Following Wednesday’s 2-0 home loss against an average Manchester City side, Wigan Athletic boss Roberto Martinez must be wondering if he will become embroiled in yet another relegation battle.
He must also be thinking, after watching his team toil against the English champions, of how it could have been so different.
Over the summer the Spaniard turned down approaches from both Aston Villa and Liverpool. According to Martinez, the latter actually laid down a concrete offer when he met John Henry, the Merseyside club’s owner, in May. After meetings with Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, Liverpool’s approach was rebuffed.
Without intending to disrespect Wigan Athletic, Liverpool and Aston Villa would have been a step up for the 39 year-old Martinez. So it’s perhaps surprising that Martinez, hailing from the beautiful historic town of Balaguer in northern Spain, has settled in Wigan. It’s a place that, if you take football chants far too literally, is famed for pies and incest.
However, Martinez settled quickly and played in midfield with great distinction after moving to England in 1995. He played for the Latics for six seasons, seeing them through promotion into the third tier and ultimately helping lay down the foundations in what became a Premier League side four years after his departure.
After stints at four different clubs, Martinez was appointed manager of Swansea City, where he had been released as a player nine months earlier by his predecessor Kenny Jackett.
In his first full season in charge of the Swans they won the League One title, and their thrilling brand of flowing, attacking football proved a hit in the Championship as they just missed out on the playoffs the next season.
With unprecedented success so early in his managerial career, speculation of a move away from South Wales surrounded Martinez. After an approach by Celtic, he instead opted for Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2009, where he succeeded Steve Bruce. Eight years after he was released, the Catalonian had returned to his adopted home in Greater Manchester.
Under Martinez’s tutelage Wigan has never finished above 15th. On paper, that doesn’t sound too impressive, but for a team in a rugby league-obsessed town – the Wigan Warriors are the best supported side in the Super League and have won the most topflight titles – who were a non-league side in 1993, and have modest resources when compared to their league rivals, it’s one hell of an achievement. The 2012-13 season is their eighth in the top flight.
Over the previous decade, the most important quotas that newly-appointed managers of the larger clubs had to fill seemed to be a vowel at the end of their name, a fondness of expressing their displeasure with elaborate hand actions, and the possession of a lovely coat. While Martinez does fulfill some of these former requirements, if he joined a club of European pedigree now it would be in the same vain as Paul Lambert, Brendan Rodgers, and the recently dismissed Roberto Di Matteo – managers who learned their trade lower down the English pecking order.
But could he cut it at a bigger club?
The attractive style of football Martinez champions would buy him time from a more impatient board room and supporters. Newcastle United fans kicked up a fuss when Sam Allardyce moved from Bolton Wanderers – where he had impressed to the point of being tipped for an England job – to the north-east, and brought his supposedly unsophisticated, route-one football with him. On his sacking, the salad-dodger’s premature exit from his office was met with great fanfare.
The biggest concern for employers would be that Martinez has delivered at Wigan on a budget that is the equivalent of a couple of cereal vouchers and some swaps from his Euro 2012 sticker collection. Could he spend the millions of a larger club wisely? With greater transfer outlay comes greater pressure and expectation. Ask Mark Hughes.
For now, Martinez has bought into chairman Dave Whelan’s lofty ambitions for Wigan Athletic. But for a team with such a small fan base and annual relegation battles, it may be that the Latics have reached a glass ceiling.
It’s time Roberto Martinez takes the plunge and moves to a club of greater standing. He’s good enough.
Daniel Rouse is a columnist and podcaster for Red Nation Online, and a short story writer. He moved from England in 2011. Follow him on Twitter.