This summer always promised to be one of change and transition as soon as David Moyes confirmed to Bill Kenwright that he wished to resign his position as manager of Everton to take up the equivalent role at Manchester United. Evertonians had become very use to the methods of Moyes, so have greeted with much excitement the refreshingly open and dynamic approach of new man in town, Roberto Martinez.
Martinez, after accepting the Everton job spoke eloquently about his plans for the Football Club. He was determined in his desire to retain the best player (and to date has been successful in achieving this), but also spoke of a wish to add quality and depth to his squad. Much to the surprise of Toffees around the globe, Martinez moved into the transfer market quickly and decisively, recruiting four players in the space of 72 hours. For Evertonians, who have fed on transfer scraps for the last few years, this was both exciting and unexpected. Arouna Kone joined for £6 million from Wigan Athletic to provide genuine competition to Nikica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe. Antolin Alcaraz signed on a Bosman free transfer after his contract at Wigan expired to provide Martinez with tactical options in defence. Joel Robles signed from Atletico Madrid for under £2 million after spending the second half of last season in the goal of Wigan and finally winger Gerard Deulofeu chose to continue his development at Goodison Park. Barcelona rate their 19 year old Spanish winger incredibly highly and Martinez was unable to hide his delight in securing his compatriots signature.
Martinez has not hidden a desire to make further additions to his squad, but with the initial signings in place, Roberto set about arguably his most difficult task, changing significantly the tactical approach of his team. Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching the excellent BBC documentary “The Fall and Rise of Swansea City” or had the privilege of 5 minutes in company of Martinez will know that Everton’s Spanish manager has very strong principles on how football should be played. This is a style notably different to the one the Blues have become accustomed to and Martinez and his squad have spent many hours on the training pitch, in Austria, in the USA and at Finch Farm, slowly embedding this new tactical approach into their play.
The output has been varied, at times the Blues have played beautiful football, building from the back with neat one and two touch football, however on occasions passes have gone astray at inopportune moments and frustrations have boiled over as results suffered. But pre-season is the time for mistakes to be made and patience will be the watch word at Goodison this season. There will be a temptation, especially if results go against Everton, to call for a return to the methodical approach of David Moyes, playing the percentages and minimising mistakes by eliminating risk. Influential Blues including legendary striker Graeme Sharp have already hinted as much, and infuriatingly one or two “supporters” chose to shout for change after just 20 minutes of the final pre-season game against Real Betis.
If a change to the clubs transfer policy and tactics was not exciting enough, Everton have embarked on the most enthralling set of pre-season fixtures in the history of the club. Warm up games against Austria Vienna, Accrington Stanley and Blackburn were followed by games against European giants, Juventus, Real Madrid and Valenica, before the Blues completed their campaign against further Spanish opposition in Real Betis. Compare and contrast this with last summer when Everton played Morcombe, Dundee United and Motherwell before further games against Blackpool, AEK Athens and Malaga. Much of the credit for this summers programme must go to David Moyes, who put the fixtures together while still in charge, but the open and brave approach Everton have taken to the fixture list lies solely with new manager, Martinez.
Despite the difficult match programme, results have been good, with four wins and three defeats. The penalty shoot out win over the current Italian Champions Juventus will live long in the memory of the Blues who woke up in the early hours to see young John Stones score a superb spot kick, moments after Pirlo had put his chance wide of Tim Howard’s right post. And despite the defeat to Madrid, the second half performance offered a glimpse of what is to follow under the guidance of Martinez.
A number of players have clearly relished the managerial change and this has shown in their performances. Tim Howard, Bryan Oviedo and Nikica Jelavic have all experienced fabulous pre-season campaigns. Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and Kevin Mirallas have continued their excellent form from the end of last season, while Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley have enjoyed a fresh start under new management and both have grabbed the opportunity to impress with both hands.
Martinez is determined to utilise the excellent Academy at Finch Farm and is not afraid to put his faith in youth. Ross Barkley and John Stones appear to be the first to benefit, but others will be given chance to impress, especially with a strong generation of players graduating from the Alan Irvine led Academy. Everton had five players in the England u20 World Cup squad and John Lundstrum, Luke Garbutt and Chris Long will be eager to join Barkley and Stones in the first team squad. Martinez is looking to establish an “Everton way” and all teams will follow a similar tactical approach. This is already evident with the U21 team playing the same 4-3-3 formation, in their opening league fixture, as the first team used throughout the majority of pre-season.
However unlike Moyes, Martinez is not rigid in his tactical approach. Already in the pre-season games Roberto has switched to a 3-4-3 formation, allowing two of Everton’s most dangerous attacking players, Baines and Coleman, to push further forward, safely in the knowledge that the Blues are covered defensively with three centre backs. This level of flexibility will allow Everton to adapt their game depending on the opposition or the situation and should reduce the possibility of sides developing a single strategy to nullify the Blues attacking intent.
It has certainly been one of the most fascinating summers for a number of years and as the season kicks off on Saturday, Evertonians will look forward to the campaign full of hope and aspiration. Bill Kenwright was quick to tell the press that his new manager had promised him Champions League football and it is that level of ambition that has driven Everton through pre-season and into the new Premier League season.