It’s very easy to get swept up in Roberto Martinez. You can see why, when he met Everton chairman Bill Kenwright for the first time in the summer of 2013, he talked himself into the job that was to be vacated by David Moyes.
The Catalan is a tremendous orator, has bright ideas about soccer and always sets his teams up to play in an expansive, enterprising style. With his unrelentingly positive outlook and trust in youngsters, there’s a sense that something special is never too far away. It’s refreshing.
They’re qualities which make it difficult to ever completely write Martinez off, as there’s always something there to cling to. But as Evertonians reflect on another cup exit, the surrendering of another two-goal lead and the prospect of returning to a Premier League campaign in which they find themselves in 12th position, the well of goodwill is running dry for a manager previously revered in L4.
SEE MORE: Martinez’s mistakes are costing Everton.
The swell of opinion against the Catalan has not been been a swift process. After a marvelous debut campaign was backed up by a moribund 2014-15, many still retained faith in the Martinez mantras, especially given the added demands the Europa League placed on the squad.
But with a brilliant core of young players, some experienced heads and just domestic matters to focus on, many anticipated the 2015-16 season to be different – a chance for Martinez to show his second term, not the first, was a blip on the road to achieving his vision of soccer utopia at Goodison Park.
Yet with the finest striker in the league at the point of the attack in Romelu Lukaku, a maturing midfield dynamo in Ross Barkley and a young defender in John Stones who some value at 50 million pounds, this squad has toiled. Now, they’re regressing.
The concerns many supporters had about Martinez, ones which were buried away in the subconscious after his thrilling first season, are beginning to manifest. To get through soccer matches in English football, you need to be able to defend leads and have a strong home record. You need to have a team which is structured, hard-working and savvy. Everton don’t tick any of these basic boxes. They’re traits which have been associated with the Toffees for so many years, but they’ve been whittled away gradually over the past two seasons.
Lately, that’s been too evident in Martinez’s side. Two points were dropped in the 98th minute in two games in the space of 48 days, against Bournemouth and then Chelsea. Losses at home to Stoke City, Leicester City and Swansea City included some of the worst defending Everton supporters have seen in a generation.
But for plenty, the loss to Manchester City was the final straw; not because the Toffees lost, but because once again, a lead was surrendered and no resistance was shown. Ross Barkley’s goal put the Toffees 3-1 ahead on aggregate, but the team couldn’t even get through to extra-time.
Ultimately, these woes stem back to the manager. His team lacks shape and strategy when out of possession, his substitutions, which were proactive and bold in his maiden term, suggest a cluttered mind, and the fitness of the side when compared to other Premier League outfits leaves so much to be desired. They’ve become a soft touch.
Martinez has his virtues. His teams play brilliant, daring attacking football at times, and as is evident by the crop of talent in the squad, he has a tremendous eye for talent. Having assembled this squad, you could make a case for the manager deserving more time to work with it ,too. But those attributes, without the accompanying ability to motivate, organize, make ruthless decisions and learn from mistakes, are more indicative of a fine director of football, not a manager.
And now those same qualities which earned Martinez such acclaim from Evertonians early on are beginning to irk. Branding Gareth Barry as one of England’s all-time greats and predicting that Stones will go on to become one of the best players the country has ever seen are just two examples. There is a fine line between effusive praise and plain delusion.
The fans are growing tired of these comments, the “results are secondary to performances” approach, the uncomfortably upbeat press conferences and the unwillingness to address the clear flaws in the side. And if these comments are starting to niggle at the fanbase, they’ll surely be festering among the players, too.
But the worrying thing for many Evertonians is that despite the team’s predicament, the manager is under no pressure. Teams Everton like to consider themselves equivalent to, take Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool or Southampton, would not put up with this output from these players.
Yet Martinez has an untouchable aura and a fair way down the list in the bookmakers’ sack race stakes. Everton haven’t dismissed a manager in 15 years, after all, and looking at those calling the shots at the top of the club currently, there is nobody you’d back to make that kind of decisive call.
Of course, stability should be encouraged in football. But two-and-a-half seasons as manager is long enough to make a mark on a club and build a team in your image. Martinez, who is both endearingly amicable and infuriatingly idyllic, is well into that process, and unfortunately for Everton, his philosophy is not conducive to any kind of long-term success.
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