In soccer, taking the reigns at a club after the departure of an enormously significant figure is always a perilously difficult task.
For managers, the man who follows “the man” is often handed a poisoned chalice; unable to live up to the magnitude of his predecessor and incapable of galvanizing the team in a comparable manner.
Unfortunately for David Moyes, he failed to offer a solitary glimpse that he was the right man to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United; not once in his ill-fated ten months at the club.
But in amongst the understandable furore that has accompanied his Old Trafford annexing, it’s worth noting that Moyes himself was “the man” not long ago, and consider the astute job being done by the man who followed him at Everton.
Upon leaving Merseyside for Manchester at the end of the 2012/13 season, Moyes left a void at Goodison Park that had been occupied for 11 years. Under his tutelage, the Toffees had undergone over a decade of steady progression, and on his departure it was widely regarded that the Goodison Park club would falter. “All the pundits said the Toffees would drop,” as Evertonians have chimed from the terraces this season.
Roberto Martinez was the man tasked with building on the Moyes legacy. And whilst Moyes wilted under the strain of his unfamiliarly high-profile role, Martinez has flourished.
Granted, the magnitude of one job far outweighs that of the other, but the struggles of the former Everton boss put the achievements of the new one into damning context.
Moyes walked into Old Trafford inheriting a team that had won the Premier League title by 11 points the previous season, had endured a period of sustained longevity, had money to spend and with a dressing room bursting with senior pros engrained with a winning mentality.
Martinez, whilst not in a role quite as high-profile as the Manchester United job, was dealt a similar, if not less idyllic hand. He had the previous longevity, he had the senior pros, but he was restricted in the transfer market and inherited a squad that had become crippled by tentative apprehension when it came to the big pressure games.
The Catalan shipped out a player touted by many as one of the Premier League’s finest midfield players last season in Marouane Fellaini, spending but a portion of the £27 million that he recuperated from the Belgian’s sale, not to mention the £6 million received for the sale of Victor Anichebe to West Brom.
The contrast in the fortunes of both managers since taking up their respective roles is perhaps best illustrated by the Toffees’ 12-point lead over the Red Devils in the Premier League table.
But the gap between the two manager’s manifested itself as something more much more tangible in Everton’s 2-0 win over United at Goodison Park on Easter Sunday, a game that’d prove to be Moyes’ last in the Red Devils hot-seat.
The men in blue played with a clear ideal, with positive intent and with a desire that has been unshakably pertinent throughout the season. United by contrast, operated in a casual, intrepid manner, passing the ball aimlessly and waiting for Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata or Shinji Kagawa to conjure something, out of hope more than expectation.
“We had a lot of the ball. We passed the ball well,” claimed Moyes in the aftermath. “We worked all week on letting them have the ball,” quipped Martinez.
For many, it would have been no surprise had Martinez suffered a fate similar to that which his predecessor has endured this season. Walking into one of the blue-ribbon clubs of the English game and looking to regenerate its entire mantra is not easy. Especially on the back of a period of sustained constancy. But he’s done so with purpose and positivity. With an amicable aura and a contagious smile.
The stylistic premises that Martinez has instilled into the team have been embraced by the Everton players, with senior men like Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka, Leon Osman and Tim Howard immersing themselves in this profound, technical set-up, even in the relative twilight of their careers.
He’s dared to tread where Moyes feared to during his Everton tenure as well. Moyes never properly set the integration of young players like Ross Barkley and John Stones in motion, but Martinez has given these prodigious, yet raw talents plenty of opportunities, facilitating an environment in which they can make mistakes, learn and grow.
Martinez has attacked the big games too. In recent weeks, the Toffees have beaten both Manchester United and Arsenal as they look to continue their charge towards Champions League football. Away from home at the more illustirous stadiums, they’ve shown spades more ambition, preferring to risk losing for the sake of winning.
The work Martinez has done with the players has been superb, too. Established, thoroughbred men like Osman, Gareth Barry and Steven Naismith, have all improved significantly thanks to the work done by Martinez and his team. Whilst the developments in the game of Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and the two aforementioned young players is a testament to the Catalan’s ability mold more youthful talents into top performers.
His immersing in the history of the club has also impressed Blues supporters. Martinez has donned the walls of the Finch Farm training complex and Goodison Park with images of greats gone by. Moyes, by contrast, seemed to shy away from the club’s decorated past, preferring to push the “plucky little Everton” image.
Slowly, Everton are moving away from that label. The club has its swagger back and the fans are beginning to dream again with Europa League football all but guaranteed for next season, and the irresistible prospect of the Champions League still attainable.
The strides Martinez has made at Everton both on and off the pitch have been incredibly refreshing for those of a blue persuasion. The Catalan has received praise for the style and substance that he has instilled in this Toffees team, but to facilitate those changes so seamlessly, so quickly after Moyes’ departure, is arguably the most impressive facet of his reign to date.