Will Roberto Martinez lead Everton into new era under Moshiri?

Cup defeat to Chelsea can spell the end for Everton manager

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The Independent Football

When Farhad Moshiri makes his first visit to Goodison Park today, Everton’s new major shareholder could do a lot worse than wander on past the stadium’s main reception and call in at St Luke’s Church.

Inside the church hall on the corner of Goodison Road and Gwladys Street, the Iranian billionaire would get an immediate sense of the soul of his new club. In the hall downstairs he would see parishioners serving supporters mugs of tea from big metal pots while upstairs he would find BBC’s Football Focus cameras filming the Aladdin’s Cave of memorabilia laid out by members of the EFC Heritage Society. And if he stayed around for a cuppa, he would surely detect one prominent topic of conversation: the future of Roberto Martinez.

Everton’s record 45th FA Cup quarter-final today is widely viewed as Martinez’s last chance to salvage something from a disappointing season for a highly regarded side placed 12th in the Premier League, and its significance for Martinez’s own future as manager beyond May is a moot point. Moshiri announced yesterday there would be extra funds forthcoming on top of his reported initial £175m investment – “I can confirm that I have committed to providing additional funds for transfers and retaining our key players to ensure that we have a strong core to build on for the future,” he said – and the question now is whether the under-fire Martinez will be the man to spearhead the new era.

It is a measure of the 42-year-old’s waning popularity that the Liverpool Echo this week produced an article comparing him to Mike Walker, a manager with a reputation for neat football at Norwich who very nearly got Everton relegated. Barry Horne, a member of Everton’s last FA Cup-winning team, joined the debate in the paper by saying of Martinez: “If he doesn’t wake up and smell the coffee very soon he may become a martyr to the god of possession football.”

It was inevitable that the style-over-substance question would resurface, given Everton’s 3-2 loss to West Ham United last weekend – a match in which their bright attacking efforts were undone by another late collapse. Since late November, Everton’s failure to defend a lead has cost them both a place in the Capital One Cup final and 14 league points – including two at Stamford Bridge in January, where Everton led today’s opponents Chelsea 2-0 and 3-2 before letting in a 98th-minute equaliser. 

Yet Martinez, speaking on Thursday, dismissed the notion he had failed to learn from past mistakes, saying, not entirely convincingly, that the West Ham setback was a case apart. “We had 10 men from the 35th minute,” he said. “It is not about philosophies,” he added, before denying this campaign would be a failure if Chelsea were to win today. “It is too early to tell,” he argued, citing the need to consider “everything in terms of the squad, the recruitment, the overall transition over the 12 months and what you have done in the league and the cups”.

Martinez has certainly recruited some talented footballers and, if you listen to people inside the club, he has also created an impressively positive working environment. When it comes to his absurdly positive public pronouncements, though, the Spaniard is open to accusations of channelling his inner Don Quixote by seeing giants where others see windmills – or dodgy defenders.

One recent Premier League opponent, speaking to The Independent, suggested that Martinez’s side have a problem “defending crosses into their area” and also lack defensive cohesion between the lines, so giving rival teams space to exploit. 

Another Premier League player described a recent match against Everton as being “like a basketball game”. 

With Moshiri looking on today, Martinez’s immediate priority is finding a solution to his side’s poor home form. “There is an aspect of the psychology that we have to put right,” he conceded on Thursday. Everton have lost just one away match this season and have the league’s second-best defensive record on the road. Yet they have won four of their last 17 league fixtures at Goodison, where the atmosphere has soured since Martinez’s first campaign, in 2013-14, when his fresh ideas inspired a side with a David Moyes-built backbone to their record Premier League points total.

 John Blain, a season-ticket holder and shareholder, says: “At Goodison the support is even more fragile than the defence is accused of being. As soon as something goes wrong the fans at home go into ‘oh here we go again’ mode.”

When the stakes – and, crucially, the tempo of play – are raised, Goodison does respond, though Martinez should still beware the Ides of March as he targets the club’s first FA Cup semi-final since 2012. For Everton’s last two managers, FA Cup quarter-final defeats proved the last significant act of their reign.

 A 3-0 loss at Middlesbrough on 10 March 2002 was Walter Smith’s final game. For Moyes, the 3-0 home reverse to Martinez’s Wigan on 9 March 2013 ended his last chance of winning a trophy with Everton. Wigan – that year’s FA Cup winners – earned applause from the home crowd as they left the pitch, while afterwards Leighton Baines and Leon Osman agreed they would be happy if Martinez became their next manager.

Martinez’s memory of that ovation was sketchy when asked about it on Thursday. “It is such a long time ago that I can’t even remember,” said a man with more pressing concerns right now.