In the darkest of moments, when the night seems the longest and the outlook bleak, one name emerges from the ether; a haunting sound so terrifying it can chill Evertonians to the bone: ‘Walker’.
Mike Walker is Everton’s forgotten manager. Not forgotten in the sense that we unintentionally fail to remember him but rather forgotten in the sense that as a collective we have wilfully attempted to suppress any memory of the man at all.
But try as we might, he will not be completely erased. Every now and then, when the gravitational pull of the relegation zone starts to exert its influence (however weakly), when form takes a worrying turn, when the side appears spineless; the architect of our darkest moments rears his silver-haired head.
In recent weeks, Everton’s appalling home form and the sense of a side with less backbone than a sea urchin, have led to several people, both in the press and amongst fans to highlight the similarities that might exist between Roberto Martinez and Norwich’s least impressive footballing export.
But does the comparison of Martinez with Walker hold up to scrutiny?
When the man from Norwich arrived at Goodison, some in the press questioned his experience, suggested that his success, for what it was, had been limited to date. In response, Walker said “People say I’m a flash in the pan. Let them judge me on results.” Well then, let’s do just that:
The Welshman’s league record at Everton was dismal, an eleven month reign of disaster. During his stint in the manager’s chair Walker had a win ratio of just nineteen per cent.
When set against the context of other Everton managers since the Second World War, this ranks him as the worst boss the club has ever had.
Although going through a tough time, Martinez’s comparable league record looks pretty impressive:
With a win ratio of around forty per cent, he is better compared with managers such as Harvey and Moyes. Unlike Walker, he also appears capable of putting together decent cup runs, recognising and signing talent and occasionally making his brand of football click.
And even if you strip out that first impressive season, when Everton under Martinez won twenty-one games from thirtyâ€“eight, his win ratio is still significantly better than Walkers, albeit more in keeping with lesser managerial lights, such as Gordon Lee, Billy Bingham and Cliff Britton.
But although ostensibly a more effective manager than hapless Mike from Norfolk, there are some similarities between the two.
Like Walker, the current manager’s sides seem to place more emphasis on playing football the ‘right’ way than getting results. Like Walker, Martinez seems utterly incapable of recognising his own culpability in defeat. And like Walker, he also seems unable to respond to adversity by changing his approach.
There are also similarities to how each publically responded/responds to dips in form. It’s noticeable that Evertonians are becoming increasingly infuriated by Martinez’s positivity after games and the feeling that he has watched the unfolding action through some sort of distortive prism, one that enables him to perceive an entirely different fixture; a match that reflects much more kindly on his managerial abilities.
Walker used to do this. After a mauling, in which his tippy-tappy footballing sensibilities were decimated by the hard reality of the Premier League, Walker would tell the press how ‘in the game’ Everton were, how unfortunate they had been, how there were signs that his philosophy was taking root and yielding results.
His greatest example of self delusion came after he was sacked, when Walker told The Times that:
“The timing does seem bizarre. I'm disappointed at what's happened, particularly as things seemed to be turning round. I would have thought I'd have got a little bit more time to prove otherwise, but it wasn't to be. If it was going to happen I'd have thought it might have been a few weeks ago when the storm was at its height. In the last two games it's the first time we've had two clean sheets. "
At the time Everton were bottom of the league, with eight points from fourteen games. The recent upturn in form that Walker referenced included draws against Arsenal and Norwich and (that rarest of things) a win against West Ham. But none of these games could be defined as classics. The Norwich fixture in particular was something of an invisible match; absent from the Pools coupon, characterised by a woeful lack of creativity (just three shots the entire match) and the recipient of a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ eight second slot on Match of the Day.
But perhaps the most damning similarity for Martinez is the growing sense of a manager who is underperforming with the talent available.
Walker inherited a mediocre squad and with more money than was provided to his predecessor, turned them into relegation fodder. Joe Royle then took over that group of players and converted them into a top seven outfit that also won the FA Cup.
Roberto Martinez inherited a squad that had consistently, and on a tight budget, challenged for the top seven. With more money than was provided to his predecessor he has turned them into a group of players that could conceivably finish in the bottom six.
Roberto Martinez is nowhere near as bad a manager as Mike Walker. If he was then we would be Newcastle or Villa right now. But like Walker, he seems incapable of making the most of what he has and unable to recognise that fact too.
By all accounts, both managers were/are very nice men. But being nice is not enough in the cut throat world of the Premier League. Everton need a manager who understands the pressure to succeed at the club, is capable of capitalising on our potential and who feels the frustrations of the fans.
Walker was incapable of the above and it looks like Martinez is too. And in that sense, their similarity is disappointingly apparent.
Jim Keoghan is the author of Highs Lows and Bakayokos, the story of Everton in the 1990s, which is published by Pitch Publishing later this year.