It’s impossible to deny that this has been a dismal Premier League campaign for Everton fans to endure and they have a right to voice their frustrations at the clear ineptitude produced on the pitch week in, week out.
Wednesday’s defeat to Stoke City was the seventh defeat in the Toffees’ previous eight trips on the road and their twelfth defeat of the season. This is what was expected in the transitional season when Roberto Martinez was appointed in the Summer of 2013, yet last season produced one of the best that Everton have seen in the Premier League era.
There’s a whole host of reasons why Everton have under performed to such an extent this season and it’s true that a lot of the blame falls at the manager’s door. Evidently, the debacle of pre-season became more and more obvious as the season went on and perhaps it was the result of that poor planning which has been the most damaging factor this season. The team squandered late goals due to a lack of fitness which led to a drop in a confidence then Chelsea scored six goals and confidence hit rock bottom. When the Europa League came, Martinez was adamant in the press that the added fixtures that come with qualifying for Europe wouldn’t have an adverse affect on the team yet Everton only took eight points from six league matches following European fixtures, including a 3-2 defeat to a team managed by a man wearing full P.E. Teacher attire. Even the sheer amount of injuries this season could be attributed to Martinez due to such a poor pre-season but that would be conjecture.
The most frustrating aspect this season has been Martinez’s stubbornness. Since he began his managerial career, he has always persisted with a certain philosophy and that has been well documented throughout the years and the basis of what Swansea City have achieved recently so it’s no surprised that possession based football is the style Everton have adopted and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it. However, we saw last season that Martinez’s tactical ability was something to be admired and often he found the right formula in matches, Everton fans saw that first hand before he even became their manager. Where are the substitutions that so often turned matches on their head from last season? Why has Ross Barkley and Steven Naismith been played on the wing for large parts of the season? What’s the deal with only playing one winger? are the questions regularly raised by the Everton faithful.
Despite all of his mistakes this season, one should not forget the heights of last season which was one of, if not the most entertaining Everton have had since the Premier League began. A record points total, a record amount of wins and a club of jubilant fans appreciative with the imminent return of the school of science. One good season cannot make up for a poor season but it does show what this squad and what this manager is capable of achieving and that is one of the reasons why Martinez should be in charge at the beginning of next season.
Although the threat of relegation is certainly in the vicinity, it’s looking very unlikely to happen. That isn’t because Everton are ‘too good’ to be relegated nor is it because there’ll be a miraculous turn around in form during the last two months of the season. It’s because they’ve got a six point gap and there’s three sides looking way out of their depth in this league. Leicester City are now seven points from safety whilst QPR have struggled to pick up points under their caretaker manager and Burnley, despite their valiant efforts don’t look to have the quality to stay up in this league. Sunderland are a poorer version of Everton themselves and what will come of Sherwood’s Aston Villa experiment is yet to be determined. Because of this, there is little alarm to push the panic button in sacking Martinez and Everton should give themselves the opportunity to take everything into consideration at the end of the season.
The Europa League has been an escape for the entire football club this season, from the fans to the players and it’s still a competition that Everton can feasibly win. Although there are still 15 other teams left in the tournament and seven matches between Everton potentially lifting the trophy in Poland, Martinez’s FA Cup success with Wigan Athletic showed that something like this isn’t beyond his reach and Everton have been one of the competition’s top performers this season. The added incentive of Champions League qualification means that this season could be seen as a write off and everything would be back on course. It is difficult to see this coming to fruition as life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows but I fully believe there is no other manager that could come in at this stage of the season, more capable of winning the Europa League than Martinez.
On the subject of potential replacements, the market isn’t a beautiful sight. Martinez is Everton’s first foreign manager in the club’s history so if he were to be relieved of his duties then I think it would be likely that Bill Kenwright and the board of directors would opt for a British manager who isn’t going to put the club in danger of relegation. Sam Allardyce is among the best in this particular category and is unlikely to stay on as West Ham United manager in the summer but he isn’t going to bring success or gravitas to Everton and neither is Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew or Mark Hughes et al. Successful lower league managers are likely to be seen to be too high risk given the position the club are in at the moment. It has been 20 years since Everton had a trophy in their hands and if the David Moyes era left any sort of mark, it’s that Everton are too big to accept mediocrity.
The performance and result against Stoke City in midweek was unacceptable given the way this season has gone and understandably, fans are fed up with the way the team is performing which has added strength to the ‘Martinez Out’ campaigns. It has been the worst season for over a decade and it is disappointing to see such a talented group players performing well under their capabilities but Martinez should be given another season to try and make it work. There’s an opportunity for something special to happen under Martinez and it’d be a shame to throw it away after one season.