He probably didn’t want it made public at his introductory press conference, but according to Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, one of the first things Roberto Martinez said to him was ‘I can get you in to the Champions League’. It’s a big statement of intent, but can it be achieved? For a club that has only finished in a Champions League spot once, albeit they failed to overcome Villarreal in the qualifying round, pushing on from their usual fifth – seventh dwelling is a big ask. However, it’s by no means an impossibility. Who would have thought this season’s cup winners would be Swansea and Wigan? Getting themselves above Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool and in o fourth would be a greater achievement even than Martinez’s relegation escapes and the FA Cup win. So, how can he do it?
Keeping Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas is going to be critical. They are the Everton players who are most desired by other teams, who most belong in the Champions League. Keeping them will not be easy, despite Kenwright’s assurances than no players are for sale. However, Fellaini has a release clause in his contract of around £24m, which makes him vulnerable. His physicality and tenacity have been key factors in giving Everton the toughness and multidimensional attacking virtues that have made them top-six mainstays. Although not always the most elegant on the ball he has shown he can play as a rugged defensive midfielder, or even as a second striker. Such versatility is a valuable asset. One of the questions about Martinez’s Wigan was that they had no Plan B. If passing didn’t work they couldn’t figure out another way to score. Although Fellaini is less technical than Martinez’s ideal, he is a key force for Everton and gives them a legitimate Plan B. It’s possible that Man United, Chelsea, or even Monaco, could open up the release clause.
Keeping Leighton Baines is more important but could be just as difficult. There is no more consistent player in the league than Baines and his attacking forays from left back in tandem with Steven Pienaar or Mirallas give Everton as good a flank as any team in the league. Baines is a good defender but it’s his attacking output that is staggering. He gets goals and assists as if he’s a winger. For Martinez this is vital. He plays with extreme width; his 3-4-1-2 system at Wigan was designed to space the pitch out as much as possible. Baines could be unstoppable as the left wing back if Martinez brings the system with him. He’s wanted by Moyes at United to replace a possibly Monaco-bound Patrice Evra though.
Kevin Mirallas is the final jewel in the crown but keeping him should be easier. He was arguably Everton’s best player in 2013, regularly putting in performances of devastating thrust in attack and started to score more and more goals. Everton’s attack was their weakness last year, so keeping a major livewire threat in Mirallas is key. Martinez needs pace and width in attack, which he offers in abundance.
Buying a striker is the next most important task. Nikica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe are not strikers who can propel a team in to the top four. Whatever money Everton have, they need to throw it in to getting a proper striker. If Man City are willing to let Edin Dzeko go they could push hard for him, they could get involved in the Christian Benteke bidding or even look at a move for Michu. One way or another, they need a forward who can get them 20+ goals, and be reliable. They can get one for the £15m club record the brought Fellaini to the club, but without one they won’t have a chance.
Combining solid defence with sophisticated attacking play is the key to Martinez’s possession-based system working for Everton. The defence was good last year, rarely conceding more than once in games. That can be left alone. What does need the Martinez touch is the attack. Everton have been increasingly fluent over recent years so it’s not like he’s inheriting footballing philistines but his tactical set up evolved over his four years at Wigan so might be hard to teach straight away. Everton were excellent at Goodison Park under Moyes but never great away from home. If Martinez can get them dominating possession and playing with the creativity they need, matched with the inherent will to will and desire infused by Moyes and Phil Neville it will be a potent combination.
Lastly, they need luck. If Spurs keep Gareth Bale and Arsenal recruit strongly it’s going to be very hard to overthrow them. They need to be flawless in the transfer market themselves, hope others make errors, and allow Martinez’s brand of football time to bed in. They have the winning, tough mentality, and if they can combine that with added attacking flair the top four is in reach.