At the end of the 2014/15 season, I said to myself, as did many Evertonians, that I’d give Martinez another year to turn it around. I’d be lying to myself if I said I was still sticking to that. In recent weeks, a mind-set of frustration has been replaced by utter ambivalence towards Everton. Personally, that has been the tipping point for me, I’m now resigned to the fact that if Everton fail to score three goals at home, they’ll lose the game. As an Evertonian I’m pretty familiar with pessimism and frustration, but never before have I just stopped caring when Everton play. With a frustratingly non-existent level of media scrutiny of Martinez, I had nothing to read, agree and fume at. So I thought I’d just write it myself.
If Everton come away from Old Trafford with nothing next week, they could finish the weekend in 15th place. Simply put, this is unacceptable. Although no team should be granted success based solely on their squad and historical clout, this Everton squad is capable of so much more than languishing in the lower positions of the table for two straight seasons. Each time the opportunity to kick on to the next level has arisen, it’s fair to say that we’ve missed the boat. During Martinez’ first year there were positives aplenty. Costly defeats against Crystal Palace and Southampton proving the deciding factor in one of the best seasons of recent memory for me, but in truth it was an admirable failure. Yes we achieved our highest ever points total, but it wasn’t enough. The step up was not made. Although it was disappointing that 78 points wasn’t enough for Champions League football at Goodison, it still seemed like a new foundation was being laid. The defensive solidity of Moyes merged with the attacking, less pragmatic approach brought by Martinez. New TV money looked like the next step was not far away.
Unfortunately, that foundation has had a sledgehammer taken to it. The past two seasons have been memorable only for the continuous let downs, false starts and mistakes which have brought about a major regression. The Premier League has developed an “evolve or die” mentality, for Martinez, this has been his downfall. The reluctance to accept that Everton could no longer rely on the constant attacking threat of their full backs, due to opposition tactical changes, led to multiple 0-0 draws against the likes of West Brom and Swansea. These were matches that Everton simply could not break down the opposition and highlighted a lack of a plan B (In some games a plan A was hardly visible either).
During the current season, mostly thanks to the form of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley in particular, those offensive problems are no longer the major focus. Catastrophic defending, clueless tactics and woeful game management have taken its place. Everton under Martinez have always had the means to score against opponents that played positive football, the perfect example of this was the 3-0 win at home to United last season. The difference this season is that simply more teams are willing to play positive football against us, teams no longer look at Everton as a tough, ‘backs against the wall’ game. Where teams like Swansea and Stoke came to Everton in previous years in search of one point, they now come in search of three.
This has magnified defensive frailties evident long before, see the Chelsea 6-3 or the Arsenal 2-2. Everton have forgotten how to defend. Or, more specifically, they are no longer being taught how to defend. A defensive coach with no proven pedigree, as well as an inability to publicly admit there are defensive issues from the manager, have compounded an already dire state of affairs. Hypothetically, the majority of Everton’s defensive incumbents could all be taking part in International competitions this summer. The same defensive unit that has conceded the most home goals in any of Europe’s top five leagues, something there does not add up. The variable is Martinez and his coaching staff. It has been clear for two seasons that he lacks the tactical ability to manage at the highest level. Ridiculous substitutions have undermined the good work of the starting eleven on too many occasions for this to be a coincidence. Decisions to bring on Atsu and McGeady, along with an inability to defend crosses, led to losing a 2-0 lead at home to Arsenal in August of 2014. Sound familiar? Mirrored all too similarly with so many games this year. Honestly, take your pick. Here’s mine: decisions to bring on a striker with 10 minutes of Premier League football to his name while down to 10 men and 2-0 up against West Ham two weeks ago. Same applies to the semi-final at City, at home to Stoke, way at Bournemouth. I could go on. Nothing has changed, the occurrence of these events has just increased. Last year Everton had grown stale and were in desperate need of rejuvenation, that has not come to pass and the team is now in danger of a serious regression.
Right, that’s the tactical side of it, now for the man himself. Roberto Martinez has completely alienated me, as well as many other Evertonians. The decisions he makes seem to be more in favour of justifying his own actions than actually being for the good of the team. The incessant decision to hand Arouna Kone a place in the match-day squad, despite offering considerably less than a number of players left out, smacks of an obsessive self-preservation. Martinez brought him to the club, so must prove it was the right decision. Either that or he’d taken part in the “Collect 10 crisp packets and become a Premier League footballer” competition. The same applies to the baffling decision of repeatedly selecting Tim Howard. The decision to hand Howard a new deal rather than cash in on his performances at the World Cup has been proven to be a poor one. This self-serving stubbornness has severely hampered any signs of progress there were at Everton this season.
The continuous insistence publically that Howard remained integral to the starting eleven during this season offers the last, and most decisive problem in my opinion. The continuing lamenting of “bad luck” and refereeing decisions are not fooling anyone. A positive spin is all well and good, but this now borders on propaganda! “We played well for 78 minutes” he said of the recent loss to West Ham. I was genuinely baffled by this comment, less so by his shameless throwing of Lukaku under the bus for his penalty miss in the same match. Yet more deflection.
In the past 24 hours he’s been quoted saying that he is looking to 2build a football club rather than solely a winning team”, forgive me but I see evidence of neither making progress. I assume what he is alluding to are the scheduled improvements to Finch Farm, which are down to the new investment of Farhad Moshiri and not him. The “bright future” of the academy is another area Martinez waxes lyrical about, surely I can’t be the only person who sees the lack of academy graduates breaking into the first team during the past two years as utterly contradictory to that? Overall, those comments sound like, and come from, a man trying desperately to deflect questions and save his job.
The world has moved on from possession based football and towards solidity, pressing and counter attacks. Roberto Martinez has not and therefore finds himself failing to hold back an ever increasing tide of criticism. I’m sure by the time football next evolves again, Roberto Martinez will still be employing his utopian, tactically devoid brand of football. Personally, I just hope that this scenario will not take place at Everton. He has been quoted as saying “judge me at the end of the season”. Well Roberto, unfortunately it has reached the point that even an FA Cup win will not begin to paper over the cracks of these past two seasons. It’s time for a change.