XII: False Catalan Dawn (2013-2016)
The School of Science "Re-Opens"
After more than a decade of stability and familiarity under David Moyes, Everton were forced by the Scot's departure in May 2013 to hire a successor charged with taking the club forward and, potentially, in a new direction. While the team had often punched above its weight under Moyes, he had ultimately found the glass ceiling that divided the Blues from the top four and Champions League qualification impossible to break for a second time. It was hoped that the next appointment would be able to take that next step and it was to a candidate deemed more dynamic that Chairman Bill Kenright turned.
Although Porto manager Vitor Pereira and former Schalke 04 boss Ralf Rangnick were said to have interviewed for the managerial vacancy at Goodison Park, it was the enthusiasm, preparedness vision amd smoothe talking of Roberto Martinez – not to mention the fact that his Wigan Athletic side had destroyed Moyes's outfit in the FA Cup quarter final just two onths earlier on their way to an unlikely FA Cup triumph over Manchester City in the final – that ultimately won Kenwright over.
An ex-Swansea City, Motherwell and Wigan player, Martinez had overseen a year-on-year deterioration in Wigan's fortunes and had just taken them down to the Championship after four seasons in the Premier League and that lay at the root of supporter unease over his appointment as Everton boss. Defined in many minds by perceptions of his managerial style – too idealistic, too nice, too defensively naïve, too prepared to chase cups at the cost of survival – his arrival did not meet universal approval but there was, on the whole, a willingless to give him the recent FA Cup winner a chance.
Martinez's first season in the Goodison hotseat, however, seemed to not only blow all those preconceptions away but it had Evertonians celebrating the "reopening" of the School of Science, the notion of which they felt had been cloistered by Moyes's more pragmatic and staid management. Building on the defensive foundations laid by his predecessor, Martinez acquired some precocious and unpredictable flair from his home country of Spain and Barcelona in the form of winger Gerard Deulofeu on loan, bolstered the midfield by signing James McCarthy and Gareth Barry and topped it off with the capture on loan of exciting young striker Romelu Lukaku who had been deemed surplus to Jose Mourinho's requirements at Chelsea.
The new coach's willingness to instill faith in youth like Finch Farm academy graduate Ross Barkley – the teenager had been likened to Wayne Rooney in terms of potential but Moyes had been reluctant to play him with any regularity – combined with a greater emphasis on passing football were all greeted as positive developments even if the Martinez era got off to a slow start with three successive draws, two of them goalless affairs against middling sides that featured a great deal of possession but precious little end-product.
That began to change once Lukaku arrived and had made an electric debut away at West Ham where he headed home the winner in a 3-2 thriller, got knocked out cold in the process but recovered to finish the game. Gradually, Everton began to put together an impressive run of form that would include a 1-1 draw at Arsenal (in which Martinez's Blues, in unprecedented fashion, largely passed their more celebrated hosts off the park and pegged them back with a late and celebrated Deulofeu strike), and a first win at Manchester United for 21 years.
By April 2014, Everton had demolished Arsenal 3-0 at Goodison Park as part of a six-match winning streak and were on the brink of securing a highly-coveted place in the top four. They had Champions League qualification in their hands if they could finish the season with a better record than the Gunners but, unfortunately, they stumbled at the crucial moment. A windswept 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace handed the initiative in the race for fourth place back to North London and though the Toffees would put the nail in David Moyes's coffin at Manchester United with a comprehensive 2-0 win at Goodison Park, Arsenal won all five of their remaining fixtures and edged Everton into fifth place.
Nevertheless, optimism for the following season was high, particularly once Lukaku was signed on a permanent basis for £28m in July. Barry's loan from Manchester City was also made full-time, and a return to the Europa League offered another dimension to what appeared to be a new dawn for the Blue half of Merseyside. Samuel Eto'o was acquired on a free transfer, promising Bosnia-Herzegovina international Muhamed Besic was picked up for £4m, and Ghanaian winger Christian Atsu came in on loan.
Old Habits Die Hard
Unfortunately, a pre-season programme that was severely disrupted by the World Cup in Brazil, where Martinez spent the summer as a TV pundit for ESPN, and the likes of Phil Jagielka, Barkley, Tim Howard, Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas all returned to Merseyside on staggered timescales, made for poor preparation for the new season. That was compounded by a knee ligament injury to Barkley on the eve of the campaign, one that would sideline him for eight weeks.
