The Monday Profile: Ben Marshall
Flash back to the 31st of January 2010 – shot shy Carlisle United are desperate for an experienced front man to come in to help out the earnest pairing of Scott Dobie and Joe Anyinsah, the then still errant, gangling giraffe Gary Madine and the bunged-up blunderbuss Richard Offiong. By mid-morning the signing of a striker had been announced, in the form of 18 year old Stoke City man Ben Marshall, a youngster who’d had earlier spells with a pair of League Two Towns – Northampton and Cheltenham.
To say the Cumbrian faithful were unimpressed would be to understate it. The tide of disdain toward beleaguered United manager Greg Abbott reached an all-time high. ‘We needed goals and you give us this? An 18 year old naïf who we keep being told is a winger?’
Flash forward 15 months and 20,000 Cumbrians inside Wembley Stadium rise to salute the prostrate Ben Marshall as he is paraded round the hallowed turf during the Johnstone’s Paints Trophy Final. His crime had been to be too good. Brentford’s midfield pairing of Sunderland loanee Adam Reed and the human air conditioning unit Toumani Diagouraga had spent the first 20 minutes of the game chasing his shadow and Reed had taken the issue into his hands, flattening the impish Marshall with a late, high and sick making lunge. Had it not been the early throes of a Wembley final there’s little doubt he’d have walked. Marshall couldn’t – a double broken leg ending the loanee’s season and placing questions over his bright future.
In the intervening period it’s fair to say that Carlisle warmed to Ben Marshall and he to them. Across three consecutive loan periods he had brought his jinking style to the United wings and revelled equally in a slot behind the strikers. A big game maestro, he saved his best for away games at the fallen theatres of football pock marking League One – a match winning performance at Charlton’s Valley perhaps the pick of his time as part of the Brunton Park throng.
As a Carlisle fan I find it difficult to describe his impact without resorting to banal superlatives – his influence on an honest and toiling team belied his lack of years and meant a faltering start became a distant memory. There became a trope amongst fans of the club to compare Marshall to borrowed luminaries of times past – in the grand scheme he ranks behind only Everton stalwart Leon Osman in recent times. Better than Leeds United’s player of the year contender Adam Clayton and better than a favourite of this parish – Hull City’s classy centre back James Chester.
His career was only going in one direction – upwards. At least it was until Reed’s intervention. It was, nevertheless, with some consternation when he re-emerged in League One this year with Sheffield Wednesday. Abbott confessed he was so convinced that he’d shepherded Marshall out of his own reach that he didn’t deign to make an inquiry.
Of course, Marshall thrived at Hillsborough too. Despite the uncharitable concerns of Carlisle fans that he’d find little place amongst the high and handsome wiles of ‘Meggoball’ he found a niche as Wednesday’s chief creative outlet. Much to the chagrin of League One defences he’d added a touch of devil to his pace and trickery – an opening goal against old club Carlisle one of five he scored in a six month period.
Despite this, the closest he came to a Premier League appearance was inclusion in the party for Stoke’s pre-season tour of Central Europe. The jokes about Megson’s Wednesday were often recycled about Marshall’s place in a Pulis helmed Potteries side but that forgets the influence of Matt Etherington and Jermaine Pennant at the Britannia – it’s not beyond the imagination that Marshall could, and should have been their future.
The suggestion is that Stoke undervalued Marshall with yet another offer of a short term contract. So it is, he pitches up at a Leicester City side in dire need of a spark of inspiration. On the 31st of January once more, of course. The difference his time is that his arrival was met with the whetting of lips and a chorus of wolf whistles. It seems the ideal home for him to develop under one of the Championship’s top managers and with the pressure off and time to settle – there’s little doubt that his broad, shimmying shoulders and child-like face will be bringing grins to the faces of the East Midland’s city between now and May.