With seven games remaining Everton boss Roberto Martinez has led the Toffees both to the verge of a record Premier League points tally and on to the threshold of Champions League qualification
Some would say it may be harsh to assert Roberto Martinez has transformed David Moyes’ base metal Everton squad into gold.
However, there can be no doubt the charismatic Spaniard has woven his own spell on the club he inherited from the dour former Blues manager.
Leaving aside for a moment what could end up being a momentous first season in the Everton hot seat for Martinez, the change of perception from both within and outside Goodison Park, is one the 40-year old Catalan has purposely set out to achieve.
While former manager Moyes based his relative success at Everton on a pragmatic footballing philosophy – the Scot will forever be remembered by Evertonians for referring to his team’s chances of winning away at the ‘big 4’ as ‘taking a knife to a gun fight’ – new boss Martinez has repeatedly stated his belief in how Everton belong at the Premier League top table.
It is a confidence and positivity that is endearing and catching and one deeply engrained in the young manager’s idealist footballing philosophy.
Speaking as eloquently as ever at the pre-Arsenal press conference, Martinez revealed some of the refinements he believes have given his team the platform to challenge and perhaps overtake Arsenal in the race for Champions League football. A focus on the physical, technical and mental aspect of modern-day football has been a cornerstone of Martinez’s Everton evolution.
“With any team sport you rely on the mentality, character and psychology of the group and that has been a real positive from the very beginning,” said the Spaniard.
Interestingly, Martinez singled-out a group of players inherited from David Moyes as being a catalyst in what the new manager refers to as Everton’s new ‘winning mentality.’
“That is down to the senior players more than anything, they are the ones who set standards and direction and we’ve become a very strong group from that point of view.
“We have developed a real good winning mentality and with the two big disappointments we had against Chelsea and Spurs shaping us up into the team we are now. I think it is very positive to be able to face adversity and to learn from it.”
Perhaps the the most glaring change Martinez has spearheaded in his short tenure at Goodison Park is the introduction to the first-team of some of the brightest and most talented young players to have graced the Premier League this season.
With John Stones, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulefeu and Romelu Lukaku all 20-years old or younger, blended by Martinez with senior pro’s such as Phil Jagielka, Tim Howard and Sylvain Distin. It has become a concoction of experience and youthful exuberance that has the Toffees believing in a remarkable Champions League tilt.
“We’ve managed to keep the senior players who have been successful and have an incredible know-how and we’ve introduced a little bit of an unknown quantity with the immense talent of the young players.
“That mixture has been working very, very well.”
The Martinez effect can be measured in the words of senior goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Speaking back in February, the long-serving keeper gave an insight into the power of Martinez’s positive thinking and the marked difference in approach between the Spaniard and the now Manchester United manager Moyes:
“No matter what game we go into, the focus has not at any point this season been on the other team, it has always been about us,” said Howard.
“We work on ourselves and it’s a difference. We’ll train on trying to exploit the opposition, as opposed to ‘here is what they are
going to do to hurt us and this is what we are going to do to defend against them’.
“That is not in this manager’s nature.”
“The players have to do this 40 weeks of the year,” continued Howard.
“It is nice not to come into work every day thinking ‘Oh, that’s looming ahead’.
“The manager (Martinez) keeps us bright and bubbly and focused on ourselves. Not always having to look over your shoulder at who is coming next is good.”
Another senior member of Martinez’s squad, Scottish international Steven Naismith, was more recently just as bowled-over by the young Everton manager as his American team mate.
“He [Martinez] has such good charisma and is such a good man-manager that you want to work for him. This season is the most I
have learned football-wise in my whole career.
David Moyes is a British-mentality manager, which I have seen a lot of. He was only tweaking and giving you a more advanced lesson on what you already knew.
With the manager now, it is a totally new way of playing football. It opens your eyes to the fact football can be played in such a different way.”
With Martinez preparing his team to face a game of huge consequence, as Everton welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park for what is being billed in some quarters as a Champions League play-off, the Blues manager has again spoken of the advantage playing in front of the Everton home faithful can give his side.
“It is true that when we go to Goodison we have a real belief and it’s fair to say that the players look forward to go and play there. I think that is a major, major factor and we are able to be brave and experiment with things and to perform consistently well,” said Martinez.
“I think we have done that at Goodison and we have been able to adapt in certain games and play in different ways and that is down to the players feeling comfortable with ourselves.”
“There is a special chemistry between the fans and the players that reflects on how the players can express themselves and how they enjoy their football.
“So going into such a big football occasion I think [being at home] is vital.
The advantage of playing at home in these sort of games is huge but we are facing an exceptional team, a team that on their day can produce a style of football that can win them games.”
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, Evertonians can be assured their new mercurial manager will continue to work his own brand of magic on the School of Science that is Everton Football Club.
There is an ancient philosophical tradition whose devotees claim it can be the harbinger of profound knowledge. In the young Catalan born manager, Everton may just have unearthed their very own footballing Alchemist in Roberto Martinez.