Sunday, 18 August 2013

Martinez brings a new style of optimism for Evertonians

Since Roberto Martinez sat alongside Bill Kenwright at his first press conference as Everton manager, an explosion of events have occurred at the club, and a brand new appearance for the Blues has been crafted.

Despite the fact that the squad remains similar and the same fans fill the same seats, there is something unusual, and for now a little uncomfortable, about seeing a new Everton manager stood in the technical area; his brown leather shoes and white shirt seemed rather alien to Goodison Park when Real Betis payed a visit on Sunday, despite the air of confidence that is washing over the club and trickles through the debates on social networking pages.

This time last year, Evertonians were not alone in believing they were in for a successful season, although it was ultimately an unproductive one. This year, however, Toffees fans appear to stand alone with their aspirations. FourFourTwo (who believed Swansea would finish bottom last year) predict 10th to be Everton's standing at the end of the new season, David James predicts 16th, and both TalkSport (but what do they know?) and BBC Radio 5Live seem uncertain as to what lies ahead.

As every Evertonian has considered in their head over and over, yes, Martinez did get relegated with Wigan. He did lower their average position dramatically from when he took over, and they only ever, as cliché would have it, began "playing in March". What probably swayed Mr. Kenwright, and a number of fans, into backing the Spaniard to succeed Everton's previous manager is Wigan's F.A Cup upset over Manchester City gift wrapped with his tendency to play attractive/ambitious/risky football (however you see it).

Other than what pre-season has delivered for the club, and Martinez' past successes and failures, there is not much evidence to judge how the upcoming campaign will plan out. Failure, realistically, is anything below the average of 7th or 8th that the club has experienced over the last ten years or so. Money is tight - everybody knows that, however the achievement that (as Martinez said himself, through Kenwright) had to be aimed for is the Champions League places. A spot in the Europa League is a great place for starters, and a cup victory would be unexpected yet ideal. If a Capital One or F.A Cup victory does occur, and the Blues slip a little more towards mid table, then hopefully that is acceptable. But anything other, however, should be treated with concern.

The aforementioned events sandwiched in between Martinez's unveiling and the commencing match of the 2013/14 season at Carrow Road have been, naturally, rather interesting; from the signings to the poorly run tournaments, this has been a pre-season to remember.

Within a short time (a ridiculously short time for what Evertonians are used to) of the transfer window opening, Martinez had completed the signings of Antolin Alcaraz, Arouna Kone, Joel Robles and Gerard Deulofeu, the latter on a season long loan from F.C Barcelona. Suddenly, many Toffees on the streets stood a little taller after an unsettling, turbulent period of time between a sombre ending and a new beginning for the club. Although another purchase will only come from raised funds, Martinez had acted quickly and efficiently to bind together a squad in preparation for an exciting new season in which slow starts shall ultimately be punished come Judgement Day next May.

These factors are partial to what is seen on the field itself; the pre-season friendlies have been satisfactory and more this time around, with Martinez's newly adopted group putting even Real Madrid to the recently polished sword in America's ICC tournament, after Juventus fell on their own. 'The Old Lady' of Italian football was seen off in applaudable style by the Blues once the unforgettable penalty from John Stones caressed the Juve netting, and magician Andrea Pirlo was failed by his experienced powers. Setting up with a 3-4-3 formation, Everton played the opposition at their own game, and were unlucky not to progress through the questionably organised tournament in normal time.

It is not often this is said: Everton awaited Real Madrid in the next round. It was a match which the phrase "what if" was repeated frequently in retrospect, as two first-half goals propelled Los Blancos just out of reach. The seemingly renovated Nikica Jelavić's well taken goal was too late, as the determined efforts of the Blues proved futile following some eyebrow-raising decisions from the officials.

The other pre-season results included a 2-0 loss away to Vienna, a 1-3 victory over Blackburn Rovers followed by a 1-4 triumph over Accrington Stanley, the narrow defeat of a solitary goal in the final ICC match, and most recently, the incredibly boring 2-1 home victory over Real Betis in a match that was, ultimately, only interesting because it was good to be home once again. Martinez has obviously applied his style of play to the Blues (some suicidal passing in defence was expected), and all in all, an interesting pre-season was rounded off in (some) style, despite being really tested in spells by the Spanish side.

Now, as Evertonians sit back and do the complete opposite of relax in time for the new season, the opening encounter with Norwich looms ever closer. Nobody particularly knows how the season is going to pan out, or whether particular players will still be wearing an Everton shirt come early September. Only time will tell, and with an ambitious new manager, a new philosophy and a quality starting eleven (and not a bad bench of substitutions), there is every reason to look forward to what lies ahead.

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