It is too soon to call for Roberto Martinez’s head…
BUT THE EVERTON BOSS MUST ACT SWIFTLY AND REMIND FANS WHY HE IS THE PERFECT MAN FOR THE JOB
Evertonians can be forgiven for feeling mightily confused with the entire 2014/15 campaign.
After a record-breaking points haul during Roberto Martinez’s first year at the club, Everton travelled to the King Power Stadium to take on Leicester, ready to kick the season off and go one step better than the previous year.
However, Roberto’s dream has quickly turned into a nightmare.
At the start of the campaign, the Toffees conceded a Foxes equaliser four minutes from time, let slip a 2-0 lead at home to Arsenal with seven minutes to go to drop a further two points before being hit for six at home to Chelsea. Nobody saw it coming. Not the fans, not the casual observer, not even the pundits. Nobody. The mention of a possible relegation fight would have been scoffed at back in August.
However, one of the Premier League’s most solid defences had been breached ten times in three fixtures and proved a catalyst for the woeful season the club, tipped to challenge once more, has since endured. A vicious circle that has grown and grown and grown.
Those bewildered, confused expressions we saw in the opening stages of the season have not left the player’s faces in eight months.
Last season, the School of Science was firmly on its way back, reminding us of the glorious sides of yesteryear but at present it is all very ‘90s’ as the club looks precariously over its shoulder at the relegation zone.
Everton are currently languishing in 14th place on 28 points – the club’s lowest tally in the Premier League era at this stage of the season – but have a great chance of reaching the Europa League quarter finals and, who knows, could even go all the way in Warsaw to claim a coveted spot in the Champions League and lift a trophy for the first time in 20 years. It makes no sense.
Dressing room unrest, lack of pre-season preparation and the manager being ‘too soft’ on players have all been mentioned for this season’s struggles but nobody has a clear explanation for what has gone so badly wrong at Goodison this year. It’s a footballing mystery how a team can fall so far in such a short period of time (but still impress on the continent).
The ‘Martinez Out’ shouts have grown in recent months. However, the latest defeat, away at Stoke on Wednesday night, saw the biggest, most noticeable shift in support for the boss. Even those who have backed Martinez to the hilt are now starting to sway and doubt the Spaniard.
The poor run of results and performances have seen the majority of fans now call for Martinez’s head.
It is still far too soon, though.
Of course the club’s predicament – ten more games to stay in the top-flight – is worrying, frustrating and scares us to death but surely Martinez’s exploits last term point to him being the right man to lead us forward despite this season’s setbacks?
Yes, Martinez has shown his flaws this season. The techniques that worked brilliantly last season have not had the same desired effects this time around.
Martinez is a man who stubbornly sticks to his principles. Based on last season’s record-breaking tally, who could blame him for sticking with the same formula during the first few months of the campaign hoping it would come good once more? However, as the season wore on, it was apparent something needed to change to arrest the slide. Nothing changed. There was no Plan B.
The former Wigan boss needs to quickly realise it is acceptable to abandon his beliefs when things get tough and the time comes to do to so. Surely he learnt from the Latics’ relegation in 2013 – weeks after the club won the FA Cup against all the odds – and won’t repeat the same mistakes?
Perhaps the most frustrating element of Everton’s season, which the fans can’t comprehend, is Martinez’s continually positive outlook at such a desperate time.
Last season, the Everton manager showed he could talk the talk and walk the walk but has this season stumbled into becoming a parody of himself.
The ‘phenomenal’ quotes of last term, how ‘excited’ Martinez was to manage a club with such ‘history, heritage and tradition’ made him an instant hero on Merseyside. However the same, almost regurgitated, sound bites do not wash when the club in question has won just six league matches come March.
Martinez has much to answer for as the season’s early setbacks have now spiralled into a relegation dogfight. It is his job to halt the slide but sacking the Spaniard is not the answer.
The stats are damning – the worst this, the lowest that – and Martinez’s Blues may be performing as bad as relegation-threatened Everton side’s of the past but history suggests sacking the Spaniard may not be the wisest decision.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson struggled during his early days at Manchester United as fans called for the board to act and dismiss the manager. We all know what the Scot went on to achieve at Old Trafford.
Also, take Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund – after years of success at home and abroad, the German side found themselves joint-bottom of the Bundesliga table at Christmas. Did that make Klopp a bad manager? Of course not. Were the club right to stick by a manager who had impressed in the previous season? Yes.
Another manager who achieved great things after a horrendous second season is well-known to Everton fans.David Moyes went from a 17th finish in 2004 to finishing in the top four just a year later. Such an upturn in fortunes can be achieved by the same manager.
Martinez, one of the hungriest young managers in the game, has been at the club for 21 months and has won far more games than he has lost. He has earned the right to more time.
