Watching the Arsenal game reminded me of when I was a young PE teacher managing my first school team. They were a talented bunch captained by future Blue Tony Grant but I was unable to get them to win a trophy as we were beaten by teams with less talent but with managers who were older and more experienced than me.
Like lots of new managers, I would try unusual moves such as playing the centre half at centre mid ( Keegan tried the same with England). But I worked at my craft and learned from those wise old PE teachers. Instead of trying to come up with something new they concentrated on basics: organisation, communication, players all knowing their role and what they had to do in each situation â€“ corner, fast break, long throw, whatever. For example one time vs Brookfield we had a corner and 30 seconds later fell behind to a well-rehearsed fast break.
Gradually I became more effective and my teams practiced set pieces, copied the Arsenal off-side trap, learned choreographed moves that Ferguson used with his young team. I learned to give each player an individual responsibility at corners, free kicks etc.
If nothing else, each player â€“ no matter how talentless â€“ knew where to run and where to pass at fast breaks. They learned to prepare to break down the right if their left back was taking the corner. They learned that if they didn't do as they were told they were subbed off. Ten years on I was able to guide my less talented teams so that they beat schools full of academy players.
This article is not about me; lots of people who manage amateur teams learn as they go. How many top managers are skilled at their job and how many are just jammy? Was Brenda any good or did he look good because he had Suarez? Was Kendall a great manager or did Reid and Gray create the team spirit that carried a team to success? Kendall's second spell was a disaster because he decided to build a team in the image of the 1986 Poland World Cup side â€“ all small and nippy â€“ so he set about buying small players and we were beaten in the air; a theory that failed.
Mourhino is clearly good at what he does' Ferguson built several great sides and Wenger has kept a team in the top 4 for 20 years. Pulls, Allardyce, and Hiddink seem to produce well organised sides but lots of others have a short spell of success but can't seem to turn things around when the wheels fall off â€“ Bruce, Pardew, McLaren, Monk?
So when you assess good managers, where do you put Roberto?
For me, 3 things are key.
- When you play sides a second and third time, have you learnt to outthink the opposition? We had a great 1st season under Martinez but we should not be surprised that, in Europe's top league, our opposition managers have sussed Martinez's first tactical plan out. The rot started a while ago.
On Boxing Day 2014 we lost to a Stoke team that had a clear game plan. They pressed us until the ball was passed back to Tim for a long hoof and at that point they won it back. With our centre halves on their own 18 yard line to receive a ball passed back to them, McCarthy and Barry had an area that ran from the half way line to the 18 yard line to patrol and Stoke passed it round them.
Moyes would have filled that same space with two banks of four. Against Arsenal two weeks ago I watched the exact same thing. No wonder Mo and Cleverley looked awful â€“ they were "one-twoed" to death by a team that are the masters at it. We gave them so much room.
The second goal looked like a prepared response to a well-known feature of our game. They knew that at some point one of our centre halves would run forward and so when Mori did exactly that, they were ready for him and they broke into the lane he should have been in. It was like watching the experienced PE teacher against the novice. When Martinez changed to a back 3/5, Wenger immediately sent his forwards out wide to counter Baines and Coleman going forward.
I watched Cleverley almost give up as he was forced to play 3 v 1 on the left side of midfield. I was behind Martinez and heard him say to Bainsey who was clearly concerned "Don't worry" and gestured for him to stay in left winger's position. Wenger swotted Martinezs juvenile tactics aside. Soon after, you could see that the players had no idea where they should be.
So I have looked for signs that Martinez has learned over nearly 3 seasons â€“ what can he come up with now that plan A has been rumbled? All I see is blind optimism.
It is an insult to the rest of the Prem to think that one tactical ploy will work game after game. We have been sussed and any organised side who is disciplined enough to avoid chasing the ball can allow us to pass it in front of them until they get their chance to use their fast break or their set piece or corner. No shock that we have been beaten by Hughes, Allardyce, Pulis, Pardew and Bilic.
Martinez is protected by his niceness but there seems to be a pig-headed quality that results in a refusal to work on things that all other teams must be doing such as corners and set pieces or even seemingly, preparing to counter the oppositions strengths.
Prior to the West Ham game I read an article which talked about Bilic's method of preparing a specific game plan for the opposition and how he had targeted Liverpool's weakness in the air. It was surely a nap that he would do the same to us with our record from crosses yet when we went down to 10 men and they brought Carroll on, suggesting crosses were going to come raining in, he took off a midfield player and sent a centre-forward on.
- The second measure of a good manager is the performance / development of individuals. Lukaku and Lennon are clearly better and Barkley has improved on last year but the defence, Mirallas, McCarthy, Howard , Cleverley are significantly worse.
- The third is clearly visible discipline and organisation. Again I just don't see any. Players are doing different things.Are we supposed to be chasing the ball or following the man? Are we pressing high or waiting until they come into our half? You can't tell and we should be able to.
Either he hasn't communicated the plan sufficiently or he has and they are ignoring him - both are unacceptable.
Let's face facts â€“ the worst goals at home record with 4 defenders who would be snapped up. The second-worst record of tackles won with midfield players who would be snapped up. The least number of goals from corners â€“ the list goes on. We are living on the possibility of a cup final and people are referring to a fabulous victory over Chelsea. Was that Roberto's tactics? To me it seemed that Rom just got a cob on and went for it .
Like Rodgers with Suarez, Martinez's ability as a manager has been hidden by Rom's goals. I would even go so far as to say that his first season was aided by a defence that had been marshalled by Moyes.
And here's my final point: I would take Davey Moyes back. How many of you went to Arsenal expecting to get beat? How many predicted that Watford would equalise?
When did you go to a game under Moyes expecting to get beat? When did players not put in100% for him or look so unfit?
Referring to my 3 key points, we beat teams who used to beat us, players improved under him and they were organised and knew what the game plan was. I can't go along with this negative Dave reputation â€“ I remember loving the interplay between Arteta, Peinaar and Baines. Just as Martinez gained from Moyes's defensive organisation, our next manager â€“ whoever that is â€“ will benefit from the free flowing football that Roberto did develop.
I know from an insider that after Moyes's second season â€“ a major disappointment â€“ that he met with the senior pros to ask what was going wrong and I believe he was told that training was boring. So Davey brought in new people and new routines and season three went well.
Martinez's admonishment of Baines is a red flag for me. He is squashing dissent; that will just build. The faces of the players are telling their own story â€“ they don't believe in him. Appearing friendly while remaining in ruthless control does not compare with Moyes who appeared angry but seemed to get on with the players.
Either way Roberto has to go. You cannot be a Premier League manager with such a limited set of skills in a world where your opponents contain the full range.