When Everton announced Roberto Martinez as the man to replace David Moyes at Goodison Park, most Evertonians were unsure how it would pan out. The Spaniard's teams had always played excellent football, but his Wigan team had always been perennially bad at defending. Although they had just won the FA Cup by beating Manchester City, they had gotten themselves relegated the following week. It was a very fifty-fifty situation, it was either going to go very well or very badly. I myself had settled somewhere on the fence and decided that around tenth would be a good start, a view held by football magazine FourFourTwo as well.
In that first press conference, many laughed when Bill Kenwright shared with the media that Martinez had promised him Champions League football, yet here in January many of those laughing have certainly had to eat humble pie. Everton are soaring, playing arguably the best football in the league and for once everyone is happy at the club. It is because of this happiness, and belief in the new methods as well, that is currently pervading through the club that we find ourselves in such a healthy position as we enter the second half of the season. This belief though, has come straight from the Spaniard in the dugout.
In the latter years of David Moyes' reign, there was a sense of the Scot majorly underselling the ambitions of the club. He had clearly decided to accept that Everton couldn't compete with those teams sitting above them, notably high spending Tottenham and even Liverpool, and that the glass ceiling had been reached. Recently Elliot Bretland in the Daily Mail spoke about Moyes brainwashing Evertonians into believing eighth was good enough. In this piece he describes how "Moyes created the illusion that it was impossible for Everton to challenge those with more financial clout - through a lack of belief in his own players and pessimism during interviews. There was a glass ceiling and Moyes' hands were tied – he was doing the best he could. Or so he claimed. But Martinez has proved that's not the case at all." On current showing, it is hard to argue.
Martinez’s enthusiasm has pervaded through the entirety of the club. Every player is playing to the best of his abilities and it is showing, but more importantly, nobody is worried about making a mistake. Take Leon Osman for example, his mistake against Sunderland ultimately cost the club three points, but instead of bemoaning that moment in a game Everton dominated, Martinez was keen to emphasize how good his side were in the second half. It was a similar story in the recent draw against Stoke when Everton were just thoroughly unlucky. Ross Barkley is the epitome of this confidence the manager has in his squad, he is making mistakes constantly, as players of his age will, but his manager doesn't mind as he is learning and his brilliance is shining through on a daily basis as a result.
Results have followed a similar manner. The defeat of Manchester United could have been predicted, but the draw with Arsenal was not a foregone conclusion, and the fact that Everton refused to roll over and die after conceding that late goal was a further example of Martinez’s way of doing things. Even in the win at Old Trafford, Everton were attacking to the death. Under the previous regime, sitting on a 1-0 lead was a common occurrence in such an event and often costly. That FA Cup semi final against Liverpool is a prime example. Now, there is certainly a sense of there being no point in winning if you don’t do it in style, and it not being over till it's over. As Dixie Dean put it, "Everton have always been noted for going out on the pitch to play football. We got called the School of Science quite rightly." This is clearly a belief our new manager holds amongst his basic principles.
It’s not just in the squad where this confidence is showing through though. The fan-base are the most confident they have ever been about an Everton team in recent memory, whilst every time their manager speaks they fall a little more in love with the Spaniard at the helm. Looking back at that Sunderland defeat again, instead of booing at the final whistle, appreciation was what followed the players down the tunnel. Despite a demoralising defeat, they appreciated that it had just not their team’s day, but the football had been wonderful to watch nonetheless. The recent decision to put pictures of famous players and quotes around the club, an order that came directly from the manager, shows he has bought into what being Everton means and it definitely went down well with the fans. In a recent Everton Tea Party event, he was keen to sit down and talk with a select set of fan groups about a range of topics from transfer policy to his now infamous brown shoes. Even the staff at Everton are striving for better, and credit must go to Alan Myers and his team for connecting so well with the fans, buying into their new manager so wholeheartedly, and creating a greater level of transparency at the club that many have yearned for previously.
In short, Roberto Martinez has managed to change the entire mind-set of a football club, and certainly for the better. There is however a long time to go yet, and half a season is certainly too short a space of time to consider Martinez a resounding success. Despite this, whatever happens in the second half of this tumultuous season, Evertonians can feel assured that their new manager has the belief to take them all the way.