After the joy and euphoria of recent weeks we are now rocked by Liverpool’s approach to Roberto Martinez. How can we contemplate a Wigan Athletic without Bob? What is going to happen if he leaves us for Liverpool in the next 7 days?
Roberto Martinez came back as club manager in 2008, having been an old favourite of those fans who saw him play 188 matches for Latics from 1995-2001. His assistant was to be Graeme Jones, who scored 44 goals in 96 appearances for Latics from 1996-1999. Another ex-Latics icon – Graham Barrow – was brought in as coach. Barrow scored 35 goals in 179 appearances for Wigan Athletic from 1981-1986, not bad for a defensive midfield player. He later came back as manager in 1994-95, saving Latics from relegation to the Football Conference. If you look at the backroom staff at the club you will find the names of other familiar names from yesteryear. Alex Cribley – club physiotherapist – made 268 appearances for us in the 1980s and has been at the club for 30 years . We even have an executive manager, Jonathan Jackson, whose father was a great servant for the club at board level.
That all these people with strong previous associations with the club are on the payroll is no coincidence. It is part of a concerted effort to recruit people who love the club. Roberto Martinez has been the orchestrator, melding together his staff to provide an infrastructure for the future. The model is not unlike that of Liverpool in the 1980’s when Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan moved up from the “bootroom” staff to take over the club after the departure of Bill Shankly. It was an incredibly successful model. Paisley won 6 league titles and 3 European Cups during his 9 years as manager.
Roberto Martinez might be offered the Liverpool job this week. If he does he might well take it. No Latics fan would begrudge him such an opportunity. Liverpool FC is not the club it was in the 1980s but its fans still often have unrealistically high expectations. Not an easy place to work, especially if John W. Henry wants instant success. Henry took over as principal owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team in 2002. They won the coveted World Series in 2004. It is unlikely that Roberto Martinez – or any other manager – could perform a parallel feat at Liverpool FC in two years, given the squad of players currently at the club. What Martinez would do is build for the future and have the team play aesthetically pleasing football, something Liverpool have not been able to do for some time.
If the Liverpool thing does not work out – and we Latics fans have to admit we hope it doesn’t – we will probably have Martinez for another year. The problem is that the more success Wigan Athletic have under his direction, the more likely it is that he will be poached away by another club. We therefore need to think ahead. Are there people on the “bootroom” staff who are capable of replacing him? The obvious candidate is Graeme Jones, but we seldom get a glimpse of him through the media. Does he lack eloquence or is it that Martinez is a control freak and likes to deal with the media? Eric Black was a very well-spoken assistant to Steve Bruce and we saw more of him. If Martinez did move would he take Jones with him? Graham Barrow remains a capable force within the club and might even be a candidate. After the Heysel disaster in 1985 Kenny Dalglish took over as Liverpool player-manager, going on to win three league titles. Would it be within the realms of possibility that Gary Caldwell could perform that same dual role for Latics?
So let’s think ahead. Roberto Martinez will leave sometime, whether it be during the next week or the next year. He has built an infrastructure that we need to keep. If he were to leave he should not be allowed to take away key members of our coaching and backroom staff. The players he has recruited now know how to play the kind of champagne football we could not have dreamed about three years ago when he took over. We also have a tactical formation that really suits the players we have. We do not want a new manager to come in and put us back to square one. Let’s not revert to the physical, long-ball stuff that characterized Steve Bruce’s teams. Very few managers in England could step into this situation and build on what we already have. Only Swansea and Brighton come to mind as teams that play our style of football. Brendan Rodgers has done a great job at Swansea because he has built on the structure that Martinez provided during his time in Wales. Like Martinez he is now in the shop window, with the big clubs admiring the kind of football his team are playing. Gus Poyet has done a fantastic job in bringing Brighton to midway up the Championship playing our kind of football. He might well be a possibility for Latics.
Let’s hope that Roberto Martinez does not go to Liverpool and stays with us at least one more year. It is an exciting prospect! If he does go then we need to make the right appointment. Let’s not bring in somebody who tears apart the coaching and backroom staff to bring in his own men. We don’t need upheaval, we need continuity. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to keep it rolling. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.