On the eve of the Wigan Athletic v Swansea City game tomorrow night, I thought it an appropriate time to pen some thoughts on what is for many Swansea fans, the main focal point of the evening – Roberto Martínez.
A place in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup awaits the winners, but I strongly suspect that most of the 4,400 odd Swans fans making the trip up north are doing so because it is the first opportunity they will have had to barrack Roberto since his acrimonious exit from the Liberty hot seat in June 2009.
I suppose the big question is whether or not Roberto warrants the tag of “Judas” from the Swansea fans.
For many, they will never forget the words he uttered when he took the managerial reign of the Swans in February 2007 – that he would only leave Swansea as manager “if he was forced out”.
Further potential fuel was added to his departure bonfire, as he’d previously criticised players such as Lee Trundle (a fans favourite) and Andy Robinson, whom left the club for more money or larger clubs – and at the same time questioning their loyalty.
So when Wigan and an old Martínez acquaintance in the shape of Dave Whelan came calling in June 2009, Roberto chose to leave the Swans and break his vow, that he’d be pushed out rather than leave by choice.
In talking his entire backroom staff with him to Wigan – Graeme Jones, chief scout Kevin Reeves, goalkeeping coach Inaki Bergara, physio Richie Evans and fitness coach Oscar Brau – he only served to make the whole episode all the more sickening.
Many felt angered and betrayed by the amicable Spaniard, whom was now the sinner more than the once, much heralded saviour of Swansea City football club.
“Judas” indeed or was he?
Let’s step back a minute and try and look at the bigger picture. Those of you whom have read the Martínez autobiography – “Kicking Every Ball” – will know quite a lot about his early playing career and how he came into the British game.
In July 1995, Roberto was offered the chance to move to England by Dave Whelan (yes the same Dave Whelan) chairman of Wigan Athletic – where he was a regular first team player for six years – the longest period of time he spent at any club (to date). It was clearly evident from his book how much he thought of Whelan and Wigan as a club.
I suspect that few of the Swans fans – enticed as a result of the Liberty Stadium – will even remember when Martínez arrived at the Swans, and in doing so helped us avoid relegation from the Football League (and as captain). Martínez helped to galvanise the team and the fans at arguably our lowest ebb. Who can EVER forget that 4-2 win over Hull on the last day of the season!
After being forced out of the club by Kenny Jackett, Martínez returned to manage the Swans in February 2007 – in a very bold move (gamble some said!) by chairman Huw Jenkins. This was the Spaniard’s first taste of managerial life.
Slowly but surely though, Martínez built a strong footballing squad and aided by the prowess of scout Kevin Reeves brought in several useful players from across the globe at bargain prices – Angel Rangel, Jordi Gomez, Jason Scotland, Ferrie Bodde, etc, etc.
The Swans won admirers europe wide with their attacking ‘total football’ style. Football in the style the Swans had always been accustomed to (albeit not with a 4-5-1 formation!). In over 30 years of supporting the Swans I can NEVER remember enjoying watching a team play so much.
My take on it…
So when faced with the question of whether I think the “Judas” tag is justified, I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think it is.
I firmly believe that had any other club (other than Wigan) come calling – as Newcastle did in 2008 – then Martínez would still be in the Liberty hot seat today.
Martínez is an ambitious man and the gamble he faced when moving to Wigan was far less than any other he’d have faced, given those in charge at the DW Stadium. He also knew that he’d be given cash – lots of it – to build and improve on the squad at his disposal, something which was well documented as not being an option at Swansea.
I have little doubt that one of the real reasons for leaving the Swans is that he felt that he’d done as much as he could with the resources he had. In fairness to Martínez he has never criticised Huw Jenkins – unlike Paulo Sousa.
On a personal level, Martínez had been given the opportunity to manage a team in what is arguably the world’s biggest club league and obviously secure his own personal future with the financial reward that goes with it. Think about YOUR job and the opportunities available – what would you have done?
Arguably, the biggest mistake Martínez made was the naivety of his comments when given the Swans job. Which is something I’m sure he has lived to regret.
So I’ll be travelling to Wigan tomorrow, not to vent my anger at Roberto Martínez (although disappointed by his decision to leave) but to show my appreciation to him for setting the Swans on the road to a successful future – one which I’d not envisaged for quite some time.
But most importantly – other than the few minutes attention Martínez will get from me – will be the vocal support, backing and encouragement to the current Swans team and management and hoping that come 21:50 tomorrow night, we’ll be in the Carling Cup quarter finals.