Who could have imagined that when I last wrote this column exactly a year later ago that in twelve months’ time the only topic I would be writing about would be the imminent departure of Roberto Martinez. Is it me or has the whole protracted saga been like a horrible nightmare from which you can’t wait to wake up? The feeling is of terrible loss, not quite someone passing away but more like suddenly being told one day by your pretty young girlfriend that she has decided to go back to her ex, who has a slightly better job but a healthier bank balance than you but who looks like Harold Steptoe. You can’t believe it’s happening but it is. Oh, and all this after she’s told you she loves you and will definitely be with you for the next four years at least.
I appreciate that much has been said, written and discussed vociferously in pubs and clubs across the city about this whole unsavoury incident though I believe I stand with the vast majority when I say I feel betrayed. It’s as simple as that. Betrayed because we thought Martinez was different, was honest, was one of us, was too bloody good to be true, as it turned out. His now infamous quote “They’ll have to drag me away from this club” has been justifiably repeated so much over the past week or so and even it he did mean it at the time because he has literally jumped ship at the very first opportunity it leaves such a bitter taste in the mouth of every single Swans fan.
What I think is even worse and is more of a reason to be disgusted at Mr Martinez are his double standards. Lee Trundle and Andy Robinson were very publicly berated by the Spaniard for leaving the club for seemingly bigger and better things and was it not Ferrie Bodde who was eventually persuaded to stay by Martinez himself after he was about to do the very same thing? I fully acknowledge that Martinez is apparently unable to turn down the “once in a lifetime” opportunity of managing a Premier League club but we’re talking about Wigan Athletic for God’s sake and not Arsenal or even Aston Villa or even Portsmouth. He may as well have taken the short stroll along the River Tawe to take over Landore FC. Wigan – the Premier League’s worst-supported club and one of the favourites to go down next season.
Then there’s the money. Martinez’s mate Jordi Cruyff has claimed that the move isn’t about the money and that it’s just the challenge of the Premier League. The rumour is that Martinez will be on £1.2 million per year with a massive bonus if he keeps Wigan up. Now I appreciate that many of us would immediately jump at that sort of package but let’s look at it from Martinez’s position. A reliable source tells me that he’s been financially astute throughout his career and has made enough shrewd investments to keep him and his wife-to-be very comfortable for many years to come so it shouldn’t be about the money. At the end of the day only Martinez himself knows. Huw Jenkins apparently gallantly offered to double Martinez’s salary when Wigan made their official approach but it fell on deaf years. The man who Jenkins himself recently lauded as the best ever manager in Swansea City’s history had already made up his mind.
Regarding Huw Jenkins’ role in all of this can I just say that he has emerged with dignity and honour which is in stark contrast to the creaky, doddery old vulture Dave Whelan who has, in my opinion, showed a distinct lack of respect to Swansea City Football Club throughout this sorry episode by not only his actions but what he has been saying in the press. Yes, Whelan brought Martinez to the UK in the first place and they may still be mates but my Mum always told me how wrong it is to covet anything that anyone else has and that’s exactly what’s happened here. I know other clubs have suffered in the same way but I’m only interested in my club. Apart from Terry Yorath leaving to manage the national side (which is completely different anyway) I don’t think this has ever happened to us before. Our managers are usually fired or forced to resign so this is unchartered territory for us and of course we don’t like it.
I understand that Martinez is taking his complete backroom staff with him. Well, that’s no surprise. However, the next big talking point is which star players will be following him to cold and windy Lancashire. You’d expect Angel Rangel to be the first to go. The lad could play in the Premier League tomorrow and in my opinion is worth every penny of the £3 million being mentioned in some quarters. I can’t see anyone risking a big fee on Ferrie Bodde until he proves his full fitness again so that would possibly mean a move during the January transfer window. I’m not sure Jason Scotland would succeed at the higher level, especially when marked by the likes of John Terry or Rio Ferdinand but if we’re offered £2.5 million would we take it? Too right we would. The only other player I think could potentially step up is Ashley Williams but possibly in a year’s time – hopefully with us.
So, there have been 100 applications for the hot seat and many of the names are all too predictable. I was surprised and a little disappointed that John Hughes took the Hibernian manager’s job today so that’s one name scratched from the list. Do we take a third consecutive gamble by wheeling in a rookie or do we play it safe and bring in a seasoned pro? That’s the dilemma that Huw Jenkins and the board have this week. As the Martinez appointment was a masterstroke by the club I’d be happy to trust them again and it seems Gary Speed is a distinct possibility. If we were to appoint an experienced man I don’t think Steve Coppell fully fits the profile but I would like to see someone like Alan Curbishley, who knows football, has great contacts, likes his teams to play the game the “Swans” way and is a real personality.
No matter how we all feel at the moment the history books will record that Martinez did a fantastic job for us. The breathtaking style of football was rewarded with a promotion from League 1 as champions followed by a creditable eighth position in the Championship. To be honest, it’s difficult to criticise Martinez but in light of recent events I’m going to have a go. Many people point to his “great signings” but when we analyse the transfer activity it paints a different picture and I stand to be corrected but here’s how I see it. When Martinez arrived at the club we were apparently already monitoring Jason Scotland, Ferrie Bodde and Dorus de Vries so they would arguably have been brought in whoever the new manager was. Angel Rangel was spotted by Kevin Reeves when the club were watching Gorka Pintado. Jordi Gomez was never ours to keep. Guillem Bauza, Fede Bessone, Albert Serran and Andrea Orlandi have all failed to become automatic first team choices and are basically sparingly used squad players. Mark Gower hasn’t really performed to his full potential (though a goal may have changed much) and Pintado himself has been somewhat of a disappointment. It is, quite ironically, Martinez’s very last two signings, Stephen Dobbie and Nathan Dyer, who may turn out to be his most influential.
Then there were those record 21 draws. Many of us believe that a large percentage of those should have been wins for us so why weren’t they? You could well point to Martinez’s reluctance to abandon the pretty passing and revert to Route 1 – even for the last 10 minutes. A source at the club recently told me that the players themselves had, on several occasions, been keen to change the system but Martinez apparently went berserk if anyone launched it. Every long ball team has a willing carthouse who ploughs a lone furrow up front and Pintado could have fitted this role during latter stages of matches. We really have been the Arsenal of the Championship but what have the Gunners won in the last four years? Burnley are now in the Premier League but we took four points off them last season and hammered them at the Liberty.
We all have to make big decisions at some point of our lives. Very often in hindsight we make the wrong ones for the wrong reasons. Just ask Lee Trundle or Andy Robinson. Roberto Martinez was, we thought, one of us. A Catalan who became an adopted Jack. An honourable man who was loved by an entire city. Someone who will this week walk away from his club, his city, his people and the players he led so well for two years.
It is absolutely probable that he could have stayed for at least another season then still realised his dream, whether with Swansea City FC or not. Not only to stay to simply try to finish the job he had started but to ensure he would leave with some degree of dignity and honour and not to have jumped ship at the first available opportunity.
Swansea or Wigan? I may well be biased but I definitely know where I’d prefer to be.
Adios Roberto because there’s no coming back after this.