Less than a year ago a certain handsome, smiling Spaniard sat next to Bill Kenwright before a packed press conference as he was unveiled as the new Everton FC Manager, succeeding the departing David Moyes who was off to the not so greener grass of Manchester. The Toffees Chairman described a long and exhaustive search for a replacement to the outgoing Scot, and he said his aim was to find the right man to ‘take this Club forward’. Kenwright said he had met some of the finest people in football during his search, but insisted that the finest of those was sat to his left at that moment, and he spoke of being thrilled, excited, buoyed and in awe of the former midfielder who donned a grey suit in the seat next to him in front of a media-filled room on that particular day back in June 2013. That man was Roberto Martinez, and fast forward eleven months at Goodison Park, a lot has changed for the better, and the signs suggest that there is much, much more to come from the 40 year-old, brown-shoe wearing Catalonian and his Everton side.
Our current Premier League season is far from over; we still have two fixtures remaining and look set to qualify for Europe, and although the Champions League now appears to be out of our reach, a 5th placed finish will hopefully suffice – our highest finish since 08-09 – and once again the Club will be able to experience European football next term. Overall the campaign has been a success up to now, and as I say there is still a couple of weeks to go, but what excites me most about Roberto Martinez and our Football Club is what we can go on to achieve under our dashing, vibrant manager and the future of my team Everton.
The title of this piece is the learning curve, and to me since Martinez took over that is what it has been as an onlooking Evertonian. I am 28 years of age and it is nearly 20 years since I last saw my team win silverware, I was just a boy back then and what I have experienced since as a Blue is nothing compared to what some have experience in their lifetime. My hunger for success grows as each season passes, and more often than not life as an Evertonian is best described as a rollercoaster. With the Everton ups come the inevitable Everton downs, when the Toffees raise your hopes they soon dash them away; it’s a harsh reality of a life of an Evertonian – and a football fan at that. But since Walter Smith left Goodison Park 12 or so years ago and was eventually replaced by a then young and up and coming David Moyes, my hopes and dreams have become that little bit more of a possibility, and now with the current man at the Toffees helm – I believe they will soon become a reality.
Under David Moyes I am of the opinion that as a Football Club we did improve and during the Scot’s tenure at Goodison Park I rarely criticised anything he did. Yes I thought he was a bit tactically naive and he sometimes failed to fill me with confidence with his team selections or post-match press conferences, and yes he did sign Per Kroldrup, but Moyes gave me a hero in Tim Cahill, he gave me my first experience of Europe as a Blue, my first visits to Wembley and some wonderful memories at Goodison Park. He made me believe, and as a maturing man growing and watching his stewardship from the terraces I did think that one day we would get our just rewards for the hard work he and his teams over the years had put in. The Champions League came and went in the blink of an eye but it came, and I’ll never forget that season and those moments. Wembley came on numerous occasions and although we always fell at the final hurdle I will take those experiences with me in life, and it has hardened me as a supporter of this fantastic Club. The European trips in the UEFA Cup – be it not the most exciting of competitions – well they are what I will never forget. ‘But it’s only the UEFA Cup’ you might say, but I have had nothing like that before, and I dream of nights in the Champions League and trips to some of the World’s biggest Clubs and stadiums. Until I can taste it I will dream. Kopites I know have had plenty of those experiences over the years, experiences which I yearn for, many take it for granted and believe me it hurts, but being the positive Evertonian I am I believe that one day I can see my team back up there with the elite of Europe. I also remain focussed that one day my side will be at the top of that Premier League table looking down on the rest, and whilst I know that we have to be realistic, and without getting too far ahead of myself, I believe the man to actually make these aforementioned things happen is Roberto Martinez.
Not everyone was a fan of Moyes during his time as our manager, and what has happened since has been all of his own making, but since he has left, and even though I admit I admired him for most of his eleven years at Goodison Park, you cannot help but feel that now he has gone, he probably was holding us back towards the end. Moyes did improve matters on the pitch and yes I think he built the foundations to what we are witnessing now, and many may argue that Roberto’s current crop were initially brought to the Club by Moyes – which is a valid point – but it is what you say to those players and how you utilise them which is essential to judge a manager and his plans.
