Roberto Martinez Has Made Everton The Premier League's 20-Minute Men, But Is That Enough?


From the expression on Roberto Martinez’s face, you wouldn’t have guessed it was him that had just used some of the following words about the referee’s performance in Everton’s 3-3 draw at Chelsea: “diabolical”, “shocking”, “horrific”, “unacceptable”…

The Spaniard was fuming - or at least read like he was.

By the time it came to talking to the daily newspaper journalists in a more intimate little huddle, though, Martinez had his usual beaming smile.

If he had previously been raging, it seemed he had calmed - and reverted. That was made clear when the Everton manager was asked why his side aren’t higher in the table, given the high quality of some of their football.

"Well, I think it’s because we are still a young team and sometimes we need to learn how to reflect on what are good performances and good results,” Martinez said.

Southampton v Everton - Premier League : News Photo

The first few words of that are a fair response but the rest drifts in to some of the absurdly abstract “positivity” that the Everton manager can often be guilty of.

After all, it often seems that the 42-year-old doesn’t do much more other than “reflect” on performances - rather than try and build on them by regularly winning. How often have we heard him talking about his “pride” in yet another “encouraging” display, only for the fine details of the match mean they should ultimately be disappointed?

And, despite all that reflection and encouragement, Everton are still one of the most confounding teams on the continent right now.

They are so regularly capable of looking so, so good - often to the point of bettering and even battering elite sides like Chelsea and Manchester City - but aren’t actually doing so well. Everton have only won six out of 22 games this season and sit in the bottom half.

The next question is why, and one increasing response is that it’s down to Martinez’s failings, that the time might be coming to replace him.

That idea offers as much to dwell on as Everton’s form, principally because the idea of such a clean break for any new manager is fanciful. Given that so much of how the side play is down to Martinez’s specific ideas, any replacement would have to do his own work first to build on that.

Everton v Liverpool - Premier League : News Photo

And this, then, is the deeper quandary with Everton.

Fundamentally, and not totally unlike Brendan Rodgers, Martinez is a brilliant training-pitch coach with genuinely sophisticated ideas. Also not totally unlike Rodgers, though, the nature of how he speaks to the media has led to accusations he is a “spoofer”.

That is untrue and unfair. The reality is that the vast majority of those who have played under him speak glowingly about how he coaches them.

The root of Martinez’s entire approach is for players to build on-pitch relationships and become so cohesive and integrated that slick moves almost become instinctive.

The benefit of this was usually only seen towards the end of his seasons at Wigan Athletic, when they would suddenly turn it on to secure another survival.

His Everton have now replicated that process - but in every game, rather than at the end of every campaign. They are the best 20-minute team in the Premier League, often reaching a level to rank alongside anyone else in the division for brief periods - only to then drift again.

Everton v Aston Villa - Premier League : News Photo

Martinez was asked why this was on Saturday.

“I don’t think you will ever find a team that can play that dominant for 90 minutes,” he said. “What you need to try to do is, when you are in a period where you are not dominant, not to be punished… today the way we managed the game showed a real maturity that showed we are learning our lessons.”

Is that really true? It does seem like we’re always citing the same old Martinez problems. How many times are we going to criticise a defence that isn’t as tenacious as it is technical? How many times are we going to see Tim Howard make an error? How many times are we going to lament a lusciously nice football team that can’t seem to see games out?

Martinez would argue that all of this comes together when his side have that perfect cohesion, but that raises another issue.

One of the great virtues and best practices in coaching is to concentrate on the ongoing process rather than end results because, if you that right, the former will eventually take care of the latter and the benefits will be even deeper because of the trust and time taken. It is particularly valuable at youth level and thereby especially relevant with Everton, given their core of Romelu Lukaku, John Stones and Ross Barkley.

There is still a limit at this level, though, and it too often feels like Martinez has taken that principle to unfavourable extremes. Even a few more compromises and constraints could go a long way.

That could really give them something to smile about. Until then, it does feel like Martinez should be grimacing and bearing it a few more times - and do the little things that can have bigger effects.

 

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