Roberto Martinez! Who knew? When he was appointed back in the summer I was probably not alone amongst Evertonians in feeling more than a little nervous. After all, this was the same man that had taken Wigan down the previous season. The same man whose Wigan sides had been on the wrong end of some serious kickings (9-1 against Spurs being the highlight). The same man who regarded free-flowing attacking football to be the sole point of the game. The same man who regarded a defeat in which the team played ‘quality’ football to be preferable to an ugly win. And the same man who while at Swansea never thought it useful to practise defending against set-pieces.
In essence, he was the anti-Moyes. And that was a worry. Despite his short-comings (and we’re just beginning to see how manifold they are) Moyes had given Evertonians something they had been seeking for decades; namely security. For a long-time many Blues began the season with one aim, to reach mathematical safety. The nineties had done a number on us. Two flirtations with relegations (one of which ventured past flirtation and almost moved into the early stages of a serious relationship) and successive seasons skirting around the lower regions of the league had damaged our fragile psyche. Moyes changed that. With him at the helm safety was virtually guaranteed. It meant that for the first time in a long time, Evertonians could begin the season with other targets in mind, like finishing above the Sh*te, Europa qualification or even a place in the Champions League.
During his first press conference with the club, Roberto (who seemed to be sweating more than a man about to be questioned by the Gestapo) promised to continue the work that Moyes had undertaken and make Champions League qualification a realistic target every season. But although he talked a good game, the picture that went through my mind was not of some future Everton captain holding aloft the European Cup but instead the regrettable and forlorn image of Mike Walker.
Like Roberto, Walker had effectively won himself the manager’s job by stuffing Everton the previous season. And Like Roberto he was an advocate of a certain style of football, one that placed possession and attacking potency as more desirable than digging-in and hitting on the break. What concerned me was would Roberto and Walker be similar in other ways too? Would our new manager also come in and attempt to single-handily destroy this Grand Old Team? Would he make inexplicable managerial decisions or sign players who appeared to be 23 but were in fact actually in their early thirties?
In short, I prepared myself for the worst. I imagined Martinez as Mike Walker mark II but hoped that the sheer quality of players at Everton would at least mitigate against the worst excesses of our new boss. But I was wrong. Roberto has in fact been a revelation and I can honestly say that being an Evertonian hasn’t been this much fun for a very long time.
Although the Moyes years provided a much needed era of respite for Blues, and included periods where the football was good to watch (most notably the first few months of the last season), for a lot of the time the ‘Moyes Way’ could be a taxing experience. Evertonians are brought up on tales of the School of Science, we’re meant to be a team that plays nice football. But if the Moyes sides’ were ever imbued with any kind of science, it would be something horribly intractable and difficult to understand, like a sub-branch of Quantum Mechanics.
There’s a great banner that was unfurled at Goodison recently that sums up what’s happened since the summer. It read: ‘The School of Science. Reopened, 6th June 2013″. And that says it all. Since the appointment of Roberto, the team has rediscovered the beautiful passing game that was once a given at Goodison.
But what’s really surprised me (and I’m sure other Blues), is that Bobby M has combined this with real resilience. He’s made Everton not just a team that can now attack with the best of them but also one that is, if anything, harder to beat than ever before. So far this season, we’ve only lost once and that was away to Man City, a result that is understandable.
His selections and acquisitions have also proven impressive. Aside from the headline arrivals of Lukaku and Deulofeu, his loan of Gareth Barry was an inspired piece of business. The other two might get all the plaudits but Barry has been integral to Everton’s success so far this season, acting as the fulcrum around which the team revolves. And then there’s Ross Barkley. By showing faith in the youngster and giving him several starts this season, Martinez had already proven himself to have skills that Moyes lacked. There is little doubt that had the Scot remained in the manager’s chair then young Ross would now be spending most Saturdays warming the bench instead.
It’s still very early in the season and in a few months this piece could look horribly ill-conceived but for the moment at least, Roberto Martinez and his brand of Toffee-Taka seem to promise a bright future for Everton. Not only is the club sweeping aside lesser teams with ease, we’re taking on the big-boys and meeting them eye-to-eye. And even if we do stumble and the season ends with a whimper not a bang, as fans we’ll always have that night at Old Trafford to look back on and the sight of our former manager trying to work out where it all went wrong.