Roberto Martinez enabled his players to answer every test Manchester City posed them on Saturday, but the big question still hung in the air as Wigan’s jubilant players left Wembley: is the FA Cup his parting gift, or a stepping stone to greater things with the club?
Unsurprisingly, given the emotion of the moment, the Wigan manager offered mixed messages. In one breath he talked of next season’s Europa League challenge, and of kicking on to become a top 10 team; in the next he uttered phrases such as “whoever the manager of the club might be, because nobody is here for ever”.
Everton have identified Martinez as a potential successor to David Moyes and Saturday’s triumph will narrow their aim. It adds gloss to an already impressive body of work at Swansea and Wigan, two clubs where he has delivered on limited resources – as necessary a requirement at Goodison as at the DW.
Dave Whelan, Martinez’s boss and, often, father figure, accepts the time will come when his manager asks to leave, but does not believe that day will arrive this summer. “Whenever he wants to go I’ll release him immediately, but he’ll only go to a big, big club and I don’t think Everton are big enough,” Whelan said.
“It’s Roberto’s decision. If he comes to me and says, ‘I want to go to whichever club’, I’ll say ‘OK’ and release him because we have such a great working relationship. The lad’s so honest. I trust him implicitly. I don’t think he’ll go this season, but if he does I’ll shake his hand and wish him good luck, because he’s been a brilliant manager for us and I hope he continues for another four or five years.”
The unknown factor is how relegation – or, more unlikely, survival – will affect Martinez’s thinking. If Wigan go down, will he feel he should stay to help them back up, or does he put his own career first? As Owen Coyle could tell him, a rising manager’s star can wane. If Wigan stay up, does Martinez stay to build on this season, or decide he can walk away with his head high?
When quizzed on his next challenge, Martinez responded: “The next two games”, referring to tomorrow’s league match at Arsenal and Sunday’s at home to Aston Villa. “I like to build football clubs, to do things over the long term. It would be very deflating for me if we don’t stay for a ninth season in the Premier League.
“What we have achieved this season has pushed us to the next level, playing in Europe. Doing that is an incredible achievement for a team like us. But you have to do that while still being in the Premier League. If we can stay in the Premier League it will allow us to attract players that we haven’t been able to attract in the past. It means we can fight for a top 10 finish when in the past we’ve had the perception that we have to be relegation candidates. We have a very significant week to come.
“It’s not about my future. It is the football club I care about: short-term, long-term, about achieving real aims. When I arrived at Wigan, the next step was European football. We have achieved absolutely everything. Whoever the manager of the club might be – because nobody is here for ever – the aim is to take the club to the next level.
“Sometimes there is a right and a wrong time to leave a club. Only I will know when it is the right time for me and for Wigan for me to leave. It’s not about just jumping on the success train and moving along on that. I don’t believe in that. I think football should be about long-term ambitions, giving opportunities to youngsters.
“You saw someone like Callum McManaman, a big part of the future of the club. We built Victor Moses a couple of seasons ago. And that’s what Wigan Athletic is all about. It doesn’t matter who the manager is.”
In reality, it always matters who the manager is, but if Martinez moves on Wigan can take heart from Swansea’s progress since he left them. Both Brendan Rodgers and Michel Laudrup built on the framework Martinez had established.
Having turned down Aston Villa and Liverpool, Martinez may well reject Everton, should they ask; but Everton are in better shape than Villa and, unlike Liverpool, Everton’s owner, Bill Kenwright, would grant him the same freedom to manage as Whelan has. Decisions, decisions…