I, along with Evertonians from various other independent supporters websites, was fortunate to attend Finch Farm for a meeting with Roberto Martinez [Full audio]. “How long will it take? What time will you get home?” asked my other half. One of the great, personable things about Roberto is his willingness to engage with supporters. 1½ hours we sat with Roberto. No questions did he duck and he replied to practically every question in depth, looking you straight in the eye. An impressive gentleman it needs to be said.
In he came, shaking hands with everybody with a polite greeting. He got the ball rolling, breaking the ice, by asking us if we attended the European games this season. One of the gentlemen there had attended all of the games. “It was great with all the banners” said Roberto. “It was impressive.”
Straight off the bat, Roberto was asked what the one difference is between this season and the relative triumph of the last campaign. “A combination of things” he said. “The big difference has been the expectation we had at the beginning of the season. The first three games in the league, they set the tone for the season. Taking the lead at Leicester on 84 minutes and then drawing the game. We had a real feeling of defeat in the dressing room after the game and there were still 37 games left. Then the Arsenal game. For 60 minutes we were, I thought, at the level of last season and we ended up with a draw. Psychologically we couldn’t reach the same levels of enjoyment in the league.”
He later spoke of overcoming the style of some of the lesser Premier League teams when they have a tactic to combat our passing game. “When I arrived (in the country) in 1995 people used to say “put it in the box, you’ve got a chance to score!” and I used to say “There’s nobody in the box, how have we got a chance to score?”. You need control of the ball. My only disappointment from this season is that we have had 19 leads. 19 leads! You should end up with 15/16 wins and we have a lot less than that.”
Roberto was asked about our beleaguered pre-season and what we can do differently this time around. “I do feel we weren’t as fit as we could have been, but I don’t think we could have done anything else. When you have the World Cup, it is difficult getting the players back into the right shape, though then you see a peak around February/March and that is what we had.”
“This season we have five weeks of pre-season. It’s a very specific period of work. Everyone will be together. Maybe we’ll miss only John Stones (with the England U-21s). We are going to Singapore, we have the two games there. Then we’re coming back and then we’re going to Scotland. Then 2nd August we have a game at Goodison, and that’s the last game before we start.”
I asked him how difficult it is juggling the Europa League with the Premier League. “It is difficult to cope playing Thursday and Sunday.” I pressed him on what the difference is between this and playing Wednesday and Saturday in the Champions League. “Well, travelling is different. You are playing more games in Ukraine and Russia and they are a lot harder journeys to organise, and normally the Sunday, because of the TV arrangements, they are early kick offs. Champions League you are playing Tuesday/Wednesday, more central Europe, it is easier to arrange. I don’t think the recovery period is as good for Europa League teams as Champions League teams but the answer would be that Champions League teams are season after season in Europe and they have the mentality to cope with it.”
He also alluded to the physicality of the Premier League in comparison with the rest of Europe. “In the Premier League you can play at 95% and still lose. In Spain you can play at 60% and win. In the Premier League you have to be at it every game. The other thing is Christmas. Every other game, more or less, they stop. The British game it is the busiest period. I do think there is something which needs to be done if you want to help the Premier League compete in Europe.”
Roberto was asked about overcoming teams' tactics in attempting to stifle Everton’s style of play. He feels the loss of Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar for a large part of the season has contributed towards us struggling to break these teams down and that it will be important to recruit more players like these. “We have one in the youth system who is a special talent but we won’t see him for a few years” he said.
He says that dropping Joel Robles after his three clean sheets was “probably the most difficult decision I had to make in the campaign”. He continued, “I didn’t see the Joel Robles I know until them three games. The reality is, you can not have a goalkeeper who feels he is going to be dropped if he makes a mistake. You need positive people and we have that in Tim Howard. Tim Howard is our number one and Joel Robles is our number two, until that changes. What I was very pleased about it Joel Robles showed to all his fans what he can do. We can not underestimate what we have with Tim Howard. I’m very happy to have Tim Howard and Joel Robles.”
There was a humorous moment when Roberto was asked about spending £28million this summer on a playmaker. “We haven’t got £28million” he said, not realising that a startled Robert Elstone was sitting a few yards behind him. “What excites me about next season is what we’ve got. “Romelu Lukaku, John Stones, Ross Barkley, James McCarthy. And then there’s the experienced players like Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar, Phil Jagielka. We need to be very precise in what we want to bring in. It’s not about finances. It’s not about money. I’m delighted with the young players we have at the club. We need to bring in a centre half, we need to bring in a № 10, we need to bring in a wide player and maybe another player to increase the numbers in the squad.
"I don’t think we need the numbers of this season. Not being in Europe we don’t need these numbers. Rather than bringing in a fifth centre half I’d rather give an opportunity to Tyias Browning who I know is ready. We’ve got the best young players in the league. I don’t see another club with three players aged 21, 22 who have important roles at the club and have the potential that we have.” He did also reaffirm that he is happy with Arouna Kone and that we don’t need to bring in another striker, and also that Gerard Deulofeu is probably not a realistic transfer at this stage, largely due to the Barcelona transfer ban.
He was asked about the “MARTINEZ OUT” graffiti on Goodison Park earlier in the season. “I felt good about it because it was a Howard Kendall and Philip Carter moment... so I’m hoping we will the league this season”. I asked about the injured players:
Leighton Baines - still in a protective boot, should join in the second week of pre-season.
Darron Gibson - should be able to join in straight away.
Bryan Oviedo - should join in the second or third week of pre-season.
Tony Hibbert - has just joined the group. Should have a good break and start the pre-season.
