Those who have followed Roberto Martinez’s career know that this fixture was destined to intrigue. After his six seasons in midfield at Springfield Park, he found his way to Swansea via brief stints at Motherwell and Walsall. Hugely popular with the Welsh fans, he was made captain and eventually player-manager, before returning in 2007 to take the managerial job on full-time basis. He achieved promotion to the Championship playing a stylish passing style of football seldom seen in the lower divisions of English football. Though several coaches have been and gone, the club has continued the Martinez philosophy, which was very much evident in their Premier League debut versus Man City on Monday, where they dominated possession for large periods in the first half but were eventually undone by City’s billions in attack.
It would be an understatement to say Roberto upset a few people when he accepted Dave Whelan’s offer to return to Wigan as manager, with some Swansea fans labeling him “El Judas.” But as much as he genuinely loved, and was loved by Swansea, it seems Wigan was his true adopted home. It didn’t help, however, that he brought leading scorer Jason Scotland, and then Championship player of the year Jordi Gomez, along with four members of the backroom staff, with him.
And so Roberto’s two teams meet in the top flight of English football. Destiny couldn’t have planned it better — Roberto returns for Swansea’s first home match. The crowd is going to be hugely influential in this one. It will be interesting to see what sort of reception Martinez receives. He may have left, but they have him to thank for much of their continued success. One suspects that even though Scott Sinclair didn’t quite make it in his year on loan at the then JJB, Roberto saw enough to recommend him to his old club. And what a season he had. I would hope that the more educated fans in the crowd will give him the ovation he deserves.
The Football: A very tough one to predict. Swansea looked very decent in the first hour against Man City, passing and moving the ball well without really creating any clear cut chances. The system and style is exactly the same as the Latics, with a lone target man and two fast, skillful wingers in Sinclair and Dyer. Their defensive effort was brave but eventually undone by City’s superior pace, a pretty familiar sounding story.
As for the Wigan line-up, I would expect a stronger side than the one that faced Norwich, based on the additions of Alcaraz and Rodallega. Al-Habsi in goal; Figueroa, Boyce, Caldwell, Alcaraz; Watson, McCarthy and Diame; Moses, Rodallega and Di Santo. But there were a couple surprises last week and there could be again this week. Jordi Gomez was fantastic during his spell at Swansea and may be given a chance to impress. I read a terrifying rumor somewhere that Alcaraz is actually looking for a move away from the club. To break up his partnership with Gary Caldwell — so instrumental in the second half of the season last year — would be devastating.
My hope is that Wigan’s experience, and the return of Alcaraz and Rodallega to the starting lineup will be enough to counter the newcomers’ energy. But I have to say I’m a bit worried about this one. With a enthusiastic crowd behind then, celebrating the return of top flight football match to Wales, it seems destined to be Swansea’s party. It will be a sign of how far Roberto has come if he can come away with a result.