While the season initially seemed to get off to a decent start, the Blues gave up leads in the opening two matches, most gallingly against Arsenal in their first home game where they allowed the Gunners to come back from 2-0 down with late goals. That, combined with a 6-3 home defeat to Chelsea in the following match was an early harbinger of the troubles to come in the league where the wheels would eventually come off almost entirely at Christmas. Four defeats over the Festive programme, during which time Martinez appeared to have no answer to his team's failings, sparked a brief revival in the New Year when it emerged that the players had had heart-to-heart talks with the manager and asked to play a more direct style more suited to Lukaku's abilities.
However, the league season reached a nadir in a 2-0 defeat at Stoke City that had Evertonians seriously questioning Martinez's managerial acumen. Five wins from the remaning 10 games suggested that he might have been able to right the ship after all and there was optimism that, with the deficiencies in the Everton squad now identified – namely a creative "No.10-type" midfielder and a back-up striker – strong summer recruitment could render Martinez's second season an aberration; a bout of second-season syndrome.
Supportive of that notion had been the Blues' overall performance in Europe. Martinez's side topped their group with relative ease, beating a talented and much-fancied Wolfsburg team home and away in the process, before dispensing of Young Boys of Bern in the Round of 32 with an aggregate score of 7-2. In the next round, Everton travelled to Ukraine with a 2-1 lead from the first leg, equalised in the second leg through Lukaku but were eventually drubbed 5-2 on the night by a rampant Dynamo Kiev and dumped out of the competition.
Those two much-needed squad additions failed to materialise in the summer 2015 transfer window, however. Perhaps pinning his hopes on Barkley being able to carry the side as a No.10 or simply unable to land his targets – a promising bid for Andriy Yarmolenko collapsed late in the window after Dynamo Kiev owner Igor Surkis decided not to sell – Martinez only managed to draft in Deulofeu and Aaron Lennon on permanent deals, acquire free agent Tom Cleverley for the midfield and Argentine defender Ramiro Funes Mori at centre half.
Martinez's Tenure Derails
Still, the 2015-16 campaign got off to a promising start, with the Toffees in fifth place at the end of September with just one defeat and a stirring come-from-behind victory at West Bromwich Albion pointing towards a potential tilt at the Champions League-qualification places. Unfortunately, that proved to be the high point of the league season; Everton would beat just one of the teams to finish in the top 14 in the Premier League between then and the end of the season and a run of just one victory in 10 games – with a 4-0 humiliation at Anfield the absolute low – would cost Martinez his job.
Potential redemption in the cups was also spurned, with Martinez's men throwing away a two-goal aggregate lead at the Etihad Stadium in the second leg of the Capital One League Cup semi-finals, losing 4-3 on aggregate to Manchester City, and then going down 2-1 to Manchester United at Wembley in the last four on the back of a weak first-half performance in the FA Cup.
Coming three days after that 4-0 horror show against Liverpool, the cup defeat to United was believed to have been the final straw for new majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri who had effectively taken the club over by acquiring a 49.9% stake three months previously. In de facto control, the British-Iranian billionaire immediately began making plans to find Martinez's successor, with the decision made to allow the Catalan to see out the remainder of the season before leaving with his dignity intact at the end of May.
Horrible defeats at the coronation of new champions Leicester City and then at Sunderland in the final 10 days of the campaign forced Moshiri to act earlier than perhaps intended, however. With supporter protests planned for the final match of the season against Norwich City, the Board sacked Martinez with immediate effect on 12th May.
While the Martinez era began with so much optimism and positivity and yielded a record points tally in his first season, a mostly inspiring run to the knockout phase of the Europa League in his second and two ultimately disappointing semi-final appearances in the domestic cups in his third year, history will ultimately not look too kindly on the former Swansea and Wigan manager.
He oversaw the first Everton team to go out of the League and FA Cups at the first hurdle in the same season and was responsible for the lowest total of points earned at home in the club's entire history based on three points for a win. He twice lost at Anfield 4-0 and managed to win away against the five traditional Premier League power clubs – United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – just once in 14 attempts. Worst of all, though, he took a squad that was regularly finishing in the top seven, improved it by adding flair and a reliable 20-goals-a-season striker in Lukaku and still managed to finish in the bottom half of the league two seasons running.
Ultimately, his refusal to depart from a rigid view of how his teams should play, inability to fix glaring problems, manage matches from winning positions, or prevent himself from losing the faith and respect of his players proved to be Martinez's downfall and he was never able to see through his vision for Everton.