Roberto Martinez bringing his Spanish dynamic to Everton

Monday February 10th, 2014

Everton manager Roberto Martinez is bringing his Spanish background and philosophies to the Premier League side in his first season at the helm.
Alastair Grant/AP

Roberto Martinez's response to Everton's defeat to Tottenham Hotspur was typically restrained. His side had played the better football for most of the game, had had the bulk of the chances, but had lost because of, as he put it, "one lapse of concentration" as Kyle Walker took a quick free kick to Emanuel Adebayor.

Martinez's comments on a late penalty call that went against his side were measured. He didn't rant or rave against the fates or bad luck, he didn't even mention that he'd been sprayed by isotonic drinks after his opposite number, Tim Sherwood, a man perpetually ranting and raving against the fates, kicked out in frustration at a tray of Lucozade.

He merely said that, "if we keep playing like that, I hope football won't be so harsh on us."

As a phrase, it seemed to capture his dignity and intelligence. He was acknowledging that his side had been the better team and that really they should go home feeling positive, but he was also accepting that sometimes luck can go against you in sport. A little later, answering a question in Spanish, Martinez said "today" rather than "hoy."

He smiled and quickly corrected himself, but that seemed telling as well: he occupies a strange middle ground between the English and Spanish footballing cultures, a man schooled in one way of playing the game whose practical experience has almost all been in a different mode.

When Martinez joined Wigan Athletic from Balaguer in 1995, he had just turned 22. Dave Whelan, the Wigan owner, had grand plans for his club, which in those days was a fourth-flight side playing in front of less than 3,000 fans each week, and his three new Spanish signings - the Three Amigos as they were inevitably nicknamed - were part of it. Most saw the transfers as little more than a publicity stunt, while perplexed fans turned up to games in sombreros to welcome the new recruits.

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"It was a huge shock -- more off the field than on it," Martinez said in an interview in The Blizzard. "The lifestyle... You come from Spain, where you're training in the morning, go home, eat, sleep, then maybe go for a walk, to the shops... But when we got up and went out, everything was shut. It was dark at 5 p.m. Nobody in the streets. We didn't know what to do. But we found a Spanish restaurant, which is unfortunately closed now, where we'd go for lunch and dinner. You couldn't buy an espresso in Wigan in 1995. There was no olive oil, no jamon [ham] in the supermarkets. It was so different."

The other two amigos soon returned, but Martinez fell for the industrial northwest. He found the culture of work hard, party hard tough to get used to, and was initially bewildered by the muscularity of the lower-league English game, but gradually he found a way to adapt his technical game to fit.

"The whole thing was fascinating for me because I love the tactical side of the game, that's my strength," he said. It was in that struggle that Martinez the manager began to be formed.

He moved to Motherwell in Scotland and married a local woman, and after a brief stint at Walsall, went to Swansea. He had three years as a player there, but, more than that, he impressed the club's hierarchy with his understanding of the game. He moved to Chester, but Swansea had identified him as managerial material and they offered him the post when he was just 33, still a player and without any coaching badges, a process he describes as "surreal."

Martinez fit perfectly into the Swansea model: he was humble and shared their principles of patient, passing football. He took the club into the second flight for the first time in 24 years, but then came the offer he couldn't turn down: Wigan, in the Premier League. His four years there ended in relegation but also with the FA Cup: perhaps he was overly idealistic in his approach, too little concerned with defending, too prepared to chase silverware at the cost of survival, but economic reality was always likely to catch up with Wigan eventually, and he at least left with the glory of that victory over Manchester City at Wembley.

Although he tweaked tactics, his philosophy remained always the same. "We want to be a team that takes control of the ball, a team that imposes itself in possession, that is going to be brave, will defend from the front, and will take risks," he said.

It is those principles he is now applying at Everton, building on the base left by David Moyes to make a genuine change for the top four. Again, he finds economic circumstance against him, and at least part of the reason for the defeat to Spurs was the lack, in Romelu Lukaku's absence, of a top-class goalscorer to take advantage of the chances created.

But Everton has clearly stepped up from last season, its football more dynamic, more aesthetically pleasing, as it plays a passing game - possession up from 52.9 percent to 56.3 percent, pass completion from 79.4 percent to 83.4 percent - adapted for the physical robustness of the Premier League. Quietly, in his calm and understated way, Martinez is enacting a revolution.

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