Back in June 2013, Roberto Martinez was unveiled to the media as Everton’s new manager. To his left, the Toffees’ wide-eyed chairman Bill Kenwright waxed lyrical over the acquisition of the Catalan, rattling off the credentials that convinced him the former Wigan boss was the right man to take Everton forward.
Understandably beaming and in typically theatrical fashion, Kenwright revealed to the watching world “Roberto’s first words were ‘I’ll get you in the Champions League’.”
There was a bit of an awkward silence and an uncomfortable shift from Martinez. The Champions League!? Everton?
A team that had been punching above its weight for a decade under the departed David Moyes? A team predicted to crumble under the tutelage of a relegated boss? A team who can’t compete financially with the majority of mid-table Premier League clubs? Not a chance, surely.
Whilst the majority of the watching world quaffed at this suggestion, for Evertonians, it was a welcome dose of lofty ambition. The Goodison Park outfit are one of the most decorated clubs in English football, after all. Why shouldn’t they be fighting it out at the top of the table? Why shouldn’t they be dissatisfied with mediocrity? Why shouldn’t they be playing in the Champions League?
Ten months down the line and Martinez’s boast no longer looks like blind aspiration, for Everton’s Champions League fate is completely in their own hands. Win all of their remaining seven games and it’s theirs. The glitz, the glamor, that wonderful, stirring music; Europe’s premier club competition is there for the taking.
This Sunday’s clash with Arsenal will go a long way to determining whether or not the Toffees can breach the top four. Win, and they’ll be one point behind the Gunners with a game in hand and a superior goal difference. As for a draw or a defeat? No other result will be good enough for those of a blue persuasion, as Arsenal would surely waltz to fourth place if they were to avoid defeat at Goodison.
It’s an immense opportunity for the Toffees. It’s a chance to prove those aforementioned doubters wrong, to secure a welcomed financial windfall for the club and perhaps most importantly, to rid themselves of the nearly-men tag that has weighed the club down since their last piece of silverware in 1995.
The valiant losers, punching above their weight, consistently overachieving; Evertonians have had enough of those tired, patronizing clichés. They want to see their team up against the best, playing at some iconic stadiums and winning some big, big games.
The pathway to those sorts of occasions can start to be paved on Sunday. The fans are due a performance in a crucial game. Too many times down the years, Everton have been gripped by fear and apprehension in vital contests. Granted, there have been signs this season that this inferiority complex is gradually being shed, but the current campaign has been punctured with instances where the team still seems haunted by the ghosts of big games past.