Everton manager Roberto Martinez on a mission to close the gap
Their Mersey rivals have a ‘huge’ cash advantage, but Everton’s new manager tells Ian Herbert patience and style can help his club live up to a proud history
He is his own man and over time he will doubtless seek to introduce a football philosophy which is as far removed from that of David Moyes as Catalonia is from Clydeside but Roberto Martinez already shares one strong sentiment about Merseyside football with his predecessor. That the gulf in spending power between Everton and Liverpool is simply not appreciated.
“Huge,” the new Everton manager says of the comparative resources available to Liverpool. “People don’t realise. But I think it speaks volumes of the character of Everton to be able to finish in the last two seasons above Liverpool. That shows you that it can be done.”
The challenge facing any Everton manager is that getting one over on the lot from across Stanley Park and fighting it out with those clubs who are in a different financial galaxy must be done, in the eyes of the fans. Martinez knew all about that from the moment he first walked in through Goodison Park’s main entrance and through the wood-panelled corridors adorned with images of its glorious past. But it struck him twice over when he began “trying to get impregnated with the history of Everton” as he puts it.
Every night in his first two weeks as manager, Martinez sat down to work through a three-disc DVD set of Everton’s history and it was footage from 1933, of Dixie Dean and Co being interviewed on the Goodison pitch about the FA Cup final in which they beat Manchester City, which struck him most. “When you see the team Dean was playing in doing that little recording on the pitch, that gives you a huge sense of it,” he says from the early-morning serenity of the Goodison canteen, not long before the calls start raining in at 9am. “You think, ‘That’s the same ground we play on’. It puts it into perspective – that it’s a place of such respect.”
He played back the broad sweep of history too. “Everton has won nine titles and that is an incredible piece of history,” he says. “I’ve watched all the chapters from Dixie Dean, through the post-war seasons to the Howard Kendall times and the transition period when Gary Lineker went to Spain and Everton managed to win the league.” Yet it is Kendall’s part in the storied history which he lingers on.
It was just as Martinez was starting his youth career at the tiny Catalan town of Balaguer that Kendall arrived as the first Englishman in the closed Basque world of Athletic Bilbao. “I was growing up as a young boy at that time and Howard Kendall was a name that struck you because he was one of the first foreign managers in La Liga,” the 40-year-old relates. “Of course, Bilbao is a club with real strong values where they don’t use foreigners at all, so to have a foreign coach he had to be good. You wanted to know why and what he’s done in the past – and then you see what he did at Everton…”
Kendall nearly did not accomplish anything here, of course. Martinez’s box set will certainly have charted how he embarked on a whirlwind of buying and selling in the summer of 1981, broke Everton’s transfer record to buy Adrian Heath the following January and by 1983 was returning home to find graffiti on his garage, demanding he resign. Chairman Philip Carter refused to countenance that, allowing the young players Kendall had gradually assembled – Kevin Ratcliffe, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens and Graeme Sharp – to take the team to a defining period in its history.
“He had an incredible influence here,” Martinez reflects. “He was different – the way he arrived and his methods, which you would say were really modern at that time. He needed an incredible support from Philip Carter at that time, as chairman. He was really close to losing his job and all of a sudden he became manager of one of the most successful teams in the modern era. To see how they got together and developed that extra spirit – you get a lot from that. I think he was a very important stamp in how the club is.”
Moyes and Martinez share that belief in testing youth, of course, Moyes creating an infrastructure for finding and developing talent which you sense Martinez has found to be even more all-encompassing than he expected. “We have 233 [youngsters] up to the age of 16,” he says. You also feel that the couple of telephone conversations he and Moyes have squeezed in among their pre-season travels – each of them 10 minutes or so in duration – have not strayed much beyond the practicalities of a handover.
“We’ve discussed more the day-to-day and how the club has evolved and what things needed to be done that haven’t been done yet,” Martinez says. “They are huge shoes to fill but if you ask me would you prefer to come into a club like Everton, where everything is in place and you can benefit from the previous work, or you can go to a club starting from scratch, the answer is clear.”
One of the Spanish clubs Martinez has always expressed an admiration for is Villarreal, who have periodically broken the two-club Spanish hegemony – and eliminated Everton from the 2004 Champions League into the bargain – by imbuing young players with one system of football. But Everton’s aim must be vastly higher than that of the ceramics town side, Martinez says – there must be patience, and he will not set targets for the campaign which starts at Norwich City today, but he believes the creed of sustainable development can enable Everton to deliver the same potential to compete for titles which billionaires have done at other clubs.
“There is an understanding that, as it is, we are not in the financial top six,” he says. “Financially, those clubs work in a different place. But I think everyone at Everton knows we belong in that group. We belong there through history, what the football club means, through success in the 1980s and how Goodison Park has been an incredible landmark in British football.
“You can have a big blank cheque to get you into that level, or patient work. That patience has to be there. We know we have to have it. But my dream, the football dream, would be bridging that gap. In our DNA, Everton belongs as one of the top clubs that should be competing for titles.”
It has been another parsimonious Everton summer, even though the spectacle of Martinez signing four players in three days was a novelty to fans used to the deadline-day deals of the Moyes era. Martinez went back to Wigan for his first three signings – £5m Arouna Koné, Antolin Alcaraz on a free and goalkeeper Joel Robles for what looks like a steal at less than £1m following his impressive term on loan from Atletico Madrid. Tim Howard’s position is by no means impregnable.
The 19-year-old Barcelona forward Gerard Deulofeu, whose arrival on a season’s loan demonstrates the Spanish club’s regard for the Martinez way, is the individual to watch. So too, from within, 19-year-olds Ross Barkley and John Stones. It is Barkley’s mentality which points to something special in one of the few sources of encouragement from England’s Under-20 tournament this summer. “This is football. You play with your feet so you are going to make mistakes. It is a game of errors,” Martinez says. “But what I look for from players is how you react to a mistake: does it stop you getting on the ball again? Do you become a bit more cagey? What I have seen from Ross is that it doesn’t matter whether he makes a mistake, he is ready to get on the ball again. He just carries on playing in the same manner.”
All that can be said with certainty about Martinez’s Everton is that it will be a different, more ebullient style of play. “It’s just about bridging that gap between playing in a different way and being a bit different on the pitch: that’s my objective this season,” he says. Though he does not expound at length on the lessons learnt from his Wigan Athletic side’s relegation – the defensive vulnerability proved fatal – there can be no doubt that he has carried them through the summer.
Even as he speaks, Goodison is evolving. Gone is the top-floor press room at which opposition managers have been arriving breathless for years. There are plans to make the press conference walk a ground-level stroll, perhaps before Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea arrive three weeks from now. Martinez has weighed Everton’s history carefully and is ready to make that the only new home comfort for those who visit this grand old place in search of points.
My other life: Catalan conversation
I once said that it would be great to have Salvador Dali as a dinner guest and to hear all those stories about his life and to find out what it meant to him to be a Catalan. Other people I’d like to sit around a table with? Johan Cruyff, who changed Barcelona’s philosophy when he went to Barcelona in 1988 – the hardest thing for any manager to do; he started the way they play now. And John Malkovich – I think he is an excellent actor.
Starter’s orders: Last Toffees debut
* Everton’s last new era kicked off with a certain Paul Gascoigne and David Ginola on the books. Gazza was loaned out to Burnley in the first week of David Moyes’ reign in March 2002, which kicked off with a 2-1 win over Fulham. David Unsworth and Duncan Ferguson found the net as Thomas Gravesen was sent off.
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