FA Cup success shouldn’t save Roberto Martinez at Everton

By Matt Jones 12/04/2016  0 Comments  [Jump to last]

The ingredients for success in cup football are a few shades removed from what's required to thrive in the domestic, week-to-week grind of the Premier League.

In an elimination-style tournament teams aren't as prone to bunkering in, stifling opponents and trying to snatch a point. So sides possessing players who relish space to burst into and talented individuals can go a long way in any given season, with games often stretched. Those traits have been central to Roberto Martinez's Everton making it to two semi-finals this term.

Yet while the blueprint for a run to a semi-final may differ from one needed to push to the upper reaches of the Premier League, they aren't completely exclusive; one must supplement the other. A steady deterioration in league form means an inevitable demise in player quality, motivation and conviction in methods going forward.

It's why an unlikely FA Cup triumph shouldn't be enough to save Martinez, whose Everton side sagged back into 14th place this weekend with a 1-1 draw against Watford.

That's not to say a piece of silverware wouldn't be lauded. A win at Wembley in late May would be celebrated and as the man to end Everton's 25-year trophy drought, the Catalan would etch himself into the annals of the club's rich history. It'd be celebrated wildly, remembered frequently and Martinez's name would be chanted by the assembled Toffees at the national stadium.

But once the euphoria of that potential triumph had worn off and memories of this Premier League season weaved their way back into the minds of weary Blues, trepidation would settle in again. Because the cup competitions have been a crutch for the manager, one which has been growing increasingly brittle as 2015-16 has rumbled on.

If this tumultuous term had been a one off, perhaps it'd be easier to detach from the top flight and focus on knockout football. But any semblance of structure and cohesion, something inherited and used well by Martinez in his debut campaign, has eroded. And without these core fundamentals, there's going to be a bleak future.

It's a future in which Everton will continue to operate without intensity, without an appetite for the physical battle and without a willingness to match what they may consider modest opposition for hard work. In which the manager fails to recognise and address clear flaws, with the same mistakes made week after week.

The long-term plan now appears to evolve around taking an idyllic view, striving for an unreachable utopia and hoping something clicks into gear. It'd be like trying to scale Everest without doing any preparation and packing any equipment. It might happen, mightn't it?

The template doesn't seem to be washing amongst those in the stands, though, and when supporters turn, like they have done lately, it's a treacherous hike back to a favourable position. Banners laced with discontent haven't been seen amongst Everton supporters this generation; they reflect the mood of a fanbase which recognises the team's long-term plight.

The concerns have been widely covered in the subsequent days. Other fans will pick up on this, as will the players and Martinez himself. The result will be an environment in which it's difficult to impress ideas and galvanise spirit, yet it's one entirely of the coach's own making. And it's not one for which an FA Cup win is the antidote for.

A decent beginning to the campaign allowed this Everton team the chance to focus on cup competitions. Although they're in 14th, 39 points means relegation is not a real threat and the passive theme of recent displays epitomises that position. But under Martinez, whose teams have mainly struggled in the top flight, how much longer will they be afforded such a luxury?

For spells last season there were concerns over relegation, especially in the wake of an abject loss to Stoke City. This term Everton look set to finish even lower in the standings, without the demands of European football to balance. 

How much lower will this team, with the likely loss of its top scorer ahead of 2016-17, slump next term? It's not unfeasible to predict a tussle to stay afloat in the top flight. 

It's a grim prediction, but one which is valid based on recent tangible evidence. After all, this is a side that's yet to beat a newly-promoted team and in their last six league wins—of a meagre nine in total—has only toppled the bottom three. This side, it seems, has found its level under this regime.

An Everton manager with this squad of players at his disposal should look to build a foundation upon which cup competitions can be mounted consistently. The whiff of silver should not be a last resort amidst another campaign of rank bad disappointment. That it is should say plenty to the club's decision-makers.

With new investment secured, the club is on the cusp of a critical summer, one in which a strong precedent must be set. And while Martinez's recruitment has been one of the positives of his tenure, the prospect of him continuing to mould this squad in his image is a terrifying one. A trophy being paraded around the streets of Liverpool, regardless of how sweet a sight that'd be, shouldn't mask that.

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