Steven Pienaar - the only one we have to give a lot of attention over the summer. The only focus for pre-season is to get him right.
When asked about the criticism which has come his way this season. “I understand it. I understand the frustration when results are not there. Deep down you are a little bit disappointed, but I accept it. I’ll take responsibility of the results, that’s the way it should work, and the players will take the responsibility of keeping themselves fit and performing well for a team which everyone can be excited for.”
As suggested with his omission from the team in the last two games, Roberto appeared quite resigned to losing Luke Garbutt when his contract expires at the seasons end. “Luke Garbutt has been a real successful story because we have set a two-year program. He went on loan to Colchester and came back and then we started giving him some games in the cup and then gave him his Premier League debut, and European games. He has played 10 first team games this season. We have offered a good contract.
"The player has the right to decide if playing for Everton is his wish. Maybe he feels he will not get the opportunity with two other internationals in that position, but we will give him the opportunity. We have proved that we have a real conveyor belt of talent and that there are players who are there to take his place if Luke doesn’t want that opportunity. As a football club we’ve done everything we should have done. We’ve acted with class. We’ve always wanted to keep Luke Garbutt.”
Is this why he decided to give Brendan Galloway an opportunity in the last couple of games? “A little bit. Luke needed time to think and make his decision and I didn’t think it was right for us if he plays in a game which we needed to win. It was a good opportunity for a young man like Brendan Galloway. I wanted to protect him a little bit (against West Ham Utd) and didn’t tell him he was going to play. If I could have left it until 2.58pm I would have done that but it wouldn’t have phased him. I think Brendan will play the next 30-40 games as a left back and then can probably move to left side centre half.”
A question which has bugged many an Evertonian for many a year is our lack of focus on the League Cup. Will we now focus more on this competition with not being in Europe next season? “The truth is that every team I put out I expect to win. I didn’t expect to lose the Swansea game. When we have a squad like we have, I expect them all to perform. Certain players that day didn’t perform. The line-up wasn’t a problem. We had Tim Howard in goal. Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto’o played 45 minutes each but everybody else, apart from Luke Garbutt, were full internationals.”
Roberto did insist that he was not disappointed with the way it ended for Samuel Eto’o at Everton. “We wanted him to bring that worry into the opposition and give time for Arouna Kone to get fully fit. In September Samuel wanted to play every game and then it was the best position for everybody to allow him to go. We all learnt from him. At one point he was the best striker in world football.”
On how successfully Everton have utilised the loan market over the last few seasons. “Christian Atsu has not had much luck and will become a top player I think. It is rare to get three loan players as successful as Gareth Barry, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu. You can probably put Aaron Lennon in that bracket. Lacina Traore was a disaster. He scores in his first game and then gets injured in the warm up against Chelsea and we never saw him again!” Roberto appeared a little coy when asked whether Aaron Lennon would be with us next season. “We’ll have to see how it pans out” he said.
Roberto nods and puffs out his cheeks when asked about Muhammed Besic’s first season with us. “He is an outstanding player. When I saw him the first time in the World Cup I knew he was an Everton player. He plays with his heart, is technically very useful and is great defensively. He needs more playing time to adapt to that position but he is going to be a terrific player in the future. I felt a little bit bad when I took him out of the team when the fans wanted him to play but I didn’t think he was quite ready to play that role in the team. His contribution has been terrific. 30 games in the first year is more than I expected but he is great for the future.”
And the regular selection off Gareth Barry? “Gareth Barry is such a reliable footballer. There are things which he does off the ball. He covers other players. He gives you a real composure. He always wants the ball. The role he has, probably only Darron Gibson can play that same role. Gareth Barry has had to play more than I would have preferred but in the same way he is such a reliable footballer that what he gives you is a platform for the others to perform. His role to the team is always very positive.”
We couldn’t let Roberto go without asking him about our European campaign, particularly the disaster in Kiev and the selection that night of Antolin Alcaraz. “Looking back, the experiences we had in Lille, and Wolfsburg and Bern. And also, I felt we were unlucky. I don’t think we deserved to go out against Kiev.
“Antolin Alcaraz played against Dynamo Kiev away because he was Man of the Match against Newcastle at home. For whatever reason, there is a campaign against Antolin. Because he came from Wigan? Because he’s Paraguayan? If he plays well he is supposed to play well. If he plays bad it is his fault that the team lost. I’m a bit more neutral than that. John Stones had been sent off against Young Boys. He had an injury as well and he was ill. He didn’t train enough to be thrown into a game of this magnitude.”
“At Goodison we conceded from a soft corner kick and then went back to win the game. They scored some amazing goals. In 1,000 games they will never score goals like that. At 1-1 we were in the best period of the game. We have a corner, from the counter-attack they score and 27 seconds later, whilst Phil Jagielka is on the side getting treatment, they play and score. From 27 seconds from us having a corner, they score two goals, so it was one of those situations that will never happen again, but at the same way during the season we have never been lucky once. The players are desperate to get back into Europe, I can tell you that, and that is an experience that is going to be with us forever.”
At the close, Roberto got up and shook everyone’s hand, looking you in the eye and saying sincerely: “Good to see you”. It was great to meet Roberto again. He is a real gentleman and nothing would please me more than he becoming a success at Everton. Given the season we had it was good of him to front up to the supporters and openly discuss how things are going.
We’ve a big summer ahead and after the success of the 2013-14 campaign, he certainly deserves the opportunity to put it right this coming season. Three or four new players? I’m looking forward to seeing who we bring in and lets hope it’s the right players to help us improve for next season.