'Maybe it wasn't a bad decision. I'm grateful destiny is taking me there'

Roberto Martinez, who began Swansea's resurrection, takes his Wigan side to South Wales with no regrets. Ian Herbert reports
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The Independent Online

The links between Swansea and the Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez, whose side become the first to venture outside of England for a Premier League game when they play in Wales' second city tomorrow, are genuinely indelible. The Spaniard was married in the place, mastered very basic Welsh there and, as manager at the Liberty Stadium, inculcated the passing ethos which has seen the club all the way into the top flight. Martinez is even intimately acquainted with the away dressing room, where he and his Swansea players recorded the video for a musical classic of its genre, entitled "Ole, Ole, Ole" and remembered locally as "Christmas with a Spanish twist".

Martinez doesn't recall so much about his wedding reception, perhaps because of the distractions of his imminent departure from South Wales to succeed Steve Bruce at Wigan. But it is safe to say that it was more benign than the one he will receive when he leads his present side against his previous one tomorrow afternoon. A segment of Swansea's fan base have simply never forgiven Martinez for leaving them to take a shot at Premier League management, even though the Spaniard has probably played a bigger role than any other individual in taking the club from the brink of relegation to non-league to the top flight in the space of eight short and extraordinary years.

"In a way, when you see the real emotions that football fans can have, it is a positive thing," Martinez said of the likely abuse, as he prepared for this dragons' den. "My links to Swansea are so, so strong that I respect any views from the fans. I will take it and, in a way, I accept their views." Which was equanimous of him, considering the reception he received when Swansea brought 3,000 fans to Wigan for a Carling Cup tie last October was vitriolic, to say the least. "That was the only feedback I've had from them so far but I didn't read the banners, they weren't big enough!" Martinez joked. The messages inked on to bedsheets that night would have told him that "El Gaffer" – as he was always known on the banks of the Taff – had become "El Judas".

When Martinez first alighted at Swansea, as a player signed by one of the jewels of Welsh management, Brian Flynn, in January 2003, the club were in a dark place, two points adrift at the bottom of the Third Division on New Year's Day and needing to win the last game of the season to save their league status.

The 38-year-old was not reflecting yesterday on the fact that he was poorly repaid for his contribution. Kenny Jackett replaced Flynn as manager, promptly dropped Martinez and fairly brutally saw him off to Chester City. It is Martinez's departure as a manager which Swansea's supporters best remember, though. He was back at Swansea within a year to replace Jackett as manager – ironic, considering the manner of his departure.

Then, at the age of 33, he set into train the belief, learnt from his observation of Villarreal, Espanyol and Johan Cruyff's Barcelona, that a passing ethos could permeate every part of a club – from scouting to youth-team tactics and beyond. He learnt something from Wales, too. "The language... is harder than I thought," he said. "But I tried to learn the formal phrases like 'bore da' – 'good morning'. Welsh people are very similar to Catalan people... they are passionate about sport."

Martinez reflected: "I don't think it is down to me to say how much I contributed to Swansea being in the Premier League. I felt we had to change the way to play and find a way to be different. We could not compete with other clubs financially and we had to be a little bit creative."

All told, Martinez's part in South Wales' first home encounter with the Premier League seems to have been cast by the heavens. "Maybe it was not too bad a decision for the football club when I took it two years ago," he said. "I am just grateful that destiny is going to take me down there."

wigan athletic

Swansea City are the first non-English team to play in the Premier League. Of the English fans crossing the border this season, Newcastle's 'Toon Army' will have the longest journey, travelling 197 miles to face Brendan Rodgers' men. As for local derbies, Cardiff missed out on promotion again, so West Bromwich Albion are the closest rivals, a mere 108 miles away.

Harry Yeates

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