The Tortoise and the Hare

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He’s not the one who will take the credit for it but last Sunday was all about one man: Roberto Martinez. Last seen on the Britannia Stadium pitch being bounced up and down by his squad, these movements were a fair reflection of results during his two seasons in charge, although like most of us, he’ll have hopefully finished up floating on air for a few days.


Let’s also give credit to Graeme Jones and Graham Barrow as well. As a trio, they’ve had to endure a bit of stick from certain sections of fans when things haven’t quite gone as planned, so now I fully expect every Latics fan to give the backroom team their full appreciation. It doesn’t matter how you get it right, it just matters that you get it right and Wigan Athletic got it right in the best imaginable way.


Reading this piece about the comparisons between Ian Holloway and Roberto Martinez, I wonder how many Latics fans would have gladly swapped managers at Christmas? Come on be honest! Mind you, there are still a few on TNS and elsewhere who still aren’t convinced and as ever this is a personal opinion. During my darker moments, most recently during the half time break at half time of the West Ham game, I even found myself wondering a little bit. I recall on the YOTAC board a while back having a vigorous debate over whether Bob was the right man, and if he wasn’t then who was?


Ian Holloway took the Blackpool job around the same time as Roberto Martinez took the Latics job. You could have argued that because Ian Holloway is a better manager because he took a team languishing in the Championship after Simon Grayson had dumped them to join Leeds and got them promoted and into the top half of the Premier League. Whereas Roberto Martinez took a struggling team and they continued to, well struggle basically.


I also for my sins provided a critical comparison between Owen Coyle and Roberto Martinez at one point and this is where the tortoise and the hare analogy comes in. How we grinded our teeth in anger as the hyperactive Coyle appeared on SSN with his yappy dog face giving it all the psychological bull of ‘his players giving everything for him, despite his small squad and 86 refereeing decisions going against his team’. All the time, he’s pulling up trees, while we’re wallowing in misery in the relegation zone. Both perceived as bright young managers, only one is delivering but come the end of May no more than a handful of points and places between them. Martinez has taken longer to get it right due to the complete sea change in playing style but is he really that far off Owen Coyle? Next season will tell, either way I feel bad for doubting him.


When three former playing legends returned to the club two years ago, there weren’t too many nods of disapproval but subsequently people have questioned their ability to coach at the highest level and motivate big name players. Even in the darker days with Latics rooted in the relegation zone for large chunks of the season, there were even the rumours going around that Roberto Martinez had ‘lost the dressing room’. Well it certainly didn’t look that way on Sunday did it?


His tenure at the club has divided fans like no other manager. Some of us have stuck by him from day one, embraced his football mentality, his passion for the game and the club and talk of a long term plan which is often strangely absent at many clubs, not just ours as the pressure to stay in the Premier League is so intense. Others struggled to take on board this new passing game, used to the blood and thunder you’d more likely associate with a gritty Northern club and made their feelings known by booing at games, posting hysterical message board rants and, the lowest point of all, waving a ‘Martinez Out’ flag at the DW. Hopefully that individual in particular will be feeling a bit silly now?


I’ll stop right now as I’ve descended quickly into gloating mode and it’s by no means intended. The bottom line is that if Roberto Martinez succeeds, Wigan Athletic succeed, that is the sole reason why I take pleasure from him keeping us up in such dramatic fashion. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke, who is winning friends all over football with his manner and approach to the game. He’s not infallible and will admit himself he is still learning, he makes mistakes and that is the Wigan way.


We can’t afford established stars on or off the pitch, we have to take a chance on young prospects and rough diamonds and it’s a sad fact of life that we tolerate their mistakes, watch them blossom into the finished article and then flog them on to the top clubs. We’re now in the silly season, whilst everyone should be taking a pleasant break we have to put up with three months of press and internet gossip linking our best players with bigger clubs. But that’s how the football food chain works.


I remain convinced that in a few years Roberto Martinez will go on to coach one of the top clubs in Europe and whereas I’d be intrigued to also see how his no-nonsense backroom team of Graeme Jones and Graham Barrow would get on in La Liga or the Champions League, one thing’s for certain: if this ever happens it will be because they’ve done a superb job at Wigan Athletic and after the way we’ve finished this season, we have every right to look forward to next year with renewed optimism.


He is by no means the finished article but as the abject performances are being weeded out, they are being replaced by exciting, attacking, possession football which if the trend continues into next year promises a bright future. If next season sees a points haul of around 48-50 points, and a lot will depend as ever on who is sold and who is bought then bigger clubs with bigger budgets will certainly come a knocking and we may well struggle to hold on to the popular Spaniard, no longer the rookie, let alone our players.


Those who implied that our manager was out of his depth are the ones looking a little out of their depth right now. You become a Premier League manager by managing a team in the Premier League and for two years that is what Roberto has done, with a third year now in prospect, he will continue to learn, yes – make mistakes and take more of those infamous ‘positives’ when we lose but above all, he will take this football club of ours forward and continue to develop that vision of where he wants us to be. You’ve got all our support Bob.

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