The days of old have never looked less romantic than ever before for Everton. The reason? They are no longer glancing backwards. Eager to enrol once more in the School of Science, they have passed many a test this season, and their future looks exceptionally bright. Although they snapped up fourth spot back in 2005, they did so unexpectedly and with quite a small squad at their disposal. Surprising everybody to bounce back from a relegation battle the season previously, their rise to the upper echelons was less down to a well-executed plan and more as a result of a deserved, yet grievous, slog. Having sold off Wayne Rooney to Manchester United in August 2004, just before their tremendous campaign, as well as selling central figure Thomas Gravesen to Spanish giants Real Madrid midway through the season, it was a wonder they performed so well. But, in the long-run their inability to hold on to such top-quality players led to them under-performing to finish 11th a year later. And they rarely looked like reaching that fourth-place peak again during David Moyes’ tenure. Thanks to Roberto Martinez, however, the Blues are once more a side who work hard to not only retain their best, but to build on those foundations by spending wisely and intelligently. Already focusing on how to bulk up his squad during the summer, the former Real Zaragoza midfielder has injected the blue half of Merseyside with a sense of purpose that looks set to have a lasting, positive impact on their future plans. A test of their pulling ability is sure to come over the coming weeks, though, as they are set to become embroiled in a tug of war with Chelsea over the signing of Romelu Lukaku. If the Belgian international pledges his future to a club who invested their faith in him as a spearhead in attack, fans at Goodison Park will feel more secure in their tag as title contenders and European participants. In truth, it’s hard to envisage him returning to Mourinho who, regrettably, deemed him surplus to requirements.
Titles often impinge on the results of the big matches. A goal at the likes of Old Trafford, the Emirates or Stamford Bridge can often mean the difference between bagging a title and finishing as dejected runners-up. Getting off on the right foot also helps. And Martinez’s maiden voyage with Everton has been a resounding success. Bringing in a raft of new signings across both transfer windows, his vision underwent a slight adjustment period as his men took only three points from their initial three fixtures. But they soon got their priorities straight and began to play some impressive football. In the first half of the season, they defeated Chelsea as well as drawing with Liverpool and United. Of course, most recently and convincingly of all, they hammered Arsenal 3-0. So, their trumping of the big guns has not been a passing fad – it’s something they’ve been keen to get right under Martinez’s stewardship. And the players have been undeniably diligent in their efforts to make it happen. Interestingly, since the beginning of the Premier League era, Everton have beaten the Red Devils only six times, and only three of those came during Moyes’ 11 years at the helm on top-flight match days. In fact, it took him three years to find a way to outdo Sir Alex Ferguson. Similarly with Arsenal and Chelsea, Moyes could only manage a trio of victories respectively. With Martinez now directing the club, the Toffees have cut a far more accomplished figure – he’s already a third of the way to equalling the Scotsman’s league record against those three clubs and he’s not yet a year in the Everton hot-seat. When Wigan Athletic went to Wembley they won against all the odds to secure Europa League football for the Championship-destined team. Most notably, they joined only Portsmouth in breaking the cycle of the ‘Big Four’ that had dominated the competition since 1995. Contrastingly, when Moyes guided Everton to the FA Cup final in 2009, they lost to Chelsea – a vignette of their past mentality. In short, Martinez possesses a penchant for maximising the potential of whatever side he leads, and with Everton the same is already happening.
With an unprecedented squeeze ongoing at the top of the tree, Roberto Martinez has been one of the shrewdest of all bosses in attempting to take control of all the chaos. With United in turmoil, Liverpool surprisingly heading for their first-ever Premier League title, and Tottenham Hotspur flopping despite the influx of Gareth Bale-induced cash, England’s top-flight has had quite the makeover in the past nine months. And the 40-year-old supremo has been slogging away to ensure the club that once won the Uefa Cup Winner’s Cup in 1985 can return to the glory days of contesting England’s First Division on a regular basis. The Spaniard has seen the perfect opportunity to sow the seeds of growth and lush productivity for his team and he has seized it with gusto and purpose. The genius ploy to draw Lukaku away with the promise of regular first-team football ahead of the World Cup as well as his signing of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy as the anchors in midfield has led to them becoming a real force in English football once more. Combine that with the inclusion of PFA Young Player of the Year nominee Ross Barkley on a more integral basis and the rewards of this season become yet more obvious. Everton are in a fantastic position to make all of these developments permanently positive. And although they still face some tough challenges, they will be confident to show they are capable of rising to the occasion more than they ever have. Sunday sees them welcome their former manager to Goodison Park for the first time since he left to take up one of the most demanding roles in world football. It will be interesting to see if they can show him exactly how far they’ve come in his absence.
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