Thursday 23 November 2017

Martinez promised a football revolution but team lacked fight

Roberto Martinez. Photo: PA
Roberto Martinez. Photo: PA

Chris Bascombe

Roberto Martinez knew he had a problem in the 20th minute of his first home game.

We are in August, 2013. Everton are playing West Bromwich Albion and, as the ball lands at his feet just inside his own half, captain Phil Jagielka has two options.

There is a long, diagonal ball to the edge of the West Brom box, or an easy six-yard pass - backwards - to his centre-back partner Sylvain Distin.

Jagielka chooses the latter, and an audible murmur of discontent spreads around the stadium. With one decision, a philosophical divide that shadowed Martinez for his three years at Goodison Park was exposed.

It is the argument of style over substance; of passing for passing's sake versus the idea the end product is the be all and end all; it is whether methodical, development football is compatible with winning football; of whether talking so impressively about the game's theories can buy you time when performances and results are so uninspiring.

When Martinez joined Everton he believed a football revolution was required. A disciple of the Catalan school, worshipping at the temple of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, Martinez felt he was bringing enlightenment. The most enthused presented it as the reinstatement of the club's 'School of Science' from the mid-Sixties, where the technical brilliance of Alan Ball, Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey passed sides off the park.

But veterans of that era, and those who recalled Kendall's own team in the mid-Eighties, argued there was more to the legendary sides than possession.

They were multi-dimensional teams, able to bully opponents as much as outplay them. To his critics, it seemed Martinez was taking the element of Everton history that suited his own agenda while ignoring how the most feared Goodison teams possessed warriors as well as artists. The 'School of Science' has never been truly defined - that will be as much a problem for the next manager as it has proved for Martinez.

David Moyes's best teams never represented it, either. For all his achievements in steering Everton away from an era of relegation battles to top-six residency, he lost too many pivotal games because of caution. Moyes was respected when he left, but as many yearned for change as lamented his exit.

The senior players Moyes left behind were more concerned than many supporters.

While plenty understood the allure of a fresh face, they were less convinced a radical change of style was needed. A couple of top-class players rather than the undermining of the dogged determination that characterised the best performances of Moyes's reign was what they would have preferred, especially the defenders.

Martinez immediately set out to appease those senior professionals and for his first season there were signs he would win them all over. Jagielka and Leighton Baines were complemented by the signings of Gareth Barry, Romelu Lukaku and James McCarthy alongside the emergence of John Stones and Ross Barkley. For a time Everton looked the most exciting blend of youth and experience.

In his first season, Martinez won more Premier League points than Moyes managed in any single season. It seemed he was taking what Moyes left and enhancing it.

However, here were Everton again, failing in the cups and still outside the top four. Critics were silenced in the summer of 2014 by the more compelling argument that Martinez's first season was the platform to long-term success.

Instead, the levels of deterioration have been alarming. Rather than evolve Martinez's style, Everton have spent the last two years still resembling a squad adjusting to it. All the qualities that won admiration under Moyes - resoluteness, character, organisation - have disappeared.

By spring this season, patience was running out. Everton under-performed appallingly in the Premier League, lacking the savvy and - arguably - the fitness to see through a 90-minute performance. The cups offered hope and the semi-finals ended in misfortune, but the manager who was supposed to succeed where Moyes failed in the latter stages of competitions did not deliver.

Martinez could still have turned it around with a more encouraging league finale. Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman, certainly did not want to sack him, but the dissent was such that there was no choice. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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