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Roberto Martinez and the future of soccer

in Columns/Out of Left Field/Sports by
New Everton manager Roberto Martinez is revolutionizing professional soccer.
New Everton manager Roberto Martinez is revolutionizing professional soccer.

While Everton manager Roberto Martinez appears conservative on the outside, his tactics and approach to the game are as unorthodox as former English national team coach Alf Ramsey’s use of the flying wingbacks or Rinus Michels’ invention of total football that is still used by Ajax and Barcelona. Martinez has been trying to make his mark on the game in the same way that these coaches did by using technology to analyze every game, giving him the greatest opportunity to win. But what really makes Martinez special is his willingness to change or adapt his style depending on the situation with which he is faced.

“The Numbers Game” by Chris Anderson and David Sally has an extensive section on Roberto Martinez and his peculiar approach to the game. It is worth splitting the analysis of Martinez into two sections, his careers with Wigan and Everton. Let’s start with Wigan and what Martinez managed to do there. Consider the fact that Wigan was perennially the lowest spender in the Premier League but nonetheless managed to keep Premier League status for a few years. They also managed to win the League Cup last year against Manchester City, which is no small achievement considering the size of the squad at Martinez’s disposal.

But how did Roberto Martinez manage to do so well with so little? There is a movement in global soccer right now to gain and control possession of the ball. Spain and Barcelona show that possession of the ball is necessary in order to win consistently because that is the only way in which you can both score and, at the same time, prevent the opponent from scoring. But Wigan never consistently dominated possession against other Premier League teams while Martinez was in charge, so the Spaniard bucked the common trend. Instead, and this is clear from watching his old Wigan side playing, his approach was to take long range shots and to wait for free kicks in order to attack. This attacking approach was always combined with a willingness to adopt new formations that were rarely seen in England.

Martinez often adopted a typical formation at the beginning of the season with 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 being the most popular, but would try new things as the season progressed in order to surprise the opposition. Last year his Wigan team began playing a 3-5-2 formation with two defensive wingers, which is reminiscent of the way that Juventus likes to play. By refusing to take the ball into the opposition’s box Wigan avoided being struck on the counter attack because their forward line was never too high up the pitch. What’s more, by adopting non-conventional tactics Martinez provided his team with an edge through his opponent’s inability to prepare properly for competing against his team. Martinez knew all of this would keep his Wigan team up, with a bit of luck added in, because he analyzed data daily on his team’s matches and training performances from the touch screen TV in his living room, a necessary purchase for a forward thinking-manager.

That was at Wigan. The success at Wigan brought Martinez suitors from many different clubs who saw what he was doing by keeping the smallest team in the Premier League in the top division and wanted him to aim for greater things with their larger budgets. There were rumors that Martinez would take over at Aston Villa, Tottenham (after Harry Redknapp) and a cheeky enquiry from Manchester United, but none of these came to fruition and Martinez ended up taking over for David Moyes at Everton.

The change in scenery has led to a change of playing style as the former Wigan manager adapts to the greater challenges of being Everton’s manager. David Moyes had been seen as a saviour at Everton due to his perceived overachievement while in charge of the Merseyside club, but Martinez’s success and Moyes’ current failings at United have begun to scupper that myth. Martinez insists that his Everton side is just taking shape and is still learning to play the way he wants them to, but there is already a marked improvement in the way they are playing. The new Everton side is already ahead of last year’s team and could still finish fourth if Arsenal has a few bad games. Everton has increased their goal-per-game average as well as reducing the number of goals conceded.

The percentage of possession per game has also increased while the number of losses has gone down. At this moment, Everton has only lost five games this season, which puts them on par with Manchester City and Liverpool and only one game behind Chelsea. Martinez has managed to make the “overachieving” Everton side of Moyes into an even better side through focusing on a more traditional approach. Possession statistics have increased and have therefore led to Everton both scoring more goals and conceding fewer. The improvement in noticeable in the way that Everton is playing and in the statistics; it is interesting that Martinez can have such a noticeable difference in the playing style of his squad so quickly. The entire squad seems sold on their new attitude to the game and the club has markedly improved due to the new technical approach taken on by Martinez. Moyes was considered to be a technically adept manager but he is nothing compared to Martinez, who uses technology to analyze his team’s performance and watches each game three times before the true analysis begins.

What is clear is that Roberto Martinez is a new style of manager that has adapted to the new technological aspects of soccer successfully. His story is similar to that of Arsene Wenger, who famously managed to take advantage of the transfer market in his first few years because no one else had the information he did. Martinez is currently exploiting a lack of analysis on the part of other managers. It seems ridiculous that no other clubs provide as much information to their managers as Martinez receives and Martinez is smarter than most by using the plentiful information in order to win. His change of tactics and new understanding of the game at Wigan and Everton have led to a very successful early career for the Spaniard and this all should enable him to continue his meteoric rise.

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