Five days to make or break Roberto Martinez' Everton reign
Merseyside derby and FA Cup semi-final crucial to future of Everton boss
Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30
So this is how it goes for a high-profile manager. Join a club, enjoy a good start and then face a bombardment of questions and a series of articles about how you have gone about transforming the mood.
Feel the admiration about how your training-ground idiosyncrasies make the players skip to work. You are so much better than the guy you replaced, with his dourness and pragmatic football.
You are the visionary who studied the managerial greats. Everyone feels revitalised.
At the end of the first season of hope there is despair when teams such as Arsenal or even Barcelona are linked with you. So much so you commit to a new five-year contract. "In many commentators' eyes he is the best young manager in Europe. We agree," says your chairman.
Six months into the second season, the promise is fading.
After a poor start you face a bombardment of questions and a series of articles about why the initial transformation has not been sustained.
Feel the cynicism about how all those training-ground idiosyncrasies make the players dread going work. You are so less trusted than the guy you replaced, players and fans craving a return to the pragmatic football that once made your team so tough to be beat. Revitalisation is needed.
Many supporters have had enough by the final few games of season three. The environment is in need of decontamination as dissent fills the stands.
This is a brief history of Roberto Martinez's Everton career. Season one outstanding, season two a mess, and season three desperately in need of a triumphant finale.
Martinez knows he has five weeks to issue a timely reminder of the possibilities of three years ago. Tonight's Merseyside derby cannot be disregarded, but whatever the outcome at Anfield it is the FA Cup that represents the shield. Beating Liverpool and losing to Manchester United is pointless.
"If we win the games, everything will be fine; if we lose, everything will be my fault," acknowledged Martinez, defending his work as a manager who has taken greater risks by setting loftier ambitions.
"I am not stupid. Nobody should be happy with our teams losing so many games at home," he added. "But I will always promote a style of football that will allow us to compete with any team - and not have a roof of the top seven.
"I came to the club, and on the first day it would have been very easy for me to say I'll find 33 million excuses not to be able to achieve. No.
"Everton should be competing for silverware. Everton should be finding a way to develop young players, to compete against any team in the league and to play eye to eye; to be a team that can score goals; to be a team all the fans want to see, playing at a tempo and winning football games."
Martinez's backers agree he has built a side that can end Everton's 21-year wait for a trophy. It could happen next month.
But those who have had enough have too much evidence in their dossier that while Martinez may have brought noble ideas and put promising players in place, he is not getting enough from them week to week.
Despite the banners, incessant criticism and a fan running on the pitch in an effort to confront him last weekend, Martinez is adamant support for him remains. "I've had many more signs of fans who see what we are trying to do, and they can see how unfortunate we have been this season," he said.
A boardroom historically resistant to managerial changes will comfort Martinez, but even the most loyal chairman in the Premier League will have much to consider if the next two games do not shift momentum.
This was supposed to be the year when the craving of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and John Stones for Champions League football was to be satisfied on Merseyside. Instead, at least two will be asking to leave.
Everton will be paid handsomely - and Martinez will undoubtedly absorb some credit for maximising their value - but how many will trust him to wisely reinvest a summer kitty that could exceed £100m?
The fact that Oumar Niasse arrived for £13m in January and has looked out of his depth does not bode well.
A talented team face being broken up before they have matured or got close to their potential. The performances of Spurs, West Ham and Leicester City do not help - Everton's playing resources are vastly superior to the position they are in. Their league standing represents underperformance on an unprecedented scale.
Not so long ago Everton were the club perceived as maximising their resources, defying an economic disadvantage to consistently place themselves on the fringe of the top four, ready to pounce should the traditional superpowers slip up. This season was their chance, and they have botched it.
That is why the FA Cup is pivotal: a final chance for an impressive squad to go from underachievers to winners. With Farhad Moshiri on board, the plucky underdog tag that has grated on those who recall Everton's trophy-collecting years can be shaken off.
If Everton do not save their season, Moshiri and Bill Kenwright must consider if they can begin next August with so many disillusioned supporters. The first setback would make it torturous.
Martinez accepts this is a defining week, although he sees it in broader terms than his own future. He cannot ignore the personal consequences given how many have lost faith in him to change the dynamic.
For his sake, he needs to emerge from the next five days - and the next five weeks - fielding questions about how he has transformed his club again.