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.