A Wigan Fan Tells Everton What To Expect From Roberto Martinez...
Think of the nicest man you know. It might be a favourite uncle, a rock of a man who cannot do enough for anyone or a kindly neighbour or a work colleague who you'd love to dislike but try as you might, you just can't.
Now try and think of the nicest man in the world but make it someone in the public eye. Gets a bit harder now doesn't it? Celebrities and pop stars are by their very nature flawed as life in the public eye inevitably comes with fame and pressure. What about that Gary Lineker, he's squeaky clean isn't he? Oh. OK then what about Michael Owen? Want a bet on it? That Martin Jol always seems a jolly soul doesn't he?
Let's cut to the chase though. I've met the nicest man in the world. The trouble is, he's just about to go and break my heart and leave me for someone who doesn't even seem to want him. Oh Roberto I hope you know what you're doing!
This is a man who oozes class. A man who has an unshakably positive outlook and a persuasive, confident nature. A man who when firmly lodged in the jaws of defeat will simply smile and tell you it will be alright. And you will believe him. Or think he's mad. But he'll be right. He's a gentleman of the highest order and a true, passionate football man who took our town to his hearts as a young man and understands everything about Wigan Athletic.
Can nice guys win in football? The jury's out on that one. I have been convinced for a long time that Roberto Martinez will one day become one of the top managers in Europe but now? Right now? Taking one of the biggest jobs in the game? Let me attempt to take my Bobby-love blinkers off and give you an honest assessment.
On the pitch he has faced fierce criticism ever since he encouraged Titus Bramble and Gary Caldwell to pass it around at the back in his first home pre season friendly and gift the ball to St Mirren's centre forward. In a Northern working class town this fancy dan tika taka and one up front isn't always going to go down well. Too many games we were a defensive shambles and punchless up front. Pass, pass, pass, give the ball away, concede, repeat but Roberto persevered and persevered with the meagre resources available at his disposal and when it did come off, it was truly beautiful.
It was when we got tonked 3-1 at home by Bolton last season though in the midst of an eight game losing streak when that lunatic Stuart Hall of all people hit it home for me: "you can't play like Barcelona unless you've got Barcelona's players" and it's true - you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and therein lies the problem for much of Roberto Martinez's tenure at Wigan Athletic. Trying to get unproven foreigners, the SPL's finest and other team's cast offs to play beautiful football at the top level of the game where every mistake gets punished isn't easy.
Until January 2012 when it all came alright. A shift from 4-5-1 to a much feted 3-4-3 sent the Latics on a stunning run of form which catapulted them out of a pit of despair to a relatively healthy finishing position of 15th. The bizarre thing is I was there the first time he tried this formation at Stamford Bridge in May 2010. We lost 8-0. Yet seriously, we were playing well and in the game for an hour even though Gary Caldwell had been sent off (again). It was 1-0 for quite a while (offside by the way), dodgy pen from Frank but we didn't look out of it. I was somewhat ashamed of stating this delusional belief publicly until recently when Zonal Marking did their piece on this new look team and concurred to a certain degree.
When it goes wrong, no matter what the scoreline, and infuriatingly to almost every Wigan Athletic fan, he will always find positives and a reassuring word that everything will all work out next time. He's the sort of man who if driving past a car accident will wind the window down and shout "Hey guys, at least you'll get a new car next week!" Anyone else you might think would be taking the piss but Roberto is sincere and genuine as they come.
Up close, he is a man of intense detail and scrutiny. When the game is on, he stands solitary at the front of the technical area, chin resting on his raised hand: "It's the only place I can think" he has been known to say.
He trusts players. He sets them out and sends them out to express themselves. To take responsibility despite the tender years of much of the raw talent we take a punt on and try to develop at Wigan. He protects his players. He talks about them playing with arrogance regularly. Now it's easy to forget that English isn't Roberto's native language and half of me thinks that he actually means playing with confidence but maybe he does mean arrogance. Wanting the ball, wanting possession. Owning the play and frustrating your opponents and in the last few months we have frustrated some of the biggest names in the Premier League by outplaying them: a ragtag outfit like Wigan Athletic dominating teams with wage bills and fanbases which dwarf our own.
He knows his stuff too. At a fans event last year, I enabled a few difficult questions to be asked by some fans less than convinced. "Why don't we leave a man up front when the other team has got a corner, it just means the ball comes straight back at us?" Quick as a flash, Roberto hit him with comparative stats from the last two seasons establishing that when we'd kept a man up front two years ago, we had the worst record in the league defending corners, which had been converted to the best record at defending corners following the decision to bring a man back. Point proven.
