Following yet another last-minute defensive capitulation many contributors to ToffeeWeb are increasingly calling for Roberto Martinez’s removal and replacement by a more “savvy” manager who can combine our undoubted attacking prowess with an unyielding defensive strength.
Many are rightly citing that this is the best (and probably youngest) squad of players we have had at the club for many years, and that as such a talented group they should be challenging for a top-four spot, especially as no one team is dominating the Premier League this year. The big problem to many is Martinez, who gets unrelenting criticism for almost every decision – or non-decision – that he apparently makes.
While I am not entirely convinced that Martinez is the right man to lead Everton, we should look at what he has done since he joined the club.
In the final two to three years of our previous manager's reign this site was bouncing with indignation on how boringly predictable we were; every game being a repeat of the previous match, – favourite and aging players being chosen week in week out irrespective of individual or collective performance, same system home and away, players being allowed to leave because we hadn’t tied down their contracts (Dan Gosling), no adventure in our play, and young players only chosen by injury necessity and then discarded as soon as an “old faithful” was deemed fit enough to start. There was also the “dithering” at every transfer window where we missed out on more players than we purchased.
Martinez has addressed many of these issues. He may talk in riddles and over-the-top superlatives after every game which drives the majority of fans to distraction, but he clearly has the ear of many young talented players whom he has managed to bring to the club despite competition from other more “desirable” teams. (Could Moyes have done this?) He does this on the whole under the radar, never speaking about signing players until the deals are done, and he does then play them and give them time to develop. He has tied the majority down on long contracts that put the club in a position of strength during transfer windows, as shown with John Stones at the start of the year. The contracts he has tied Lakaku, Stones, Galloway, Coleman etc into will mean that irrespective of how we eventually fare this year we can keep these players next year unless the club wants to sell.
Martinez does have a stubborn streak and it would not surprise me if he insists on these young stars sticking to the contracts they were happy to sign in the past few years. We are playing with great flair in almost every match. Some of our attacking play is a joy to watch (something which we only produced spasmodically under Moyes) and it is not surprising that we lost a little of our attacking edge when we adopted a more defensive attitude in the recent games against Spurs and City. The “balance” is still a work in progress.
While Martinez also tends to have favourites (Howard/Kone), he is undoubtedly phasing out many of the older players, whilst recognising that the “better” aging players may still offer something from the bench (Osman and Piennar). The latest proposed signing from Leeds would indicate that Hibbert will not feature again, while he has already brought in other young developing talent to eventually take over from Jagielka and Baines in the years to come.
The current and potential resale value of this squad is far greater than anything we have had in the past, and with the influx of the TV monies, we may not be forced to sell to balance the books and the team’s development can continue.
Martinez clearly has a vision that includes the predominance of youthful players supplemented by a few experienced heads, and he is, despite many misgivings, starting to put this plan into action. If we can keep this squad together next year, add the much needed left-sided attacker and resolve the goalkeeping position we may see the attack/defence balance realised.
The flaw in all this however is that Martinez may not be able to hang on to all these “gems” while he assembles the final pieces of the jigsaw. His refusal to deal with the Howard situation means that a golden opportunity has been missed this season, and even if Robles is promoted next year we cannot be sure he is the “right” answer until he has played 20 or 30 consecutive games, by which time another season will be over. The team’s inability to see out games from winning positions – or to only perform for 45-60 minutes in many games – is an indication of something missing both mentally and in fitness terms. These are issues that Martinez must address and he needs to be far more ruthless in his choices. All managers have to make hard choices, the successful ones get the majority of those choices right.
In just over two years of Martinez, however, can we really say that we are not in a better place in terms of our squad, the quality of the football we play, and the long term future potential of the team?
When you analyse this season to date the difference between drawing and winning many of the games this year has been a very fine line based on a few small incidents, something that, incidentally, went in our favour during Martinez’s first season but have repeatedly gone against us this season. Some say there is only a fine line that between genius and insanity. Which side of the line is Roberto on?