Martinez sticks to his guns and heads for glory

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The Independent Online

The pact that Wigan have made is with the deep allure of potential. Roberto Martinez arrived during the summer with a reputation, built around the worth of a small but persuasive body of work at Swansea, telling of glorious possibilities. These opening weeks of the season have allowed brief glimpses of what might be achieved, but also reaffirmed the harsh truth of what it is to remake a football team in a different, more compelling image.

Results have lurched from what felt like a bold declaration in defeating Aston Villa on the opening day to a 4-1 loss to Blackpool in the League Cup last week that left him with little option but to brand the performance unacceptable. Somewhere in the midst of these fluctuations which include a 5-0 loss to Manchester United and a 1-0 defeat by Wolverhampton, Martinez's imperative is to search for something less tangible to find signs which suggest that "this is where we're going, not where we are".

"I always say to my players, football is a game of errors, it's how you react to them," Martinez says. "Everybody is normally very cautious against Manchester United. I was extremely proud that for an hour we went face-to-face with them. We need to work extremely hard to fulfil our potential, I'm a perfectionist."

He talks of the instability that comes from players leaving and arriving, but there is, too, the precariousness of seeking a fundamental change of priorities. Under Steve Bruce, Wigan were sharply functional, capable of prevailing through a kind of ferocious application, but Martinez seeks a different meaning from the game.

At its heart is the idea that trusting in your principles, however based they are in the belief that the game is capable of great and stirring beauty, will always be worthwhile. A sheen of assurance surrounds him, in the sallow handsomeness of his assertive features, the tailored suits, the instinctive conviction in the value of what he is trying to achieve, but he is also hard-headed. As a child, he would regularly be taken into the dressing rooms of the Spanish lower-league clubs which his father managed, and he recalls the mood of the family home being governed by weekend results.

"It's a process that takes time, but we need to find a way of still getting results while we're changing things. I'm not a fool," he says. "At Swansea, it probably took me six months to play the way we wanted to play. But for me, the level of performance is more important now than points. We need to grow, to be able to get the ball and break teams down. Slowly, with every performance, I'm seeing a different dimension in our play. That's the progress that we need at this time."

At 36, he is the youngest manager in the Premier League, but already savvy enough to know how we work. So when he is asked about facing Everton today, after their Europa League qualifier in the Czech Republic last Thursday, he smiles and says that David Moyes' side are too experienced to be fatigued.

When asked, too, about Titus Bramble, a defender who for so long seemed critically undermined by a capacity for blunder, he talks earnestly of the player's renaissance last season and of his growing stature. "Titus is ready to go into the international scene," Martinez says. "Going through difficult experiences shows just how strong he is mentally. He's in the perfect moment of his career."

The declaration is, of course, meant for Bramble, a public, and uplifting, compliment. Martinez is not yet in in his perfect moment, but he is heading there.

Today's matches

PORTSMOUTH v MANCHESTER CITY (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Takeover or not, it is still tempting to see this one as the paupers against the princes. Having failed to score in seven out of nine League games, what Pompey would most like to buy is a goal.

EVERTON v WIGAN ATHLETIC (3pm)

A 4-0 beating at Goodison Park late last season illustrated the way the wind was blowing for Wigan and it could be gale-force before winter sets in. Everton may be bottom but they can be more optimistic.



ASTON VILLA v FULHAM (4pm, Sky Sports 1)

A sensible fixture arrangement for once, bringing together two teams equally weary from Thursday's exertions in the Europa League qualifying round. Late fitness tests, not surprisingly, on both sides.

Steve Tongue

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