Almost as soon as Roberto Martinez took charge of Everton he was talking about the Champions League. And while the naysayers may have chuckled at such naivety they have since been proved wrong, as the former Wigan Athletic boss has followed on from David Moyes’ work at Goodison Park to turn the Toffees into viable top-four contenders.
In fact, if Everton can defeat Arsenal on Sunday, they will be just one point behind the faltering Gunners with a game-in-hand.
I have been impressed with Martinez for some time, but this season he has impressed even me – one of his most ardent fans.
Of course the really tough task comes next season – whether Everton qualify for Europe’s elite competition or not.
If they do, we will see if Martinez has the nous to sign the players of the necessary quality in the summer transfer window. And if they do not, we will see if he can keep the momentum going as they try again.
But a story came out recently that showed just how far Martinez is prepared to go when it comes to getting the best out of his players. And it also showed why Manchester United may be wasting their time if they do try again for Leighton Baines this summer.
Sky Sports reports that Martinez took the England left-back to watch Bayern Munich against United – or more specifically, to watch Philipp Lahm.
The German international excelled as a full-back before Pep Guardiola moved him into a defensive midfield position at the beginning of this campaign. And he has excelled there, too.
And now Martinez has revealed that he sees Baines following in the Bayern captain’s footsteps.
“Not this season, but in seasons to come, he is someone who can play in that central role,” Martinez said of Baines. “I wanted him to watch Philipp Lahm in a live game because when it’s on TV you only see the player when he’s on the ball.
“It was good for Leighton to watch a player I feel he can be as good as or even better.”
Now that is excellent man-management: comparing one of your players with one of the very best of recent years and saying you can match him…hell, you can better him.
No wonder Dave Whelan was so keen to hold on for Martinez for so long, no wonder the Spaniard got the best out of a limited Latics side time and again, and no wonder Baines is set for a prolonged stay on Merseyside.
With a boss who believes in you that much, why would you leave?