Everton fans’ pessimism surrouding this season is understandable given that David Moyes, the club’s long serving manager left for Manchester United in the summer, and his replacement, Roberto Martinez enters Goodison Park with a questionable Premier League record to say the least. The Spaniard’s FA Cup win at Wigan aside, Martinez’s time at the northern club has been characterised by an attacking flair with a lack of defensive cohesion and organisation, finally culminating in the club’s relegation to the Championship in May. This then, does not sound like the ideal man to replace the man who has shaped one of the most disciplined and organised sides in top flight.
So why then has Bill Kenwright picked Martinez as his hand-picked replacement for the Scot? As mentioned, surely not for his ability to organise a defence, his Wigan side consistently being amongst the wrong end of the goals conceded table, and when you consider the fact that Martinez’ highest Premier League finish of just 15th, the decision starts to look quite peculiar. But football is a sport, not a science, and Kenwright’s decision may be born partially out of a desire to improve the style of football on show at Goodison Park. This is an area where Martinez has already started to make an impact, with Ross Barkley, the teenage prospect at the center of the new manager’s plans, after being marginalised by David Moyes and finding his career stalling after unsuccessful loan moves (incredible that a player so clearly talented was being left on the bench by Neil Warnock at Leeds last season) to Championship clubs over the past year.
Martinez’ Wigan side gained many admirers for their free flowing style of play, and although the Latics eventually succumbed to relegation last season after several seasons of floating against the inevitable tide, Martinez’ reputation seemed to remain relatively unscathed, perhaps due to the enormity of the task of keeping Wigan up every season. Martinez should not escape criticism for Wigan’s relegation but the damage should be leveraged against their unexpected FA cup win, which must be considered ample compensation given the club’s situation. An FA cup trophy, while not as financially rewarding as even a 17th place Premier League finish, carries with it far more prestige and history than another season of battling relegation, a history that Wigan are now a permanent part of. It is unlikely that decades in the future, people will remember whether Wigan finished 17th/18th, but to be the 2013 FA Cup winners is something that people will remember far clearer.
So is Everton’s new man going to be the man that masterminds Everton’s return to the Champion’s League positions that Moyes achieved several seasons ago? Realistically, the answer in the short term at least, is no, no miracles will be achieved on the blue side of Merseyside this season. But this summer’s transfer activity, combined with a valiant and hard-won result over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea do point to an optimistic future for the club and it’s new man. Martinez’ team remain unbeaten this season and have had a good start to a season of transition for the club. In Arouna Kone, Antolin Alcaraz and Joel Robles, Martinez has shown a worrying lack of ambition in taking a trio of his Wigan team up the league with him, but he has hand-picked two of the finest Wigan players in Alcaraz and Kone, if not Joel. James McCarthy is a brilliant replacement for Marouane Fellaini, and the money received from the Belgian will definitely go a long way to keeping the club competitive for this season and the next. The loan of Romelu Lukaku will definitely excite fans, and does hint that Martinez, behind his calm exterior, is a man that would definitely like to push Everton in the right direction, and this is perhaps why Martinez can genuinely be looked at as a worthy successor to David Moyes.
Whether Martinez’ much praised fluent passing style has quite transferred to his Everton team just yet is a matter for debate, yes they have had higher pass completion and percentage stats than last season’s average, but against Chelsea, the hard-earned and much needed win came from a style reminiscent of David Moyes’ tactics, and being brutal, Everton’s most impressive current statistic, of 1 loss in their last 30 home games, obviously owes much of itself to the Spaniard’s predecessor, and he cannot take all of the plaudits, although he has done well to continue this run while initiating a change in style at the club.
The success of Martinez’ reign then, similar to Wigan, will not be judged purely on league position, but also on the transition in style he hopes to achieve, at least for this season at least. A top 6 finish may be beyond the club this season, with the big 6 clubs of the league all strengthening significantly over the summer, but a top half finish, coupled with a start of attractive “Free flowing” football and a decent cup run cannot be criticised for the manager’s first season at a club where, for the first time in the Spaniard’s young managerial career, a transition in styles to marry his own is required, following natural changes at Swansea and later Wigan.
Question marks will still remain over Martinez’ ability to organise a defence, and Everton fans have a right for pessimism in that regard. The win over Chelsea, and the unbeaten, defensively solid start to the season will go a long way to ease those fears, with the team looking hard to beat, solid at the back and boasting some truly exciting attacking options in the trio of Steven Pienaar, Ross Barkley and the incoming loan of Romelu Lukaku. Martinez will look to continue from Moyes’ good work, and continue to make Everton teams hard to beat, a trait that Wigan always lacked, throughout their stay in the Premier League, but Martinez has thus far shown nothing to indicate he will weaken Everton in this regard. It may be that this is a manager that is a better fit at a bigger and better club, and Everton thus far seem a perfect fit for the time being. Hopefully this blog won’t preclude an unprecedented losing run, but this seems unlikely. Roberto Martinez, same as the old boss in some ways, a million miles apart in others, but things seem rosy on Merseyside at the moment.
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