It’s far easier to get into a rut and struggle than achieve a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League. Last season was no fluke. Everton played the best, most enthralling football Goodison has seen in years. This has all been forgotten far too quickly.
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Also, forgetting Martinez for a second – if Bill Kenwright listened to the most vocal fans and opted to remove the Spaniard from his post, who would Everton look to to save the seemingly sinking ship? Aston Villa’s recent search for a new boss showed the lack of managerial talent currently on offer.
Could we really justify dismissing the manager who achieved the club’s greatest Premier League points total in his first season? The same manager who may well guide us to Europa League success in May. Yes, Martinez is also in charge of a side who have amassed an incredibly low points tally but is the swing so great to forget what has gone before?
The Everton boss is by no means entirely to blame for the club’s poor showing this term and the players must also take responsibility. Martinez hasn’t helped himself at times this campaign – once bold and positive, the manager now seems cautious – but the 41-year-old has had it tough during a testing second season.
The team have lacked shape and Martinez’s insistence on playing Ross Barkley and Steven Naismith out wide – square pegs, round holes – have had an adverse effect on results and confidence. That is the manager’s fault. Dropping goalkeeper Joel – who had kept three clean sheets and made the defence look solid again – for the returning Tim Howard, was a mistake and also Martinez’s fault.
However, what the former Swansea manager has no control over is the sheer volume of mistakes his players are making when they cross the white line.
Everton have made more individual errors (13) than any other side in Europe. No matter how many drills Martinez does with his players, no matter what he says, he is powerless to prevent mistakes and lapses of concentration on the field of play. Take Lukaku’s pass intended for the left-wing on Wednesday which instead went backwards and led to Mame Diouf scoring Stoke’s second.
Injuries have also taken their toll. Steven Pienaar’s spell on the sidelines have virtually cut off Everton’s main attacking threat as left back Leighton Baines has been left completely isolated.
The duo have been a major pain for the opposition to contend with down the left-hand side during recent seasons. However, this year, whoever has deputised for Pienaar has not been disciplined enough for the role and thus been ineffective while Everton’s midfielders have failed to record the volume of chances created last season.
The club’s failure to keep a lead has also had a damaging effect. The club has lost 17 points from winning positions this season. A huge haul to miss out on.
Last season was by far the best in over two decades. Goodison was a hive of positivity.
Not only did Martinez improve things on the pitch but he instantly changed the entire outlook of the team shortly after arriving on Merseyside.
Mediocrity had seeped into the club and the Toffees were often labelled ‘plucky, little Everton’. The same club with one of the largest trophy hauls in English football.
Martinez acknowledged Everton’s history and under his stewardship we feared no one. We went to Old Trafford and claimed our first away win over Manchester United in 21 years. We went to Arsenal and played them off the park before destroying the Gunners at Goodison. It felt like we were back. The School of Science was on it’s way back.
Martinez gets what it is to be an Evertonian. Dixie Dean, Alan Ball, Duncan Ferguson. The Royal Blue shirt. Goodison Park. Z-Cars. He gets so much where his predecessor didn’t have a clue.
From the images of past triumphs which adorn the walls at Finch Farm, Martinez is all too aware we are a sleeping giant and is hell bent on returning us to the top.
We boast one of the finest young managers in the game and would be fools to let him go. He is the real deal who is struggling but will be all the better for it in the future. We all know this.
He turned hope into belief and made us proud once more. Can we throw him by the wayside so soon after such a monumental lift?
Any fan who insists he didn’t bound to Goodison Park with a huge smile on his face last season is simply lying.
The loudest voices of discontent this term may well be the same who disapproved of Martinez’s appointment in June 2013.
Last season, the Spaniard more than proved the doubters wrong – those who berated him for signing players he had worked with before – but the same who criticised are now using the club’s poor form to beat those who always backed him.
While the majority have turned, the entire fanbase thrived with Martinez last term. How can opinion change so drastically that fans would be happy for that same man to be shown the door less than 12 months later? He is capable of keeping us up and so much more.
With Martinez at the helm, should the club claim the Europa League title this season, there is every chance Evertonians will be sat in the Bernabeu or Nou Camp next season, laughing at the absurdity of the club’s plight the previous year.
However, unless the Spaniard swiftly addresses the many season-long problems yet to be solved, travelling to Rotherham and Huddersfield on cold wet Tuesday nights will not be absurd at all and will instead be the grim reality facing us. Martinez must know this.
Whether it’s changing his principles, finally looking to a Plan B or sending a rocket up the backsides of the players, Martinez must do something, anything, to save this season. There is plenty to do. However, it would be a travesty to see the club part with such a talented manager when last year showed it is clearly a match made in blue heaven.
For his own sake, but most importantly for Everton Football Club, Martinez must quickly remind and prove to us he is the right man to save us from this miserable season and push us back to the top where we belong.