SAVING THE LATICS

[Roberto Martinez is one of the most underrated managers in the Premier League] 

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www.bbc.co.uk

He is no ordinary football manager. But then again, who is.

In June 2009, Dave Whelan, the Chairman of Wigan Athletic approached Swansea City with a view to luring their manager, Roberto Martinez. Martinez, critical of players who’d left the small Welsh club in pursuance of fame and fortune, angered the Swans fans when he agreed to Whelan’s offer. The lure of managing in the Premier League proved too tempting.

But this wasn’t the first time that Whelan was luring the Balague born manager to the Greater Manchester based club. Back in 1995, Whelan had convinced Martinez, then a midfielder, to leave his hometown club and join Wigan Athletic who were then in the fourth tier of English football. Martinez didn’t take long to endear himself to the Wigan fans, scoring on his debut and finishing the season as the club’s top goal scorer.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

And beautiful would be what Martinez would bring to Wigan. Born in the Catalonia province of Spain, a province whose greatest import to the world is FC Barcelona, Martinez holds firm the beliefs of passing and possession (no surprise there). That is what he has attempted to bring to Wigan Athletic.

Passing and possession is a hugely demanding football philosophy that takes time to develop. Martinez however has been patient. Having already initiated such a philosophy at Swansea City, Martinez was prepared to attempt the same project at Wigan. With differing results.

Wigan Athletic, anyone will tell you, is not the most entertaining of teams to watch. This is probably because in Martinez’s attempt to build a passing game, he came up with a team that concentrated more on the passing but forgot the other aspects of the game, mainly scoring and defending. But Martinez has persisted with this philosophy with strict resolve. The Catalan will not be moved into playing long aimless balls across the pitch.

While at times its been slow, non constructive football, at times, its been patient build up to a goal. The results have been indifferent. While on arriving Wigan had never picked up points from any of the traditional “Big Four” (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool), Martinez’s time has seen a 3-1 win over Chelsea, a 3-2 win over Arsenal, and most recently, a 1-0 win over Manchester United. In that time though, Wigan have also suffered haevy defeats; 8-0 to Chelsea and 9-1 to Tottenham Hotspurs. Wigan has also found itself languishing in the lower end of the table come end of the season, something which has led to dramatic relegation dogfights involving Wigan.

But Martinez has continued to keep faith in his style of football.

This season more than most has seen Martinez directly alter the tactical set up of the Latics. In a 4-4-2 infested Premier League, Martinez has come up with a totally different formation, a 3-4-3. Playing a back three in England is a rarity; so to wing-backs. The system, novel to modern day English football, has taken time to sink in. Now, it is reaping full rewards, as their recent run shows (5 wins out of a 6, the only blemish being a controversial loss to Chelsea).

Martinez’s change of formation is a masterstroke in tactical terms. In their most basic applications, a 3-4-3 defeats a 4-4-2 on any day. This has been explained by Michael Cox in this article, with this diagram showing more. However, the three man defence suffers when up against any other system. Martinez however is rarely bothered with this, as most of the teams in England still play a traditional 4-4-2. this means that Roberto Martinez has a head start in most games.

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Wigan’s starting Line-Up in their 1-0 win against Manchester United

Besides tactics, Martinez’s management includes good man management and a vast knowledge of the transfer window. Though some signings, such as that of Argentine Mauro Boselli from Estudiantes may have failed, others have proved magical. None more so than that of Hugo Rodallega, who is surely his biggest star at the moment. In the same breadth, he has brought in players such as Albert Crusat from Almeria, Jordi Gomez from Espanyol, and Connor Sammon from Kilmarnock. His man management has also helped, especially in revitalising players. Franco Di Santo lacked confidence when he joined from Chelsea. Jean Beausejour, a flop in the Premier League at Birmingham City last season seems to be enjoying a new lease of life. And Martinez is finally getting the best out of youngster Victor Moses.

Martinez is also helped by the fact that his job has never been under threat. When he signed his three year contract in 2009, Whelan assured him that his job would be safe even in the event of relegation. And despite being in the relegation zone for almost the whole season, Martinez remains the only manager of a relegation threatened club whose job has never really been under any serious threat. It does help for a relegation threatened manager to have the full backing of the Board and the fans. Rumours of an end to Martinez’s time at Wigan were rubbished by Whelan prior to Wigan’s home game against Manchester United. Martinez, and Wigan did not disappoint.

Its an example of a rare situation at a football club in modern times. For a Chairman to have so much patience in a manager as to allow him the luxury of a job despite the almost always likelihood of facing the drop. And for a manager, who despite the temptation of changing a philosophy, continues to persist in his philosophy. Its unique. Its can only be found in Wigan. Where the fans there, don’t care that their stadium holds a meagre 25,000 people. Where their manager doesn’t feel bothered that season in, season out, his team will find itself fighting to survive come end season.

They’ve got Roberto Martinez. He’ll get them out of it.

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