Martinez is completely on another level to Moyes, and it might send a shudder down your spine but compare our current brand of football and our current gaffer to how we were playing and some of those at the helm during the post-Moyes Premier League era, we can never go back to those dark days. Martinez isn’t just in a league of his own for his playing style and vision, I am talking everything from his dress sense, his interaction with fans, his embracing of our history, his relationship with our current and former staff, both on the pitch and off it, his positive attitude and strength of character. I am talking his fist-clenched, one-handed goal celebration he does every time the Toffees score, the way in which he talks up each and every one of his players and never criticises them, the way in which he embraces the challenge of one game to the next, always complimenting the opposition, never being negative about anyone or anything. War of words? You must be joking. The way he plays to win and goes to the bigger sides to win, and he doesn’t fear nobody. Martinez was exactly the same during his time at Wigan, and he was and continues to be a respected figure in the game. A loyal, humble, family man, who is thorough and in everything he does someone who remains classy, honest and proud. Martinez has many key factors in his vision, ideas, and ideology for Everton FC but the things that fill me with immense excitement and result in me writing endless articles like this (again!) are his ambition and most importantly his belief.
Throughout the course of this season from a personal point of view I have found a new belief and focus and it is down to our manager, he has instilled and implemented such a positive mentality that us as fans of the Club can not help but be sucked in by it. The word engulfed probably sums it up best, and what is the best thing about it all is that he is only just getting started. It is a learning curve for me, for the 70 year old fella who sits in front of me at the match, for the 7 year old kid who sits next to him, and me Dad who sits to my side who has seen success (and disappointments, I might add!) and had experiences I can only dream of, but it is also a learning curve for Martinez, his crop of players, those permanent or on loan, his staff at Everton and everyone associated with the Club. The nervousness and uncertainty surrounding David Moyes’ departure soon turned to vibrancy and a buzz after Martinez’ appointment and although it took us a few games to get going it was breath-taking, and that has continued for nearly a year. It is Bobby this and Bobby that, brown brogues and the School of Science, Allez Allez OHHH and football that is enjoyable to all. An enthusiastic approach that is already improving us as a whole, new training methods with the ball at our players’ feet, and the perfect blend of youth, talent, experience and professionalism within our squad that when added to can go onto another level. New pictures on the wall at Finch Farm and an uplift in overall mentality – Martinez buys into Everton and our history and we certainly buy into him and what he sees for the future of this Football Club.
Yes we might have faded after Christmas with some bad results and injury woes, but in seasons gone by we would have completely fallen away, heads would have gone down and things would have whimpered to an end, but this is a new Everton, full of belief and full of learning, full of hunger and desire to succeed. After our slump in form this season we bounced back and won 8 out of 9 games and although we were recently left disappointed after Palace and Southampton all is not lost, look at the bigger picture and keep the faith my fellow Blues. We will lose games along the way, but it wouldn’t be Everton if we didn’t, would it? Players will make mistakes and some of the younger lads will frustrate us for trying to do too much with the ball, but that is their confidence, it is their belief that they have taken from Martinez’ belief. It is a confidence not arrogance, and it is one that we have to embrace. Again, all part of a learning curve. Former Everton hero Tim Cahill was quoted as saying the following about Martinez this week, even though he has never played under the Spaniard “He’s someone with a great aura and a great person who I know personally, I can’t sing his praises highly enough” Cahill added: “He allows his players to make mistakes and learn from them, because he believes in all of them“. Part of our successes this season has been our younger lads getting a game and regularly being involved, and I think it was clear to us all (even before Kevin Sheedy’s Twitter rant) that Moyes wasn’t a fan of giving youth a chance so it is refreshing to see. Ross Barkley blossoming into a player who could be unreal, young Barcelona star Gerard Deulofeu leaving us dazzled by tricks and an unbelievable confidence (he also makes us tear our hair out at times!) and what about Romelu Lukaku leading the line? Not everyone’s cup of tea but still very young and well into double figures for the Blues this season. Will he stay? In my opinion very unlikely but he has raised the bar in our striking department regardless of how he might have frustrated you at times this season. Let’s look around the rest of the team and James McCarthy is a prime example of a player coming into his own and settling well at a new Club under the guidance of that man Martinez. But it isn’t just the younger lads who are benefitting from having Bobby as their manager, no, look at Leon Osman – most EPL starts out of all of them – Distin and Howard, both consistently solid in their own right. Jagielka, having one of his best seasons until the curse struck him down. Seamus Coleman, a brilliant signing by Moyes and rusty to start, he improved towards the final few years of Moyes’ time at Everton but has now hitting his peak under Martinez who has given him even more confidence and belief than ever before! Named in the PFA Team of the Year, sixty grand sixty grand I say! That is not to mention half of the team, Gareth Barry, what about Oviedo, I could go on. One player I have missed out and I think our former manager deserves praise for originally signing him is John Stones – a revelation in Royal Blue. The lad is 19, yet Martinez has started him in numerous important Premier League games since the turn of the year. Trust, belief, confidence. You show the manager you are willing to work, you have ambition and you want to play, and he will reward you with appearances. Martinez could have gone out and signed an old timer, experienced centre half to make the numbers up after Christmas but he never, he have Stones the chance and he hasn’t looked back. The relationship our manager has formed with his players seems already a formidable one, and paired with the optimism on the terraces (one that I have never witnessed before); you cannot help but feel that the future of Everton is bright.
