The British press is an incredibly fickle institution.
At the start of the season, David Moyes’ Everton tenure was being rewritten, as if somehow the Scot had held the club back by recording a succession of top eight finishes, due to the sensational progress Roberto Martinez made in his first few months at Goodison Park.
Critical acclaim was aplenty, as pundits, journalists and fans alike were left amazed at how swiftly and effectively the Spaniard had turned one of the Premier League’s most physical sides into one of the division’s most aesthetically pleasing entities.
But now that distant dreams of Champions League qualification have once again become fantasy, as the Toffees find themselves nine points shy of the Premier League’s top four after a run of three defeats in their last six games, questions have been raised as to whether the new, attractive brand of football the Spaniard has brought to Merseyside can actually produce better results, or whether it’s simply a style of play that promotes superficiality over substance.
Indeed, in many respects, the Toffees have moved sideways rather than forwards under their new manager. Everton bobbing around the European places only to fall a handful of points short is a tale we’ve heard countless times before, and Liverpool still hold dominance in the Merseyside derbies -which now hold more significance than ever in regards to final league standings.
But change at Goodison was inevitable this summer for many reasons, and although Everton may have not progressed under Martinez as many expected of them in the earlier stages of the season, the former Swansea and Wigan manager is laying the frame-work for future successes.
I may have subliminally suggested otherwise at the beginning of this article, but I would argue that Moyes’ ascension to the Old Trafford throne couldn’t have come at a better time for Everton.
The notion that he was holding the club back is some way off the mark – if the Scot hadn’t transformed the Toffees from Premier League relegation battlers into top eight regulars throughout his decade-long tenure, it’s doubtful that Bill Kenwright would have been able to attract the services of an FA Cup-winning manager last summer.
But the fact remains that the Toffees were amid a period of disturbing stagnation; they hadn’t finished in fourth place since 2005, and hadn’t qualified for the Europa League since 2009. Their 63 point-haul last season was the second highest of the Moyes era, but even so, they were still ten points away from Champions League qualification.
A change was needed, some youthful, fresh and radical ideas required, and Martinez has provided that in abundance.
Far from the direct, aggressive and physical side Steven Gerrard wrongly accused of being long-ball merchants after last season’s Merseyside derby, the Spaniard’s attractive brand of football has seen the Toffees average 57% possession this season – the fourth-highest rate in the entire of the Premier League.
Furthermore, that rigid structure, that one-dimensional attacking line-up based around the aerial prowess of essentially a defensive midfielder in the form of Marouane Fellaini, has been replaced by a fluency in movement and transition of formations that Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher described as international quality earlier this season – pinpointing how the progressive roles of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines at full-back and the centre-back-supporting services of Gareth Barry allows the Toffees to switch between 4-5-1 in defence and 3-4-3 in attack.
Some would claim these differences are merely superficial – Everton may be far more pleasing on the eye this year, yet results claim that overall progress has been minimal. Considering we are now far beyond the mid-point of the current Premier League campaign, it could be simply a case of the Toffees’ opposition finally working them out, after being an unknown quantity under Martinez at the start of the year.
But what the Spaniard has brought to Merseyside is something so intrinsically vital it’s impossible to quantify in terms of results, points or league position. That mystical phenomena can be best described as ‘identity’.
It’s not that Everton were lacking in it before, although Moyes’ departure did suggest that a crisis of persona could be on the horizon for the Goodison club, and it’s not that their identity under Martinez is particularly unique – in fact, it’s the same identity that Swansea and Wigan both enjoyed under the 40 year-old, with notable emphasis on attractive, possession-based, technically-demanding football.
But it’s unquantifiable benefits should not be overlooked – sticking to those ideological notions saw the Welsh side rise from the brink of plummeting out of the Football League to the promised land of Premier League football in less than a decade.
Likewise with Wigan, their unique style under Martinez kept them afloat in the Premier League for three years, despite their decisive lack of finance and resources, and resulted in a historic afternoon against Manchester City at Wembley.
Perhaps the word unique is the most prevalent in terms of what the Martinez identity provides and how important it can be for Everton. The Toffees will never be able to compete with Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool in terms of spending power or the ability to attract coveted players, but the club’s new soul, their exclusive brand of football, can pave over those disadvantages.
When Roberto Martinez arrived at Goodison Park in the summer, Bill Kenwright informed journalists that the Spaniard believed he could take Everton into the Champions League. That won’t happen this season, but both Swansea and Wigan have proved that the possibilities are endless when you dare to stand out against the grain, and if there’s one thing that will get the Toffees to that European benchmark, it’s the unique personality and identity Martinez has given them since taking the hotseat.
The current campaign may be a sideways step in terms of results, but clear, quantifiable progress for Everton is just around the corner.