Results are, of course, what determine the future of any manager and Roberto Martinez has paid the price for Everton’s. But the pressure on the Spaniard from supporters wasn’t entirely down to results. Communication – or a lack thereof – is what led to the unrest that eventually made his position untenable.
It’s one thing to see your team lose. It’s another thing entirely to be told what you had just seen was one thing when you knew it to be another. Martinez repeatedly told fans post-match that Everton had worked hard, that they had been unlucky, that this or that had been the cause of the latest defeat. He said after Everton drew 1-1 at home with Southampton in March that ‘it’s a good point in the way we had to fight very hard to cope with a demanding fixture.’
“Sometimes you have to dig in and work hard and that came out very clearly,” he continued, but where Martinez saw an Everton side ‘digging in and working hard,’ the Goodison Park crowd saw an Everton side outplayed, at home, again. Southampton had 17 shots to Everton’s seven, and Ronald Koeman left Merseyside regretting his team could only take a point. “I’m really disappointed because it was a big opportunity to win the game, right from the start,” he said, displaying the kind of ambition and awareness many feel Everton lack.
Martinez was forever positive. He found positives throughout this horrid season, even with home defeats to Leicester City, Stoke City, Swansea City, West Brom, West Ham and more. This is statistically Everton’s worst-ever season at Goodison. That Southampton draw was followed by a home win over Bournemouth but in between Everton lost two of their most important games of the season – a 4-0 hammering at Anfield by Liverpool in the Merseyside derby, and the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, having failed to turn up for the first 45 minutes.
The former Wigan manager told fans one thing when the evidence pointed another way. It raised the question exactly what he was telling the players – was he working to iron out their faults, or assuring them that everything they were doing was right? The number of players who have markedly improved under Martinez is slim. John Stones makes the same defensive mistakes today as he did three years ago, Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines have had their attacking threat neutered, Ross Barkley has stalled and Romelu Lukaku still only shows in flashes that he would be good enough for the Champions League team his agent so clearly wishes he was at.
Baines spoke of a lack of chemistry in the team – and he was absolutely right, with no partnerships comparable to his old connection with Steven Pienaar – but was shouted down by Martinez. That kind of incident led to speculation Martinez had ‘lost the dressing room,’ whatever that means, and the frail performances against Liverpool, Leicester and Sunderland only fuelled the fire.
But Martinez had lost the supporters. First the reactionaries, then the moderates, then the loyalists. It was hard to see how Martinez could continue even before the Sunderland capitulation – the final game of the season, at home to relegated Norwich, would have been ugly. Martinez sounded desperate after losing to the Black Cats, as desperate as Everton’s performance, but more realism, more self-criticism and less stubbornness could have prevented the situation deteriorating to that point.