A few years ago, when Martinez was in his pomp and the idea of Everton suffering tough times seemed the sole preserve of only the most stubbornly pessimistic of fans, I wrote an article that attempted to contrast our new manager with his immediate predecessor.
In essence it was an exercise that sought to illustrate the differences between two very different approaches to football.
One, as exemplified by Moyes, and others such as Pulis and Allardyce, embraced stability as the greatest achievement for a club. I termed it at the time as the ‘dream of a perpetual seventh’. The theory, so it went, explained that with these sort of managers, let’s call them Roundheads from this point on (and you’ll see why in a bit), shooting for the stars remained something for other clubs, those blessed with greater resources, to do.
For Roundheads, football was about accepting limitations and nullifying opponents, not trying to outclass them. As such, sides that played under these managers were rarely exciting but they were reliable. They would likely never win anything, but they would never go down and, importantly, always ensure that the fans were provided with a feeling of security.
By contrast, when you hire someone like Martinez, and others of his ilk, such as Laudrop, Rodgers and Klopp, what you are getting is a Cavalier. For them, the Holy Grail is the ability to outshine the opposition. Attacking and creativity are given much greater weight than defending. These are the kind of managers extremely comfortable with conceding goals because they fully expect to score multiple times during a game. For them, an open 4-3 victory riddled with defensive mistakes is far more satisfying that a tightly fought 1-0 win. It’s why, despite Everton’s shambolic defensive record in recent months, Martinez has done little to rectify the problem. For him, unlike his predecessor, clean sheets are not a priority.
My article at the time speculated that Kenwright had appointed a Cavalier to do what his Roundhead couldn’t. Moyes, for all his magnificent work, never seemed capable of taking Everton to the next level. Martinez hinted that he could. After all, hadn’t his Wigan side secured silverware? And done so against one of the strongest sides in the country? Here was proof that the Cavalier approach could make a side greater than the sum of its parts. The fact that Martinez’s dashing approach had vanquished the more cautious Moyes methods on the way to that Wembley win probably helped Kenwright in his musings on the Scot’s successor.
But the problem with the Cavalier is what happens when it all goes wrong, when the buccaneering style stumbles, when the goals-for are not enough to counter the goals against. The downside of the Cavalier approach is the risk of a club operating at the very bottom of its parameters.
Every club has these, the likely extremities that they can reach in any given season. When a club like Manchester United has a ‘bad’ season what pundits really mean is that they have finished seventh, or the bottom of their parameters. And when a club like Swansea has a great season, this means they have reached the top of theirs. Although not set in stone (just look at Leicester), these parameters offer a reliable guide as to where a club could finish each season.
For Everton, in the era of Modern Football, our parameters probably extend to fourth at the top down to just outside the relegation zone at the bottom. Under a Roundhead, somewhere in the middle is a likely outcome. Moyes, as probably the best practitioner of his art in the league at the time, did manage something slightly better, giving Everton an average of seventh during his reign (including one actual fourth). Although he had one poor season early on, this was clearly a blip, a momentary failure amidst seasons of solidity.
When Martinez first arrived, his buccaneering mentality benefited hugely from the defensive foundations that existed at Everton. Like some sort of collective muscle memory, Everton’s players retained their knowledge of defending and for a while, a perfect union existed between Roundhead and Cavalier, creating a side that was as sure-footed in attack as it was in defence.
But eventually, the muscle memory faded, the influence of Moyes dissipated and Everton became a more recognisable Cavalier outfit. Over the past two seasons is seems as though the side’s attacking brio has become more impressive at the same rate as Everton’s defensive ability has deteriorated.
Notions such as marking, clean sheets and pressing no longer dominate the club’s character in the way that they once did. Everton might regularly field six defensive players, but they never seem to operate as an effective defensive unit. It’s near criminal that on three separate occasions in recent months, the side has scored three goals and yet still not taken home all three points.
Moyes, for all his limitations, was the best at what he did; the uber-Roundhead if you like. Under the management of a lesser man, like an Allardyce or a Pulis, you couldn’t imagine Everton qualifying for Europe or reaching an FA Cup final.
Martinez, for all his talents, has never been the best at what he does. Everton hired a mediocre Cavalier; worse still, a mediocre Cavalier who had just taken his club down to the Championship. The longer his career continues the more it looks as though that successful Cup run was a blip. Incrementally, he has taken a club that regularly finished in the top seven and with access to more money than any Everton manager has seen for a generation, turned it into one that is slowly sliding towards the bottom of its parameters.
Roberto Martinez, during his reign at the club has given Evertonians some entertaining times. His first season was exhilarating, the Europa campaign briefly exciting and a first League Cup Final in a generation was tantalisingly close. He has also brought some wonderful players to the club and brought on some exciting talents.
But, at the same time, he has virtually destroyed what made Everton so impressive under Moyes and that which underpinned the club’s recovery after the dark days of the 1990s. Everton were once hard to beat and Goodison a difficult ground to visit. That is no longer the case. Against almost every side we play, it’s not a question of if the opponent will score but when. Conceding has become a near inevitability. And his Cavalier approach down the other end of the park is not impressive enough to counter that weakness at the back.
Howard Kendall once said that Everton’s managers get three years to prove their worth. Martinez is nearing the end of his third season and I doubt there are many Blues who would argue that this particular experiment is setting the world alight.
I don’t know who should replace him. There might be a manager out there who can provide us with stability and the capacity to make the most of this talented group of players that the squad boasts. But in reality, suitable candidates look thin on the ground.
What does seem certain though, is the failure of Everton’s dalliance with a manager as carefree as Martinez. He promised a lot and for a time looked like a shrewd gamble. But Bobby’s style is just not good enough to accommodate his tactical shortcomings in other areas. Before things get even worse, it’s time to say goodbye to our ‘phenomenal’ Cavalier.
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.