BIG SEASON AHEAD FOR MARTINEZ & EVERTON
The sheer amount of football coverage available in the modern age of social media and 24-hour news channels brings a huge sense of immediacy to the majority of discussions. Teams can be written off after a single poor performance, players criticised following one overhit pass or a bad effort on goal. The all-encompassing scrutiny dictates that the only display that matters is the one that has just passed.
Roberto Martinez has arguably been both a beneficiary and victim of this state of affairs. When Everton finished fifth in 2013-14, the Spaniard was hailed as a managerial genius who had elevated the club to another level following the David Moyes era, creating a side capable of producing entertaining football without sacrificing results. Things did not go so well last year, though, the Toffees ending the campaign in the bottom half for the first time in nine seasons and Martinez being accused of possessing excessive style but inadequate substance.
Martinez always seems to have been judged through a dichotomous lens. His greatest ever triumph came in May 2013, when he lifted the FA Cup as manager of Wigan Athletic by defeating the billionaire-backed Manchester City, but that was followed three days later by relegation to the Championship. Many ignored the fact that a club like Wigan were always going to be battling against the tide to remain in the top-flight year after year, and used the Latics’ demotion as evidence that Martinez was not all he was cracked up to be. Others perhaps overstated the extent of Wigan’s triumph in English football’s primary domestic cup competition; as remarkable and unexpected as the victory was, their run to the final consisted of games with Bournemouth, Macclesfield, Huddersfield, Everton and Millwall.
The truth, as with many such things, lies somewhere in the middle. Martinez is clearly an astute manager, someone who is capable of molding composite parts into a cohesive unit. At the same time, the 42-year-old is not without his flaws: he has often been criticised for refusing to alter his possession-first principles even when the situation demands it, while his relentless and unconditional positivity began to grate with many Everton supporters last term.
2014-15 was ultimately a strange season for the Merseysiders. Threatened by relegation at one point, they ultimately secured a respectable enough final placing, as well as reaching the knockout stage of the Europa League.
Fans were frustrated at the regression from the previous campaign, however. Martinez’s initial unwillingness to alter his tactics led to criticism, with striker Romelu Lukaku openly questioning why Everton so rarely got the ball forward quickly to him. When experiments were latterly introduced – including an attempt to play 3-5-2 with Gareth Barry in the backline – they rarely worked. Having been on an upward trajectory for much of his career, Martinez was suddenly attracting doubters as the initial enthusiasm from his first year in charge wore off.
The upcoming season could thus be a big one for the former midfielder. While Everton will find it difficult to break into the top six, they can realistically aim to come top of the mini-league below that half dozen ahead of the likes of Swansea, Stoke, Southampton, Newcastle, West Ham and Crystal Palace. With a strong squad containing the likes of Lukaku, James McCarthy, John Stones, Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu, a return to the top half coupled with a decent showing in the cup competitions would be considered a successful campaign.
Should Everton struggle, though, it is feasible that Martinez will come under pressure. That, perhaps, is a reflection of modern times more than anything, but the Everton boss will be desperate to restore the shine to his reputation over the coming ten months. In a world where the only display that matters is the one that has just passed, two underwhelming campaigns could be fatal.