The trepidation some Everton fans experienced upon Roberto Martinez’s appointment at the club during the summer would have mirrored some of the responses at Old Trafford for Martinez’s predecessor. Good managers in their own right, but were they the right choice? It’s too early to draw ultimate conclusions, but based on what we’ve seen so far, Martinez’s appointment has been one of the best “signings” of the entire summer.
The Spaniard is helping to support a trend in English football. At first it was one or two, primarily the big clubs who could afford to take such risks. Arsene Wenger arrived in England and changed the culture at Arsenal on multiple levels. The football, above all, became the defining factor of the Frenchman’s appointment. Liverpool and Chelsea followed suit, bringing about their own successes following the signings of certain foreign coaches. But the impression created on the continent in Spain and in Germany has resulted in almost all English clubs looking to foreign ideas as a means to advance at a rapid pace.
Andrea Pirlo captured the imagination of England last year at the Euros. Has there ever been such envy for a nation over a player who was over 30 and over the hill, according to Milan? Italy aren’t a replica of what Barcelona are (or were) but they use similar ideas.
Could you blame Southampton for choosing to move on Nigel Adkins and replace him with Mauricio Pochettino, a manager who was fired by his previous club? The former Espanyol manager has undoubtedly taken the club forward. Their safety in the Premier League is guaranteed, but also their football has taken a number of steps forward, impressing almost all this season.
Martinez was Everton’s answer for a club who needed to push on and break that glass ceiling that had held them back. He’s already done so, winning away at Manchester United where David Moyes couldn’t and, off the back of other performances this season, has made a strong claim to being a contender for the top four.
But it’s not just bringing in foreign managers that will breed success – and for whatever may be said of a lack of silverware, attractive football is a success. Managers need to be young and forward-thinking. They need to be as energetic and enthusiastic as their players. Is it such a surprise that respected managers like Guus Hiddink and Louis van Gaal are not regular considerations for teams in need of a change? “How can Guardiola improve on this?” went the phrase after Jupp Heynckes captured the treble at Bayern last season. The former Barcelona manager has already improved performances, brought in his own ideas and turned Bayern’s battering-ram style of last season into one who can pass their opponent into submission.
Martinez and others may talk of it simply being their own way of playing, but they’re all singing from the same hymn sheet, making alterations where needed. Martinez has dramatically improved the passing game at Everton. Prior to this season, you wouldn’t talk of them being a team who look to move the ball laterally. Instead, it was vertical and in a quick, direct fashion. And then there’s the pressing that often needs to be combined with this style of football.
Jurgen Klopp made waves in Germany with a high-energy, attacking philosophy that also mimicked Barcelona under Guardiola. Dortmund would create a myriad of chances in games. They would sweep aside opponents, including Bayern, whom they beat on both occasions in the league in 2011-12 and 5-2 in the Cup final, but vitally they were young and had the legs to continue that style of play throughout a season.
The comparisons to Everton and those teams on the continent are clear. The club, based on resources, is a smaller fish swimming in a pond dominated by wealthier regulars at the top of the Premier League table. The brand of football Martinez has introduced, however, has helped to shake any inferiority complex.