Roberto Martinez deserves significant praise for improving the effectiveness and aesthetic beauty of the Toffees, but not at the expense of his predecessor’s reputation
By Liam Twomey
When David Moyes examined his first Premier League fixture list as Manchester United manager back in June, the dream scenario would undoubtedly have been to face Everton on Easter Sunday leading a title-chasing team back to a familiar stadium where he would be welcomed with warmth and respect.
Some 10 months on, the reality is a nightmare. United, contemplating a first season outside the Champions League in 18 years, are no more than hapless spectators to a title race contested by their bitterest rivals. At Goodison Park, meanwhile, Martinez is making Moyes look bad at every turn.
The Spaniard has already surpassed his predecessor’s best points tally as Everton boss (65) with a month of the season to spare, his team winning three more games (19) and scoring as many goals (55) as they did in the whole of last season. And he ended the club’s 21-year wait for a victory at Old Trafford at the first attempt in December, Bryan Oviedo’s 86th-minute goal settling matters as the travelling Everton supporters serenaded Moyes with choruses of ‘sacked in the morning’.
On one level, the hostility Moyes will likely encounter again on Sunday is understandable. Much of the good will he once enjoyed was lost in last summer’s messy and public pursuit of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, and his suggestion that Martinez should consider “what was right for the players” and accept a combined offer which the Everton hierarchy had branded “derisory”.
With their team flying under a bright new manager as their old one publicly flounders, many Everton fans now feel comfortable belittling Moyes and his achievements.
Some inside the club are apparently of a similar mind. Last month Ross Barkley praised Martinez for being less negative and “more tactical” than the Scot, while under-18 coach Kevin Sheedy claimed his former manager had never in 11 years shown an interest in the development of the club’s youngsters.
One suspects Wayne Rooney, Leon Osman, Jack Rodwell, Victor Anichebe, Tony Hibbert and James Vaughan might be inclined to disagree.
In any case, using recent progress under Martinez as a stick with which to beat Moyes has always felt particularly simplistic and unfair. The Spaniard’s feats can only be sensibly viewed as the result of a combination of what he has implemented and what he inherited.
At Wigan, Martinez’s burgeoning managerial reputation was persistently undermined by a nagging doubt over his aptitude as a defensive coach. The Latics conceded more than 60 goals in each of his four seasons at the club, and 73 in the campaign which saw them relegated.
At Everton the Spaniard has never needed to answer this question, having inherited one of the most accomplished, organised and settled defences in the Premier League. The only newcomer to the formidable backline Moyes built has been John Stones, the talented and versatile youngster the Scot poached from Barnsley for £3 million in January 2013.
With such a solid foundation, Martinez could concentrate on the more progressive areas of his team. The attacking unit he has constructed is undeniably more dynamic, youthful and thrilling than anything seen at Goodison Park in recent years, but this should not automatically condemn Moyes.
In his 11 full seasons as Everton manager, the Scot could only boast a striker who scored 13 Premier League goals twice (Yakubu in the 2007-08 season and Louis Saha in 2009-10). It is a total Romelu Lukaku has already matched in just 25 appearances this term.
Aside from his goals, the Belgian’s phenomenal physical attributes make him the perfect spearhead for this Everton side, and his intelligent runs provide the space for team-mates to do damage. He is, in short, a striker the calibre of which Moyes could only dream of bringing to Goodison Park during his reign, but Martinez has been fortunate enough to acquire him immediately at negligible cost.
The other significant change to this Everton side is a more expressive, technical midfield, with the experience of Gareth Barry allied to the poise of Martinez disciple James McCarthy and fearless exuberance of Barkley. It is a revamp funded and facilitated by Moyes’ decision to shell out £27.5m on Fellaini – a midfielder arguably less compatible with the Martinez system – last summer.
Whether he would admit it or not, Barkley also appears to have benefited from Moyes’ careful management of his development over the past two years. He now looks ready to be a Premier League star. Barry, meanwhile, is another loanee of rare quality, his availability borne more out of Manchester City’s need to trim their wage bill than any obvious decline. It is a decent bet that Moyes would have wanted him too.
After all, any manager who brings Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar to the Premier League and gives them the freedom to shine is no footballing philistine. The work of Martinez has been to transform Everton from a pragmatic, reasonably direct side into a more attack-minded, possession-oriented one, not drag them kicking and screaming out of the Stone Age.
The Spaniard’s success in improving both the effectiveness and the aesthetic beauty of this team deserves significant praise, but it should also be placed into context. Wednesday’s shock defeat to Crystal Palace leaves Everton likely to finish fifth this season, just one place higher than Moyes managed last term.
Credit for Martinez is warranted, but not at the expense of his predecessor’s already battered reputation. Moyes may not prove to be the right man to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford but, for over a decade, he was unquestionably the right man for Everton.
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