It has been an encouraging start to the season for Everton. 13 games in they find themselves sixth, level on points with Manchester United, and well within shooting range of a Europa League spot. In the light of last weekend’s draw with Liverpool at Goodison – a game they arguably were unlucky not to win – it is safe to say that Everton is still one of the outsiders in the race for European football. The tradition of punching slightly above their weight, and compete with teams that harbour far bigger financial credentials, is preserved by new manager Roberto Martinez. A manager who made his trade by precisely looking past economic barriers, and finding other ways to make his team competitive. This begs the question:
Is Roberto Martinez the master of making teams perform beyond their ability?
Dave Whelan seems to think so. Wigan’s notoriously overexcited chairman, and Martinez’s former employer, recently spoke of his great admiration of the Spanish manager, and of how he was surprised Manchester United didn’t grab the opportunity to benefit from his genius.
“I think he’s the best manager in the world and I was a little surprised that Man U didn’t come for him because I knew that Alex was going to retire,” Whelan told Sky Sports News.
“Alex had already told me that he was thinking of retiring and I was a bit surprised that Man United didn’t. They have still got a great lad in David Moyes, let me say that, he’s still a great manager, but Roberto now going to Everton, he will take Everton to places they can only dream about.”
Now, the impact of Whelan’s praise is somewhat muted by his consecutive claim that he sees no reason why England shouldn’t win the World Cup in Brazil next year. Where most of us see a host of frighteningly talented South American teams playing in homely conditions in addition the invisible Germans and Spaniards, Whelan sees a trophy that is there for the taking. His belief is admirable, though his judgement is questionable.
However, he does have some legitimacy to his claim; Roberto Martinez, despite last season’s relegation, did well with Wigan. In his five year tenure as the Latics manager he made escaping relegation at the last second look like a game to him. In fact, Wigan’s ability to muster their strength for a late comeback in May was so acknowledged that no one dared to write them of before Arsenal thumped them 4-1 and destroyed all hopes of survival with one game to go.
Wigan went on to beat Manchester City in the FA-Cup final, becoming the only team ever to win the cup and be relegated in the same season. Now they compliment Championship football with the Europa League. So, considering how Martinez got Wigan out in Europe, accomplishing the same with Everton should be far less daunting.
In their eight years as a premiership side, Wigan was continuously out gunned financially. Surrounded by both the big Manchester and Liverpool clubs, it is easy to understand why it is difficult to build any sort of big-club business at the DW Stadium, so Martinez needed to think alternatively on how to gather points. The answer he came up with was a simple version of emphasizing the team’s strengths and hiding its weaknesses. In 2010/11 Wigan scored twice as often as the average Premier League side on counter attacks, and almost four times as often on free-kicks.
The statistic is a result of Martinez’s ability to identify how his team can score goals. Rather than approaching the game in a conventional way, he magnifies his own advantages, and challenge the opponent the only way he can.
In essence, this pattern is very similar to the one developed by former Everton manager and current Man United boss David Moyes. Moyes could never compete financially with the teams that surrounded his Everton team on the table, but had success by finding other ways to squeeze the percentages in his own advantage. The main resemblance between the two managers is this: they appreciate that every little percentage counts, and can ultimately be the difference between success and utter failure.
A slight obstacle for Martinez, though, is paradoxically the bigger access to transfer funds. Many top half clubs – most notably Liverpool in recent years (before Rodgers) – has struggled in the Premier League after hiring managers who are not accustomed to handling big budgets. The transition from pursuing reasonably talented footballers to being expected to sign players with genuine claims of world class seems to be more challenging than you’d expect, and so far, Martinez has had more emphasis on boosting the talent that is already in the squad than signing big names.
The results are yet to come, but Roberto Martinez has most the tools required to take Everton a step further. The long term target for the Toffees is steady European football qualification, and although the top of the premiership seems tighter than ever, Everton are where they need to be.
Mr Dave Whelan might embody the laughing stock yet again through his comments, but he is right about one thing. Everton hired the right manager.