Martinez and Everton will do City no favours, even if they help Liverpool
With two games left, Everton already have six points more than they managed in the whole of last season, and the chances are they will finish fifth rather than sixth.
They still could qualify for the Uefa Champions League, too – although that would require Arsenal to fail to win one of their remaining games, against West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City. But even if Everton do not reach the Champions League, Europa League football is almost secure.
So far, David Moyes’s departure a year ago has worked out very well for Everton. There had been dissenting voices in his final seasons about his supposedly over-cautious approach, but losing the manager who had established them as a regular top-six side must still have caused a certain anxiety at the club.
Martinez, though, has been a breath of fresh air. The football has been zestier and rather more fun to watch, and they at last have managed to win away at a top-four club, something they never accomplished under Moyes. Admittedly, that “top-four” club was Manchester United, who now, in part because of Moyes, are no longer a top-four club. But the general point remains.
It’s a little unfair to the work Moyes did to lay the foundations, but there is a sense that by the end he was holding Everton back.
Moyes was always a calm figure in public, affable and decent, and it feels churlish to be critical of somebody who did little wrong in that regard, but there is an energy about Martinez that makes it feel as though Everton are moving forwards.
He has an easy charisma and a habit of answering almost any question in full rat-a-tat paragraphs that conveys conviction. After Everton had, a bit unluckily, lost away at Tottenham earlier in the season, for instance, he pitched the tone exactly right: he pointed out Everton had deserved to win but, rather than lamenting their misfortune, he insisted that if the two teams kept playing like that his would finish on top: with two games of the season remaining, Everton are leading Spurs by three points.
Martinez’s comments ahead of Saturday’s match were similarly positive, talking about what the game means for his club and the reasons not to get hung up on what it might mean for others. To Liverpool, for example, who realistically need City to drop a point in one of their final three matches if they are to win the league, and for some Everton fans, who might be quite happy to lose today given that it would help City finish ahead of their Anfield arch-rivals.
“We are not in a season where we are playing for nothing, just making up the numbers,” Martinez said. “We are not that sort of football club,” he said. “The values we have as a football club mean we would never contemplate not to give our all in a game, especially when we have so much to fight for.
“I don’t think there is any doubt about the integrity of our football club towards the league. We are a club who want to win every single game. They are precious points for us and we can’t really afford not to give everything we have got for every point we have got left.
“If that adds some spice in the twists and turns of the title race, so be it. As to helping other teams, that is not the way we do our work. It is not as if we are coming out on the pitch to do anyone a favour. The fans are the first ones who want to come to Goodison to enjoy and be proud of the team.”
A point from their final two games – Everton go to Hull City on the last weekend – would guarantee Europa League football and that would be a further challenge for Martinez. He seems already to have secured Gerard Delofeu on loan for next season but two other key players, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku, will end their loan spells at the end of the season.
Even beyond those three, there is much strengthening of the squad necessary if Everton are to prosper in the league and Europe next season. Many managers seem to regard the Europa League as a chore: Martinez, one suspects, will approach it with the positivity he approaches everything. And that perhaps is the major difference between him and Moyes: rather than worrying about what could go wrong in a given situation, he looks for the advantages.
Before tackling that hurdle, though, Martinez has the more immediate task of helping his club’s biggest rivals win the league.
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Published: May 2, 2014 04:00 AM