martina, lauding the defender for doing an “exceptional job” in the absence of regular left-back Leighton Baines, who has been sidelined by a calf injury since late November.
Martina, in turn, insists his manager’s faith has imbued him with the “power to fight more”.
The former Twente Enschede player has appeared a total of 19 times in the Premier League this term, helping the Toffees record five clean sheets.
He has made 101 clearances, completed 38 interceptions [figures which bracket him in the top seven per cent and eight per cent in those categories, respectively, among his Premier League counterparts] and put in 56 tackles. Martina’s increasing comfort in possession shows up in the fact he is averaging 38 passes per match. In addition to the two goals he directly set-up in recent weeks, the defender bombed forward to help create the opening for Theo Walcott to score his first Everton goal in last month's 2-1 win over Leicester City.
And, after his training-ground application paid handsome dividends on the pitch, the full-back is vowing to continue seeking the counsel of his Club’s highly-skilled management team.
Martina supplied the delivery for Calvert-Lewin to head home against Arsenal, then served evidence of his growing poise by lifting a precise ball onto the head of Senegalese forward Niasse for the Toffees' second goal against Palace.
In one fabulous vignette during the same contest, Martina hurtled back to block a cross from the Eagles' England international winger Andros Townsend, moments after supplying his own wicked delivery into the visitors' penalty area.
“I am training a lot on crosses with my left foot and you could see in the past two games they were okay!” said Martina, who joined Everton after leaving Southampton last summer.
“I practice every day and hope I can continue like this.
“I heard that also [Allardyce’s praise]. He gave me my chance and I work really hard. I think he saw a way of working for me and he has a lot of confidence in me.
“That helps a player. If you hear good things, it gives you more power to fight more.
“With a different coach, you do not always know what he wants or likes.
“But, from the first moment he [Allardyce] came, he was very clear with everybody. The way he wanted to work and how everybody needed to be.
"The West Ham game [when Allardyce watched from the Goodison Park Main Stand the day before he was officially announced as boss] helped me as well, because we won for the first time in a while – we won 4-0 and kept that clean sheet.
“He is really clear to everybody. Not only to me, but to everybody – even if you do not play. And that clarity helps me a lot, because I need to do my job right.”
Everton jetted to Dubai for an intense five-day warm-weather camp following the Goodison success over Allardyce’s former club Palace.
Martina says their time in the Middle East enabled the Blues to complete a comprehensive training programme, overseen by Allardyce, Lee, Ferguson, first-team coach Craig Shakespeare and Performance Director Dr Ryland Morgans – and provided him with another opportunity to pick the brains of the manager and his staff.
“Every one [of the coaching team] has his part to play,” added Martina. “I still have a lot to learn but they help me a lot.
“If they can add some good stuff and teach you – and help you see the best way to perform well and get fit – it is good for everybody.
“We did quite a lot in Dubai – some hard stuff. We did a lot tactically and physically and covered everything we could.”