For me the essential thing now is this summer and what it holds. We all know the financial constraints Moyes had to work under and we had to accept the fact that in the past our manager would have to be shrewd in his transfer dealings, but now there is no room for any of this. Whilst we accept that we are not on the same financial planet to all other sides from 7th place up in the Premier League, it is now crucial that our board matches the ambition shown by our manager and players this season by strengthening where required in the next transfer window. All eyes will be on Kenwright and although the Blues Chairman deserves praise for appointing Martinez in the first place, if we are to kick on and allow the Blues Boss to take us to that level we all dream of being at then it is time we dug deep and invested in the team. From what we have seen this season in terms of matching the bigger sides and sticking to our style, the signs have been progressive, positive and a damn sight more exciting than in the past. However, it remains evident to me and all other Evertonians that players are still needed, and not just one or two, I am talking major reinforcements. Martinez was recently quoted as saying the below when asked about his summer spending plans:
“It’s not about improving – it’s about increasing, when you’re playing in Europe you need to have another six or seven and that’s the reality and we will do that – it’s not an issue. Every summer is busy. We signed 10 players in the previous two windows and that’s what you expect from window to window. I never worry about losing players. It’s the opposite – I get excited about bringing new players in. You need fresh blood. We’ve got incredible senior players at this club. You’ve got Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Leon Osman, James McCarthy – those players hold the dressing room together. (But) we need fresh talent. Fresh additions help the team.”
The platform is there and as our manager says, it is just about adding to it. In seasons gone by (even this season) we have got by on lending a player or two or taking someone on a free, but we have always lost a player or two during that time too, which leaves us depleted. Injuries have hit us hard this season and to have a real go at the Champions League you need a lot more luck and a bigger squad – even if our treatment table wasn’t full to the brim as it has been, we still need more players, especially with Europe now looking likely. The squad we currently have now could not handle two games each week next season and even if the likes of Gerry and Traore stay on for a second stint at Goodison Park it is essential that our board acts and gives Martinez the adequate resources to make permanent signings and signings that will signal our intent. Some Evertonians will never be Kenwright fans and others will always back him to the hilt, that’s something that will probably never change and I value each and every one of your opinions on that subject and all things Everton. But even those who are most loyal to our Chairman and his board and won’t have a bad word said about Kenwright must surely agree that we simply cannot accept a sell-to-buy policy anymore and this summer is probably the biggest in terms of importance since Kenwright took charge many years ago. He has to act, and act in the financial manner that matches our manager’s ambition and the new-found hope he has brought with him to Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez was a brilliant appointment by Kenwright and although a lot can change in football during a short amount of time, and the fact that the former Wigan manager is still two games off completing his maiden season at Goodison Park, I certainly believe that if given the funds Martinez can and would spend that money wisely and can again improve us next term. He has a plan, and with the board backing him with sufficient resources, the possibilities are endless. However, although I have been left disappointed with our off-field actions in the past, I firmly believe that we will have enough money to spend later on this year but if we don’t it would feel like such a missed opportunity, so don’t dash my hopes Bill, because I am on a roll here!
We have shown our intent during this campaign and earned a lot of deserved plaudits, and although the season isn’t quite over just yet, I remain confident that we can still finish on a high and go on to great things next season and in the near future under this manager who has, and continues to, impress me in everything he does. It has certainly opened my eyes having Roberto Martinez as the manager of my Football Club and I am sure many of you, just like I am, are very happy to be a part of the revolution that is happening at Goodison Park.
Does anyone know the Spanish for Up the Toffees?!