Why disliking Roberto Martinez is really quite difficult. But is he any good?
Towards the end of his time at Everton I began to feel sorry for Roberto Martinez. This annoyed me because I didn’t want to feel sorry for him. I wanted to laugh at Everton’s demise and point out all the reasons that Martinez wasn’t the master tactician people had previously championed. I guess that’s the problem with wanting to criticize an inherently nice man.
I can trace my attitude towards Martinez back to the summer of 2012. Liverpool, my team, were manager-less and rumoured to be after the then Wigan manager. He was far trendier than Swansea’s Brendan Rodgers – who would arrive with his own host of quirks and, ultimately, flaws – but I was stubbornly against the Spaniard. I didn’t want to appoint the manager who had guided Wigan to 16th, 16th and 15th since taking over from Steve Bruce.
How they came 16th in 2010 I’ll never quite understand. They had the worst goal difference in the league and mustered a measly 36 points. A touch of class by Charles N’Zogbia here and there plus ten important Hugo Rodallega goals helped Martinez navigate out of the firing line. On the last game of the season they lost 8-0 to Chelsea.
They started the following year with 0-4 and 0-6 defeats to Blackpool and Chelsea again. A predictably tough season followed before Wigan had a jubilant finish to the campaign winning their final two league games and escaping relegation. They had only lost four games since the end of January and Wigan’s love affair with springtime had started.
The 2012 season cemented the Martinez/Wigan style. In the autumn they lost eight straight matches and had limped to just four wins (one at home) by March 17th. Martinez rallied the troops and his side won seven of the final nine games. 21 huge points saw Wigan climb to 15th with Martinez owing to Shaun Maloney and Victor Moses this time around. The worst thing about this pattern was that it left summer conversations peppered with talk of Martinez being a great manager.
For the record, I wanted Wigan to stay up. But I didn’t rate Martinez. For starters, his sides had a tendency to concede. It’s difficult to criticise the Spaniard’s fluid Swansea side (2007-2009) but they were known for scoring, not stopping, goals and claimed a dominate League One title whilst conceding nearly one a game. His Wigan side, admittedly up against it in the top division, were never far away from a drubbing. However, the season before Martinez arrived Wigan had proved what could be achieved finishing 11th and conceding just 45 goals. They shipped 32 extra the following year.
I’m usually not one to pile everything on the manager’s shoulders. I always look to attribute both success and failure to players first – especially if a manager’s intervention isn’t abundantly obvious. However, Martinez has always been successful at putting his print on a side and Wigan’s questionable campaigns were at least partly down to him. He stayed a further year and Wigan stunned the country by winning the F.A cup courtesy of a Ben Watson header. However, Martinez’s magic, or luck, had finally worn off and a terrible winter had sentenced Wigan to relegation at last. And then Everton came knocking.
Instead of struggling on his arrival in Merseyside, Martinez guided Everton to a huge 72 points winning 21 games and conceding just 39 goals. Romelu Lukaku excelled, Ross Barkley emerged and full-backs Leighton Baines and Sheamus Coleman netted 11 times between them. Martinez had never had such riches at his disposal and sparked a sleeping squad into life.
At the end of his first season at Everton I was a Martinez convert – or at the very least happy to say I was wrong – but the next two exploited his flaws. The following year started with one win in six, conceding 14 times. Patchy form continued and a dismal Christmas period saw Everton adrift of the top ten. The defence would only partially improve and goals began to dry up – at one stage the Toffees scored four goals in nine games. Everton would pick up in the spring – as per any Martinez season – but issues remained all over the pitch. A fair share of the blame went to the misfiring squad but Martinez looked out of ideas.
Everton kept faith, Lukaku and John Stones stayed, and a return to the top six was targeted. The season was defined by a failure to turn draws into wins, often conceding late goals or throwing away winning positions. They were never in the hunt for the top eight, let alone top six, and finished 11th once again. Everton’s flaws transcended Martinez but people seemed reluctant to blame the Spaniard at all.
There’s been plenty of high points in Martinez’ managerial career but his reputation is still highly flattering. He failed to take Everton to the next level and instead replaced the stability laid by David Moyes with a tactical patchwork. He’s almost impossible to dislike – I’ve really tried – but I’m not sure how he’s snuck into the upper managerial tiers.
And he’s just done it again! Last week Belgium, ranked number two in the world, approached Martinez with a chance to turn their rough diamonds into tournament winners. He must interview well because there’s little in his past that suggests he is befitting of the role. He’ll be joining up with Lukaku once more and I’m not sure how happy the big man will be.
Having watched a lot of Martinez interviews over the last few days I’ll give him his due – he’s a good talker and the sort of figurehead you would want to represent your club. He’s very humble, holds no grudges, and isn’t afraid to break the status quo. He’s also mastered the managerial dark art of moaning without sounding like you’re moaning. It’s for these reasons he’ll carry on floating from good job to good job. If Belgium fail to qualify for the World Cup he’ll probably wind up managing Barcelona. After two baron seasons at the Nou Camp he’ll land the FIFA presidency.
It seems nice guys don’t always come last – but they come 11th a lot.