Some Wigan Athletic supporters have never taken to Martinez and have dismissed everything he has done as luck. What's that saying about Gary Player? This is a meticulous man who has revolutionised the youth set up and got every team through the club playing the same way. It still didn't always go right after a hefty dicking at Forest in the Youth Cup in 2011 proves but that's all part of the fun. I think. He has demanded that the chairman develops the training ground to give the players a better environment to work in and he has never once said a single bad word about Wigan Athletic fans even when the odd whopper was waving a flag calling for his head at him in what was a particular low point. When asked to comment about a 17,000 crowd at the DW one particularly fallow weekend, Roberto simply stated that it was fantastic - he had played for the club in front of just 3,000 at Springfield Park just a decade ago!
He has an unwavering belief that everything will come right in the end and at Wigan Athletic for the last three seasons, it has done so with a few stunning results thrown in as part of the bargain. We finally get it right and are looking forward to continuing that marvellous run of results next year and then what? THOSE photos of him walking around downtown Miami with his coffee to go are like a dagger through the heart of all Latics fans.
Anyway, let me take my blinkers off again: I understand that he is inexperienced as many Everton fans say. We've had to be patient with him and I'm not sure he would be afforded that at Goodison. And he is stubborn, a by product of his inner belief. He believes in building a football club from top to bottom and I guess this is what is attracting his many suitors.
It is as ever a results business however and a few good months doesn't really warrant a slot managing one of the biggest names in football you could argue. The problem is that when Everton fans do argue that, I argue back, even though I want Wigan Athletic to keep him.
I can take it off some of the diehard reds I know but give short shrift to folk throwing around 27% win percentages. So what? Paulo Di Canio managed close to a 63% win percentage at Swindon, maybe he should be appointed Everton manager. Does that sound stupid? Well it's no more ridiculous than applying a win percentage to a manager who has kept the smallest club in the Premier League up for three years on the bounce and beaten every top team in the game in the process, memories that those of us who support that team will live forever.
It's all about resources. Imagine what he could do with a few bob behind him and more talented players to influence his footballing philosophies on? OK there's the bigger ego thing to deal with but keeping a club like Wigan Athletic in the Premier League year on year is as good an achievement as taking a mid table club to the fringes of a Champions League place and given the time and the opportunity I am sure Martinez would be more than capable.
He's not a big name but hey what guarantees do big names give you? Set aside the freak nature of longevity attached to Wenger and Fergie and the other big clubs have had a succession of big names go through their revolving doors with mixed results. Fergie did well in Scotland at Aberdeen in the days before money steam rollered them out of the SPL and European frame whereas Wenger was low key in Japan. Different times but the point remains - Martinez is a convincing, detailed man who builds a lasting philosophy around his football clubs.
Of course, it's a gamble but then who isn't? My main reservations around him taking the Everton job are because I don't want to see him die on his feet. If some Everton fans demand success instantly when it may realistically take years no matter who comes in given the Manchester clubs' current dominance he's set up to be a fall guy if he never gets the time in the first place.
If he gets the job, he will get Everton passing to perpetuity, and I am led to believe this is a desirable quality. He'd duck badly some times, but he'd also pull off spectacular results when it all clicks. Forget putting it in the mixer, even in the 92nd minute, expect endless passing triangles around the box and short corners but more goals scored from outside the box than any other team.
But as I say I'm not in the business of trying to sell him to Toffees fans.
The trouble is the expectation would be on him every week if he moved to Everton. I want to protect him from this even though he is doing the dirty on us. I'm confident he'd do well and I'm sure he would be. He's too positive and diligent to fail, but what if he isn't even given a chance? This is what annoys me, why I don't want him to go or if he goes and fails then Everton fans clearly don't deserve him anyway. I'm sure he'll be alright though and as frustrating it is to see, that any time a player or manager does well at a club like Wigan he gets swept up in this horrible, money rotten capitalist football world we imbibe ourselves in, the big fish swallowing up the small fish, I can't help but wish him well if he goes. I know he will win people over wherever he goes: some see it straightaway, others take a hell of a lot of convincing but he always gets there.
I still #prayforroberto to stay as many Twitter folk would have it but it's looking less tenable by the hour. It will hurt seeing him leave and us Wigan Athletic fans hoped he would give it at least another year but he is an ambitious man and I am sure he will be fine wherever his career takes him. Hopefully he has already created a legacy that will see Wigan Athletic and Swansea City fine for many years to come. I can but hope. Because I'm not as positive as Roberto. No-one is.