Friday, 23 May 2014

Finally, ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum’ holds real meaning again

From: May 13, 2014
Originally posted on

Everton’s motto is far more than just several Latin words. ‘Nothing but the best is good enough’ is a phrase that embodies the expectations of those who follow the Blues religiously, encapsulating all that the Toffees stand for. For a long while, the fans have not been truly rewarded, and the club has not lived by those words as it should have. However, times have changed, and a certain, brogue-wearing Spaniard has enlivened the true spirit of Everton Football Club, and revived what it means to be an Evertonian.
Roberto Martinez has, in short, renovated his club in such a manner that it is genuinely astounding. The Catalan has very modestly brought along his tool-bag to an ancient building in need of repair, and spent much time expertly tinkering around it so that now, it looks newly constructed. A record Premier League points tally, the most exciting and intense style of football the club has seen for many a year, and an overwhelming feeling of positivity has created an atmosphere among Evertonians that anticipates and desires success. No longer does the club adopt an attitude in which settling for second best is acceptable.
It may seem in the distant past now, yet the gap left by the previous manager was perceived by many to be too large for Martinez when he was appointed manager; after all, he had just been relegated with Wigan Athletic. David James (laughably) predicted Everton to finish 16th; however, as outrageous as it was, such a prediction made it evident that there was a real divide in opinions about the Spaniard taking over at Goodison Park.
The season began with three consecutive league draws. One away to Norwich, one at home to West Brom and another at the Cardiff City Stadium meant that August did not bear a single league victory for the Blues. Despite this, Martinez seemed to turn Everton’s fortunes around with a wink and a smile, just as he did on several occasions throughout the season. By the first day of September, the club had acquired Romelu Lukaku, James McCarthy and Gareth Barry to add to the signings of Antolin Alcaraz, Arouna Kone, Joel Robles and Barcelona youngster Gerard Deulofeu. There was genuine amazement at the strength that the new manager had added to the squad with a click of his fingers.
Thus, it became evident that those first few draws were merely the brewing of a season-long storm. Dramatically, the first strike of lightning came in the form of Steven Naismith’s header into the Park End goal against Chelsea, which rewarded Everton with three much-welcomed points. Sooner than expected for many, the storm had broken, and Everton’s increasing brilliance rained down upon the Premier League. Excellent victories against West Ham, Newcastle, Hull and Aston Villa preceded the most thrilling of Merseyside derbies at Goodison Park in November, in which Romelu Lukaku almost powered Everton to victory. Despite being pegged back to 3-3 at the end of the match, it further enforced to Evertonians –as well as journalists and pundits – that Everton were on the up.
Regardless of a small blip against Sunderland at home on Boxing Day, December brought a royal blue flood to add to the ongoing storm. It near enough engulfed everything in its path, beginning at Old Trafford with Bryan Oviedo’s historical goal that for is unlikely to ever be forgotten by any Blue. Several days later, it was Gerard Deulofeu’s turn to provide light in the dark winter evenings, as he netted superbly at Arsenal to claim a point. The flood continued on its way, devastating Fulham and proving too powerful for Swansea. It rounded off 2013 with a deserved win against Southampton. The second half of the campaign promised much, and would certainly define Everton’s Champions League ambitions.
January and February were perhaps less of a joyride (compared to December at least), however Everton continued on their business. The prospect of finishing in fourth place fluctuated between fantasy and reality. It was March that truly had the Blues flying again in the Premier League at the speed of high winds that could lay waste to whatever it encountered. Everton Football Club won every single league match in the third month of the year; amazingly, Roberto Martinez had done it again. Fourth place seemed genuinely achievable. Optimism was stronger than many Evertonians could even remember.
And it continued to grow: Everton were unstoppable, peaking at just the right time to face Arsenal in what was almost a play off for a Champions League place. In the most superior and emotionally-charged match of the season, Roberto Martinez and his loveable squad were beyond superior, completely decimating an underprepared Arsenal at Goodison Park, scoring three and conceding none. Everton surpassed every superlative thrown at them that day. It was a joy to behold.
However, and it was a cruel however, incredibly frustrating defeats to Crystal Palace and Southampton determined that Evertonians would have to settle for a Europa League spot. Despite the deflating nature of those two fixtures, it was punctuated by yet another outstanding performance. The 2-0 triumph over Manchester United hammered a sharp, ironic nail into the coffin of the Ghost of Everton Past, who had returned to Goodison Park and attempted in vain to haunt his old home. Goals from Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas spelled a rather, er, grim end for Martinez’s opposite number.
Before the first of Everton’s two games in May, Europa League for the following season was already guaranteed for the club as an odd defeat to Manchester City unfolded. The following week brought a season finale which ended the Spanish-inspired storm rather fittingly: quite simply, Everton’s were a class above Hull. The team’s second goal, rounded off by Lukaku, typified the ‘School of Science’ manner of playing that Martinez has resurrected. Not only has the squad bought into his philosophy, a number of players have excelled as part of it. Player of the season Seamus Coleman, the incredible John Stones, the gifted Ross Barkley, Scottish workhorse Steven Naismith and the absolutely pivotal James McCarthy have all improved beyond measure under the Spaniard’s regime.
Ultimately, a fifth-placed finish is an achievement every Everton fan should be immensely proud of. In fact, the missing out on Champions League football for next season is perhaps, in the long run, the best case scenario for the club. As Martinez has done on several occasions this term, he has taken the positives from a target that was unachieved: “being honest”, he said, truthfully, “we are not ready for the Champions League, and there’s no frustration in missing out on it”. Martinez’s attitude towards near enough everything he has faced over the course of his first season has been exemplary, admirable and professional. Europa League football, over the course of the next season or so, will be a brilliant way to develop the squad and practise balancing European and Premier League football, plus the two domestic cup competitions. Everton can only grow, and with a busy schedule on the horizon, Roberto Martinez will be rubbing his hands together at the prospect of improving the Toffees even more.
Admittedly, it has not been a perfect season: both the league and FA cup presented Everton with opportunities that they did not take. However, it has been far better than many Evertonians would have expected or indeed deemed possible. It is important to point out that, after such a transformation in attitude, style of play and results, Everton can no longer be deemed a club ‘punching above their weight’. They are waiting to pounce upon those who are unsuspecting. The future looks royally and excitingly blue.
Concluding such a wonderful season is difficult to write about and was difficult to experience in reality, for, quite simply, hardly any Blue will have wanted it to end. The positivity and superiority that Martinez has implemented has been the key for success. His connection with the fans and the manner in which he has bought into the history and tradition of the club has played a huge part in every single one of the 72 points gained. This turning point has been the subject of Blues’ prayers for a long time, as every fan of the club knows the pain of mediocrity too well. However, with Roberto Martinez leading the way, a squad growing in quality and a new-found pride knitted into the very fabric of the club, those famous Latin words finally ring true of Everton Football Club once more.
  Nil satis, nisi optimum.

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