First off, cards on the table. I’m a fan.
I've been going to Goodison as a season ticket holder since 1988. In that time I’ve seen a succession of different managers: Colin Harvey never being as good a No 1 as he was a No 2. Howard Kendall coming back and never quite being able to recapture his magical first spell. Mike Walker being completely out if his depth. Joe Royle ending an 8-year trophy drought (ahem) with a team that was
(the magical Kanchelskis aside) [Joe Royle won the FA Cup for Everton in 1995 before Andre Kanchelskis joined the following season Ed.], better than the sum of its parts. Kendall Mk III and managing to keep a team up that had no right to do so. The blessed Walter and four years of purgatory. Finally, David Moyes and his team – big on effort – small on bravery and belief. They were all either afraid to try and win, weren’t given the tools to win or just plain and simple weren’t up to the job.
That brings us to Roberto and his squad that is allegedly the best squad in all that time above. Well, if it is, and I do think it goes toe to toe with the best of Moyes or Royle (realistically the only two that would compare), why would you want to get rid of the man who has cultivated that squad?
Is it the frustration that we know how good these players can be but just aren’t showing it consistently? Is it the frustration of an appalling home record against a brilliant away record with only 1 defeat all season? Is it a style of football that, at its best, is as good as we’ve seen since the 80s but, at its worst, is slow, turgid and predictable?
Or is it because we are just never happy?
Make no mistake, this Everton team is good. Time will tell if it can go on to became very good or even great.
We are a top goalkeeper away from having an outstanding spine to a team. In John Stones, we have the best ball-playing centre-back I have seen at the club. In Ross Barkley, we have the 2nd most exciting talent to come out of the academy in 30 years, and in Romelu Lukaku we have the most prolific strike we have had since Graeme Sharp.
All three are under 23 And contracted to Everton for at least another two seasons after this one ends... three in Lukaku's case. As such, if they are leaving, they are leaving for top dollar.
So why on earth are we not performing like it at home?
The away form is not an issue. Yes, we’ve dropped points away but the sickening injury-time equalisers at Chelsea and Bournemouth are the exception rather than the rule (away) especially when you consider the John Terry goal was offside. Not sure how you “close out” a game decided by a linesman not doing his job.
So let's go against the grain here and start with some positives.
In his first season, Roberto got us a record points haul in the Premier League. That’s the reality. He also obtained a club record in the Premier League era of 7 straight wins. The myth that this success was built on David Moyes's hard work is nonsense. If you are expecting me to believe that the Martinez team of 2013-14 was performing the way it was due to Moyes then why on earth was Moyes's team of 2012-13 not doing it? As the saying goes, the table doesn’t lie.
We are also currently on an unbeaten run of eight league games away from home another Premier League best for us. "Whoopy doo," you may say... but when you consider that no team in Europe’s top five leagues have lost less than us away from home this season, that’s quite impressive and someone somewhere is doing something right.
Moving on to the League Cup. No Everton team has been further than Roberto Martinez’s team since 1984. Consider the fact that we went out to a Man City team who had a substitute who turned the game who cost £55m when our starting XI cost £58m. Also consider the fact that we went out to a deflected goal and a goal that should not have been given. If all those twitter UEFA pro license holders could enlighten me how you “manage” that scenario, I’m all ears.
Moving on to Europe. If you are against Roberto, you might not like the fact that no Everton team has been further in a UEFA Cup/Europa League campaign than his Everton team. Ever. That’s a fact.
Now let's look at the players
John Stones. What David Moyes was doing buying a ball-playing centre-back, I will never know. Not exactly his modus operandi, is it? Who has a suspicion that, if the ginger fog would have been in charge, that John would have gone the same way as Mustafi and Dier etc, for example – out without a sniff of the first team? Anyway, supposition aside, what we do know is that Roberto came along and turned him into the most sought-after centre-back in Europe. One we turned down north of £40m for. One who the Park End neanderthals want to “just fucking clear it, nobhead”. John doesn’t, he wants to play his way out of trouble in his manager's image. And it’s a joy to watch. Sometimes it goes wrong, mostly it doesn’t. Some people will probably only appreciate it if and when he leaves. Whatever happens though, his development is down to Roberto and his style of play and for that we should be thankful. (Perhaps its because I’ve always been a Brazil '82 man rather than a Brazil '94 one...)
Ross Barkley. A gem from the academy and one that has been allowed to flourish under an attacking manager. Seems easier said than done but he didn’t set the world alight on loan when he was younger and you could never see Moyes trusting him. Despite the notorious boo-boys being on his case last season, he has come through it and is showing us all what the player he can be. Without question, one of the two best home grown products we have produced in the last 30 years but one that has been allowed to grow and thrive under a manager that believes in him. It's not as simple as just being very good; you also have to have a manager to back your talent and allow you to make mistakes. See the next example...
Romelu Lukaku. Like it or not, but the big fella made it quite clear he came to Goodison largely because of Roberto Martinez. Astonishingly, some people still aren’t convinced by him. Apart from Rooney, he’s the best out-and-out striker I’ve seen at the club. Better than Sharp. Again, Roberto got him in when few thought that was possible when his initial loan was announced, got him scoring and has turned him into (AguÃ©ro aside) the best striker in the league. You may think that’s easily done but, as we all know, Moyes had a great habit of not getting the best out of his strikers and JosÃ¨ thought it was best to get rid with not much argument from Abramovich. Another young player Roberto trusted and that Everton are reaping the rewards from.
So that’s the good bits and I’m not naÃ¯ve enough to think Roberto hasn’t made mistakes. His biggest one for me is his blind faith in Tim Howard and one that was rectified way too late to save our league campaign. For me, Robles is not the answer either but it was ridiculous keeping Tim in goal when he was costing us game after game. Perhaps Roberto thought he was going to make a Lazarus-like comeback, like our Player of the Season, Gareth Barry. He didn’t and the team has paid a heavy price for that loyalty/stupidity.
The other weakness seems to be his reluctance to change our style of play. We set up exactly the same away as we do at home. It works away from Goodison Park with the onus generally being on the home side to attack. At home, though, the onus is on us and teams are quite happy to hit us on the break after watching us play around their box for 30 passes. He is paid handsomely to address the appalling home record; if he doesn’t, I doubt our favourite Iranian will hesitate in pressing the button.
Make no mistake, though the Goodison crowd do not help our home form. 20 minutes in, if it is a game we are expected to win and we are not up, you can feel the tension growing and that spreads to the pitch. What infuriates me is that such a demanding home crowd are quite happy to get on the players' backs but cheer Bill Kenwright's grid when it appears on the big screen.
So, to sum all this up. We’ve got an attacking manager who is trying to play attractive football with a talented young squad who are only going to get better. Mistakes have been made and hopefully he and they will learn from them. I just hope Evertonians do as well because, not long before our last great young team was about to dominate, some divvies were asking for the removal of our greatest ever manager with some ill-timed graffiti.