There has been a lot to be thankful to ESPN for during their 2010 World Cup coverage this summer, but the most significant contribution – by far – has been the rise of Roberto Martinez in the role of ESPN studio commentator.
The Wigan Athletic manager is no stranger to soccer punditry. The Spaniard is often seen on Sky Sports television sharing his opinions to the UK audience. But in his role as an ESPN analyst has elevated his profile to a US audience, many of whom are not as familiar with his off-the-field skills.
There’s a refreshing quality about Martinez that makes him stand out so far from others. It’s a combination of the sheer delight he exudes sitting in the chair and talking about the sport he loves. Plus, he has an amiable personality that makes you want to listen to him. On top of all of that, and most importantly of all, he is the perfect pundit. He tells you how exactly what you need to know. He’s educated in the game and can explain tactics in a direct and easy to understand manner.
The best example for me was the half-time analysis by Martinez during the Greece against South Korea match. Martinez clinically described why Greece was having so much trouble in the first half getting into the game and then recommended what formation changes the Greek side needed to make. It was almost as if the Greek coach was listening to Martinez because moments before the second half whistle sounded, Greece made an important change and tried to change things up.
What has been most interesting to me is the ease of Martinez’s approach to punditry and how comfortable and knowledgeable he appears in his role. So much so that he has completely overshadowed fellow and more well known pundits such as Ruud Gullit and Alexi Lalas.
Martinez is a breath of fresh air and someone that US audiences can relate to. He’s well spoken. Even with his accent, he’s easy to understand and exudes confidence. This is a pundit I could listen to for hours. And for ESPN and ABC, that’s a wonderful asset.