On the face of things, Roberto Martinez did not have much to turn his back on at Wigan. The club's training ground is in a place called Lower Standing and there's a rather harsh irony about that because Premier League clubs just don't stand much lower than Wigan on a number of key criteria.
This is the side with the lowest revenues in the Premier League (£43m) and the second lowest average attendances (16,812 – better only than Blackpool) last season. Yet Martinez has decided it is an environment he cannot walk away from. For loyalty and conviction, decisions don't get much bigger than his resolve to give his chairman Dave Whelan one more year. Though the decision has been characterised as one that was wrestled over, he has been fairly sure of his path for some days now.
"Over the last two years the chairman has been very supportive to me and loyal, and now I feel I need to be loyal and supportive back to him," Martinez said yesterday. But the really significant part of his explanation came second. "I haven't finished my job at Wigan Athletic. There is much work still to be done. I don't know how long that will take but such is the belief that I have always had that I would only ever decide to move once the club is ready for a new manager."
It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which Martinez has overhauled Wigan, culturally and philosophically, in the two years since Whelan appointed him. His inheritance was a club that had been blessed by Whelan's eye for a good manager. Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce had, between them, mined a rich seam of central American talent, one of the last untapped areas of world football.
But Martinez wanted more for Wigan, a club that had been in his veins ever since he arrived from Spain as a player in 1995 and formed the "Three Amigos" with Jesus Seba and Isidro Diaz. He knew that it had always been Wigan against the world here in rugby league territory – a 6-2 home thrashing by Mansfield in the old Third Division is a memory of his first season – and he wanted to build a philosophy at the club around that smallness.
"I want the players to be brave and I want them to believe that, yes, we are Wigan Athletic, this modest club in the Premier League but we are a fantastic story," he told me amid the club's desperate relegation fight last month.
To fulfil that aim he has introduced what marketeers would call brand values, which are written on the giant sign that greets players when they walk up to the dressing rooms and the club's modest little Christopher Park training ground. It reads: "Courage, Possession and Arrogance: Welcome to Work." That's arrogance as in looking bigger clubs in the eye and not flinching. Martinez is rather keen on his aspirational messages. "Encouragement is the best form of criticism," reads one inside the training ground canteen. "Winning your personal battles is the first step to victory," yet another.
Martinez wants his Wigan to be a place with its own footballing soul, not one clinging on for grim life. The club academy system which had yielded one Premier League player in the past 10 years – Everton's Leighton Baines – has become integral, as he has sought to rectify a terrifying wages-to-revenue ratio of 91 per cent.
Four players from the elite development squad made the first team last season and all the talk is of 20-year-old forward Callum McManaman, who understands the passing game Martinez preaches because all levels are now taught to play the Martinez way.
Wigan fans have taken some winning-over to the passing style, incidentally, but they're a small enough band for Martinez to feel he can communicate with them. Live webchats are routine.
Wigan has such belief in its adoptive Spaniard, in fact, that he finds himself straying way off his brief. Martinez was asked to attend a council knife-crime launch a month or so back and did not expect to be asked actually to speak on the issue. No one, least of all his astonished communications staff, has forgotten the way he delivered on the hoof that day.
This is Martinez's world – a rich one in unconventional ways – and it is his utter conviction that the overhaul of the club is about to reap rewards which strengthened his resolve not to leave, when he weighed up Villa's overtures.
What a gamble he has taken; foresaking Villa for a club carrying the ninth highest level of debt in the Premier League and which cannot even be sure Charles N'Zogbia, Hugo Rodallega and James McCarthy will share his principles this summer.
Martinez's convictions will not be dented if the stars leave, though. He carries himself with a calm, understated confidence which makes it hard to believe that an Upper Standing does not still lie ahead. Sin miedo (no fear), as Martinez likes to say.Reuse content