I remember watching Spanish Football on Sky about 8-10 years ago, each week there was a Spanish panellist, he played for the now fallen Chester City, I couldn’t comprehend other than being from that neck of the woods, what his credentials to comment on the Galactico’s et al was. The name always stuck with me though, when I saw he was named manager of Swansea City, at the time I thought “the bloke off the telly?”, but now I see a completely different man, one with a specific vision, immersed in football history and a continued student of the game. Roberto Martinez, I apologise, wholeheartedly.
The further Evertonian’s got into David Moyes’ tenure, the more difficult it became to identify a possible successor, he had run our club for 11 years and ran it well, make no mistake. All the players were his players, installed into every player was that dogged mentality to not lose and we had seen glimpses of good times returning to Goodison throughout that period, so if he was to leave, then what? Did a stable team like Everton become part of the managerial merry-go-round year on year or would it be someone from inside the club promoted to continue his predecessors good work in a similar fashion, they needed to know the club, understand the finances and want to build their own legacy, it would be difficult, as realistically there are not many to fit that bill.
The first time I thought we needed a change at the top was in the FA Cup Quarter Final last season against Wigan, Martinez’s side outplayed Everton in every inch of the pitch for 90 minutes, they looked like a team bubbling with self belief and a desire to win, Wigan, that team that were scrapping for their lives at the foot of the Premier League table, again. With three minutes to go, David Moyes approaches Roberto and shakes his hand, we were 3 nil down at the time, however, in my opinion, you never concede the game, never. He’d lost his passion and drive for Everton Football Club and it was there for all to see, now whether he already had that inkling that the United call was imminent we may never know, but one suspects he did and was just seeing out his days.
Fast forward to the summer, Moyes had taken up residence down the East Lancs Road and Everton appointed Roberto Martinez, following a month long search and a number of secretive interviews with candidates from across Europe. Martinez was coming off the back of the euphoria and heartbreak of football within a week, following the FA Cup victory and relegation of his former club.
He seemed unperturbed by what he had witnessed and saw it more as a learning curve for him to build on rather than dwell.
The pressure was on from day one, not only did he have to win round a squad loyal to their previous manager, his chairman had also informed the worlds media that what had won Roberto the job was his desire to get Everton into the Champions League, ahh bless him smirked the majority of Fleet Street. Unbeknownst to us, the squad had been told the same thing on his first day and that was their target for this season. This was a group of players who were used to going to Anfield, Old Trafford, The Emirates etc and playing for a draw, at best, to quote David Moyes “we went in hoping to get out alive”, now being told that they were expected to finish at least amongst it not higher than those they had previously feared somewhat.
The positivity leading into the season was building, Roberto had made sure he embraced Everton’s glorious past and football culture. We’d made signings in pre-season, who had a bit of flair about them. We were used to waiting until later in the window to get the best price. He made every player feel important, bringing in the youth team players to integrate with the first team in order to assist their progression quicker as well as challenge the more established for places. Along with his chairman, he stood firm with United over Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, eventually selling the latter for more than offered previously for the pair. With that money he was able to sanction 3 integral signings in James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku. McCarthy in particular has been a revelation, he has the makings of an Everton great already, and that bite in midfield we have missed since Lee Carsley left but with a fantastic passing range and ability to break up play easily.
Following the damp squib of the opening 3 matches, the only highlight being the emergence of Ross Barkley from the shadows and into the starting eleven, where there were a lot of passes but lacking that killer edge as we drew all three, things started to become clearer and Martinez’s philosophy began to click more against Chelsea at home. We were more aggressive, not just in the tackle, but were playing great counter attacking football, with Barry sublime in midfield and McCarthy feeding off his experience. Both made their debuts in an eventual 1-0 victory to get the ball rolling. Steven Naismith scored the winner that day, another player brimming with confidence and playing in a more natural central role. No longer the boo-boys favourite target.
From then on Martinez’s positivity has been infectious and mountains are being scaled by his side, when Baines was out with injury, Bryan Oviedo, sparsely used under the previous regime, slotted nicely into his role, scoring the late winner at Old Trafford, our first victory there in 20 years, and the first of the eventual double over United leading to our former manager’s demise. No longer were we just trying to get out alive, leaving our opponent feeling that way instead. We have an actual squad now. No one can rest on their laurels. Previously we had eleven players and some others, now we have twenty-three players who know their role for that specific game be it a starter, substitute or student.
As an England fan also, Martinez although Catalan by birth, has a real love for his adopted nation. He cares passionately about the English youth development and is striving to produce players for the national team. Barkley, on-loan at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds last year, is now one of the adored youngsters heading to Brazil for the World Cup. John Stones, David Moyes’ final signing for Everton, looks like he has been a pro for 10 years. He's so comfortable on the ball and not afraid to run with it and was very close to getting a call-up. Our bench has regularly featured Luke Garbutt and U21s captain Ty Browning, both promising defenders who are being integrated for the next stage of their career with Everton.
The push for Champions League in his inaugural season at the helm was always going to be a tall order, even when it was in our hands it meant we would basically have to win every game until the end of the season, although in the classic luck of Everton Football Club, our points total this year would have got us into the top four in the prior four years. Martinez as ever will learn from the what ifs of this year and try to correct them for next time. However, fifth is a fantastic achievement. We have our highest points total since the Premier League began and Europa League is secured for next season.
This summer is huge for Roberto Martinez, the expectation was indifferent last year, now it’s very high, especially with the season our neighbours have had after their “transition year” last campaign. He clearly wants to hang on to his loan signings for at least a further year, although I expect a firm bid for Romelu Lukaku to test Chelsea’s value of the player. Roberto will have the self belief that we can progress further, he will install that into his squad and his dream of Champions League football at Goodison Park will become a reality.
Roberto Martinez, more than “the bloke off the telly”, a lot more.
By Jack Dowden - Everton fan -