Well, that didn’t take long. After just three seasons at Everton—the first of which was a rousing success and seemed to mark the manager and club for coming greatness—Roberto Martínez is reportedly all set to be fired today. It’s both understandable and a little strange. Update: It’s official, he’s out.
First, the understandable part. Everton have not been very good this season, and have been flat-out garbage for the past couple of months. For a club that has (fairly) realistic top-10 yearly aspirations, the Toffees will finish this season in the bottom half of the table, thanks in large part to a woeful back stretch of the campaign in which they’ve taken one win from their last 10 matches.
Armed with significant young talent like Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, and John Stones, Martínez wasn’t able to achieve the kind of results many expected, especially in light of the fifth-place finish he led the team to in his first season. Not only weren’t Everton good enough for much of the season, when it became clear that Martínez was under pressure for his job, it seemed like the players had no motivation to fight for him, as evidenced by their late-season collapse. It’s hard to justify keeping even a pretty good manager if the players have turned on him.
More fundamentally, the Spaniard didn’t do much in his three years in charge to alter his reputation for being a good attacking coach with absolutely no idea how to organize a defense. This season, Everton did score the eighth-most goals in the league, but coupled that by allowing the sixth-most. Most distressing was the regularity with which their inability to play cautiously came back to bite them in the form of swift, multi-goal outbursts by opponents.
So Martínez was in no way killing it at Everton, and with new, big-money owners who have promised to invest cash into the club to see the team improved, it’s no real shock that Martínez got the boot. However, to pin this all on the manager would be irresponsible.
As hyped as the headliners in Everton’s team are, this is still a team with significant weaknesses basically everywhere other than in attack. Everton’s goalkeepers are bad, their defenders are either young and inexperienced or old and washed up, and their midfield is slow and shallow. Maybe Martínez deserves some blame for not shoring up the team’s weaknesses in the transfer market, but it’s not like money grows on the trees for Everton. And instead of selling the one golden goose they could’ve used to fund a major squad revamp, the club thought they were already close enough to where they wanted to be and thus decided to turn down Chelsea’s enormous bid for Stones. Look how that turned out.
Their handling of the Stones situation says more about the club’s core issues than any of Martínez’s faults as a manager. This is a club that doesn’t know its place. If you decide not to sell Stones, and run out a young, talented, flawed roster and see where that takes you, you shouldn’t be all that surprised when things don’t work out perfectly and you find yourself mired in the midtable. Just because Martínez over-performed relative to the talent and budget available to him in his first season, and David Moyes did the same for a solid decade in the job, doesn’t mean Everton can consider a top-eight finish theirs by birthright.
Everton need solid, realistic assessments of their top-to-bottom talent, potential, and where those factors could reasonably be expected to take them. Believing Martínez had to some degree failed on that front is justifiable and arguably even accurate. But thinking that just by getting rid of him they can now attain the lofty standards they hold for themselves without doing the work and spending required to get there, the club risks running around in circles.