Wigan achieved the impossible last season and beat the drop once again, improving on last season’s final day heroics by sealing their top flight status with one game to spare. The result was that the club’s boss Robert Martinez was hailed as some sort of tactical genius, a rising star in the game and he’s recently been linked with the Aston Villa, Liverpool and Tottenham jobs, but what exactly has he done to garner such a lofty reputation?
Let’s get a few stats out of the way nice and early. Martinez has a win percentage of just 26.77% at Wigan, winning only 34 of his 127 games in charge and losing 57. In his three seasons at the club, they have finished 16th, 16th and 15th finishing with 36, 42 and 43 points respectively.
It’s often made out that Martinez has done a great job of keeping the club in the Premier League, but the season before he took over, they finished 11th under Steve Bruce and 14th the year before that and the new Hull City boss boasts a significantly better win percentage of of 33.82% over 68 games, winning 23 games – not too far off Martinez’s total in almost half the amount of games.
For those that know me well, they will realise how difficult it is for me to begrudgingly praise Bruce as a manager – a man who has traded off his past glories as a player for far too long and lacks any coherent style of play or plan in most jobs, but context must be applied to this character assault of sorts as Martinez has essentially turned a steady mid-table outfit into regular relegation candidates.
Here comes the nice part of my criticism sandwich – Martinez is clearly an intelligent man, he comes across as thoughtful, considered and bright in interviews and his handy stint on ITV during the Euros so far, where he hasn’t been afraid to buck the trend compared to his lobotomised fellow pundits, acting as a breath of fresh air to the usual mundane rubbish we’re ‘treated’ to. In short, you can see why he would interview well for a top job.
However, he’s done little more than persist with an ‘attractive’ style of play at Wigan without the necessary players to carry it off successfully – that’s not noble or something to be admired or applauded, that’s downright negligent, a dereliction of duty as it were. It’s a myth that Martinez’s side play beautiful passing football just as much as it is with Bolton under Owen Coyle. They’re no Stoke of course, but let’s not pretend for a second that they’re Arsenal on a budget, because that’s hugely misleading.
Martinez looked to all concerned to be a frontrunner for the Liverpool job after the club sacked Kenny Dalglish in the summer, after turning down the Aston Villa job last season which led to the mind-numbing and hope-shreading tenure of Alex McLeish. It was then reported, or shall we say, megaphoned in to the nearest camera, radio station or tape recorder that would have him by the club’s media-hungry rent-a-quote chairman Dave Whelan – a man clearly trying to make up for lost time when it comes to the limelight due to a playing career cruelly cut short by injury. Pseud psychology well and truly over with.
The reasoning behind Martinez’s supposed rejection of the Liverpool job was that he refused to work with a Director of Football at the club, but upon appointing Brendan Rodgers, there was no such role put in place and the former Swansea boss seemed extremely reluctant to work with one in the future at his first press conference at Anfield – so that idea goes straight out of the window then. Martinez looked to be FSG’s second-choice candidate behind Rodgers. The club’s owners looked to cast their net far and wide when choosing their next manager and there was rumoured to be a shortlist with about six names on it.
Clearly seeing this as proof that he wasn’t under serious consideration, Rodgers ruled himself out of the running as a face-saving measure; as soon as he learned of how serious the club’s interest was in him, the deal was tied up inside two days of first contact. Martinez on the other hand, had two interviews in two weeks, so there was clearly a level of reluctance on FSG’s part to hand him the job, but their lack of communication and the open way that they went about their search was definitely as much of a hindrance as it was a help. However, what is clear, is that the Wigan boss, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was considered at great length for the job and was undoubtedly a very serious contender.
Aston Villa moved quickly to ditch the one-man wrecking ball to all hope Alex McLeish this summer without a direct replacement lined up, which shows you just how poor a job he did. They eventually moved for Paul Lambert, the Norwich manager that impressed hugely after a superb first season in the top flight, but not before reports that Martinez had turned down the chance to speak with the Midlands club for the second successive summer flew around. Say what you will about the man, but he definitely has a giant brass pair of cojones on him.
Tottenham dispatched with the services of Harry Redknapp after he somehow managed to finish fourth in a three-horse race for Champions League football next year. The names linked with the job, which is still an extremely appealing one lest we forget, were similar to those earmarked for the Liverpool job – Fabio Capello, Andre Villas-Boas, Louis van Gaal – yet Martinez’s name keeps cropping up.
There is a sense of goodwill towards Martinez. He doesn’t bitch and moan when his side loses, he doesn’t question the integrity of officials every other week and he conducts his business with a great degree of dignity. He seems an absolutely smashing chap, and he may well be a very good manager in the future, but so far, he’s unproven at the highest level.
The club won seven of their final nine game last campaign in the league, but the question should not be ‘what a fantastic run, Roberto, what do you put that down to?’ but rather ‘why the hell didn’t you play like that for the other 29 games?’ Does he have trouble motivating his sides? His transfer record has been pretty patchy so far to boot too, albeit on a tight budget, although the name Mauro Boselli is likely to be one that hangs around his neck like an albatross for a few years to come.
To his credit, though, he did introduce a more attacking 3-5-2 formation in the midst of that nine-game run which went some way to helping them preserve their top-flight status for another year, which had the potential to turn into a fluid 3-4-3 when the side had the ball. There is clearly a footballing brain at work there, but it remains very much a work in progress.
The success of younger managers such as Pep Guardiola, Andre Villas-Boas and Jurgen Klopp in recent times has set a perverse chain of events in motion where every other club now attempts to copy that recruitment policy – young, relatively unproven managers are now the ‘in’ thing as opposed to their more experienced counterparts. The aforementioned triumvarite all flourished because they were the right person at the right time with the right ethos for their respective clubs going forward, their age is merely a coincidence.
A meritocracy should still exist in football management as much as it does out on the pitch. Young managers should be allowed to cut their teeth, like Martinez is doing at Wigan, at a smaller, lower-profile club and be allowed to make mistakes. At the moment, the 38 year-old’s reputation appears to be ensuring he jumps the queue so to speak over more qualified candidates when being linked with top jobs. He has ability, that much is clear, but he’s far from the finished product and simply doesn’t warrant a crack at the Aston Villa job just yet, let alone the Tottenahm and Liverpool ones. We’re always very keen to appear on the cutting edgeand ‘in the know’ when it comes to tomorrow’s stars, but for once, it seems as if we may have jumped the gun a bit too early this time.
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1