It was 1979 when Freddy Mercury and the rest of Queen recorded ‘Save Me’. A heartfelt one, Brian May wrote it about the breakdown of the marriage of a close friend of his:
“It started off so well,
They said we made a perfect pair,
I clothed myself in your glory and your love,
How I loved you”
Today, the fleeting love affair between Everton and Roberto Martinez that started so well has ended in the divorce that had loomed so inevitably for so long now. For a brief, glorious time, we did make a perfect pair, but it wasn’t to be. 2013/14 was one of the most exciting seasons I’ve ever watched us play. Winning at Manchester United for the first time in 21 years- later going on to beat them at Goodison for our first league double over United in 44 years were high points, but beating Arsenal 3-0 was the pinnacle. Halcyon days for the Roberto Martinez era. Blues of my age and younger have seen us beat the likes of United and Arsenal before, it was nothing new in that sense, but we had never witnessed an Everton manager dominate his opposite number as we witnessed the day we stood toe-to-toe with Arsenal. And they blinked first. They had to. We harassed them, out-worked them, out-skilled them, but the real master stroke was Martinez’s use of Lukaku, which paid off in spectacular style. Playing wide right of the three attacking players, he was clearly instructed not to track back. James McCarthy covered across to the right of the pitch, and Lukaku occupied the areas Nacho Monreal vacated. Martinez set his side up to ask questions of Wenger and his side that they just weren’t able to answer. Their defence was in disarray at times, and it was no surprise when Lukaku cut onto his left and fired home for 2-0, having been denied the opener at the feet of Wojciech Szczęsny, with Steven Naismith managing to slide the rebound home. Lukaku’s celebration that day was one that embodied not only his feelings for the manager, but feelings we all shared. Racing to his manager, it was clear how much it meant to the Belgian to make his manager happy. We’d have all given him that bear hug that day if we could’ve.
We didn’t make fourth in the end, despite us finishing with our record points return in the Premier League era. As ‘disappointing’ as the fifth placed finish was, we had a new lease of life. The glass ceiling was being chipped away via the ambition, confidence, and belief we all shared- inspired by the football we played under our new manager, and his positive demeanour. Our new ambitions and the pulling power of the manager were reflected in the signing of Romelu Lukaku on a permanent deal that summer, he gave us the best striker we’ve had in thirty years. I don’t want to downplay the work Moyes did at Everton, but this was different. We had our hope back, our belief.
Sadly, the very next competitive game we played was a bit of a microcosm of what was to come: scintillating attacking football put us 2-0 up in the first half against Arsenal on the opening day of the 2014/15 season, but you’d have to go some to see a side tire as badly as we did in the second half, and Arsenal fought their way back to gain a point. A game that promised so much delivered so little: a three year long story told in 90 August minutes.
We enjoyed the good times, but they became less and frequent as time went on. We never managed to strike anything like the balance between defence and attack that came so instantly, so perfectly in the managers first season. We all knew it was the right decision for him to go: an unfortunate, but absolutely necessary end. As bad as it was, wins home and away to Wolfsburg, turning Chelsea over 3-0 after their public pursuit of John Stones, along with the defeats of United and Arsenal will live long in the memory, amongst one or two others, too.
It shouldn’t have dragged on for as long as it was allowed to, and for that, Martinez takes no blame. If he does ever get it right, he could be a special coach for someone. I hope he has learned some lessons from his time with us, and perhaps takes a more pragmatic approach into his next job, but that remains to be seen. We certainly didn’t see any evidence of it here. He clearly wasn’t the right man for us, but like a whirlwind romance ending on speaking terms as reality bit, we can take some comfort in knowing ‘we had some good times, too’.
As Brian May wrote back in ‘79:
“The slate will soon be clean
I’ll erase the memories
To start again with somebody new”
There’s a new manager set to come in, some ageing players that’ve given us little return on their wages for some time will be off the books soon, hopefully the backing of our new owner will see plenty of quality arrive, and we can ship off some of those who’ve underperformed this season- take your pick. An exciting summer lies ahead.
Good luck, Roberto. We won’t fight you for custody of Arouna.
For more questionable logic, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings