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What The Hell Has Happened To Everton and Roberto Martinez?

By Gavin Cooney
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Whilst Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United have filled the customary "Club in Crisis" role on the back pages this season, Everton's appalling form has gone under the radar.

Despite possessing an abundance of attacking power in Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and one of the league's best strikers in Romelu Lukaku - along with defensive talent John Stones and Seamus Coleman - Everton's league form is abysmal, and has been for some time.

In Roberto Martinez' first season, Everton finished an impressive fifth, winning 21 games and earning 72 points. Everton then completed the permanent signing of Lukaku from Chelsea, only to see their league form capitulate.

Since the opening day of last season, Everton have won just 18 of the 61 Premier League games they've played.

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This season, Everton have won just three games since September - with all of these wins against the sides currently in the bottom three - and the 22 goals they have conceded at Goodison Park is the worst home defensive record in the league. (Bear in mind that Aston Villa are also in this league).

Balls.ie spoke to David Downie, who covers Everton for Radio Citytalk in Liverpool and hosts an Everton-themed show called The Blue Room about what has gone wrong under Martinez.

Before delving into what has gone wrong since the 13/14 season, we asked Downie what went right in the first year post-David Moyes, and he believes Everton improved with a change in mentality.

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Martinez, it seemed, achieved initial success with the historical maxim of "just be different to the previous guy".

And that he was. Downie criticised Moyes' lack of ambition at Everton, citing his comments Moyes' comments following his Goodison departure that playing United with Everton was like "bringing a knife to a gun fight".

Martinez changed that mentality, ambitiously trusting youth and forward thrust, encapsulated by one player:

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The player that epitomised that change in mentality was Ross Barkley. Moyes was always reluctant to give him a chance in the first team and he was quoted as saying that he was worried he would cost Everton a match or a goal. There was a total 180 when Martinez arrived.

He allowed him to express himself, allowed him to play a pivotal role in the side, it was a total breath of fresh air. That first season was like a shedding of the skin, from an Everton point of view.

Martinez came in and tried to rid the mentality that sixth or seventh was good enough for Everton.

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Such a steadfasdt commitment to principles are the hallmark of a good coach, but is perhaps not suitable for the ruthless results business of management. The great managers are those more in line with the Groucho Marx line of "those are my principles, and if you don't like them...I have others".

Martinez' principles are not for changing, which in Downie's opinion has benefitted Everton up to now, but may not be enough to carry them forward.

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It will always be in credit to Martinez that he has assembled this squad. I can't imagine Moyes signing Deulofeu or Lukaku, nor can I imagine Barkely developing under Moyes as he has done under Martinez.

There was a feeling at Goodison that since Martinez assembled this squad, he should be able to see it out, but that is changing now.

It is my opinion that Martinez may just be the man to assemble the squad, but that doesn't necessarily mean he is the man to take it forward and make it a winning team. Eighteen wins from sixty-one games isn't good enough.

There is a feeling that Martinez' commitment to open, attacking play has gone too far, and has taken root in Everton's inability to hold on to a lead this season.

Against Stoke at home in December, Everton lead 3-2 with ten minutes to play, only to lose 4-3. Worse still were games against Bournemouth and Chelsea: in both games Everton took the lead in injury time, only to surrender that lead before the full time whistle. (Whilst John Terry's equaliser for Chelsea was patently offside, the Everton defence had plenty of opportunities to clear the ball before Terry scored).

I don't think he [Martinez] has a pragmatic bone in his body, which is sometimes lacking in a severe amount of common sense.

It was a killer blow to fans to hear him come out after the Chelsea game and say that 'we don't want to be one of those teams who runs the ball into the corners and waste time to close a game'.

The fact that he perceives himself to be above that, or that wants his team to be above that, is naive.

Martinez places style before substance, but it won't wash any more. Ultimately it is a results business, and he doesn't seem to grasp that.

If Martinez is missing pragmatism, Moyes built his career upon it, and Downie admits that perhaps, as managers "they both needed a bit of each other".

In terms of sticking to principles at the expense of reward, Martinez and Everton seem well matched. Sam Wallace of the Telegraph reported last month that when Everton's shirt sponsorship came up for renewal a couple of years ago, the club rejected more lucrative offers to retain the current brand as they liked the familiarity.

It is a kind of thoughtful and moral stance inimical to progress in the Premier League.

Along with Martinez' principles comes obdurate stubborness, seen in the continued selection of error-prone goalkeeper Tim Howard - Downie believes that Howard may directly cost Martinez his job - and Gareth Barry, whose performances last season were largely "awful" in Downey's opinion.

Downie runs a phone-in show for Everton fans on Citytalk along with attending all Everton games, so is in a good position to judge the consensus on Martinez' position, and believes that the defeat to Swansea has left around eighty percent of Everton fans wanting a change in management.

That said, the Capital One Cup offers Martinez the opportunity for salvation. Everton have not won a trophy sinced the 1995 FA Cup, and take a 2-1 lead into the semi-final second leg against Manchester City on Wednesday night. Should Everton win some silverware, possibly at the expense of Liverpool, Downie admits it would be hard to begrudge Martinez the opportunity of staying on:

I said at the beginning of the season that I would take Everton finishing seventeenth if it meant winning the Capital One Cup. Now that looks a possibility, I'm a bit scared!

But I'm being a bit of a hypocrite. To see Everton win a trophy would be so special it would be difficult not to reward him with more time.

But it's such a fine line, were he not to do it, I can't see anything other than the majority of us wanting him to go.

The man of principles has arrived at his principal game.

See Also: Richie Towell's Hopes Of Breaking Into The Brighton Team Have Suffered A Fresh Blow

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