When Roberto Martinez arrived at Everton in the summer of 2013 to replace much-respected David Moyes there was uncertainty over the Spaniard’s appointment as Toffees boss.
He was affable enough, a seemingly intelligent guy and somebody who was obviously a student of the game.
However doubts were caused by Wigan being relegated from the Premier League the previous season, despite winning the FA Cup.
Martinez’s first ever campaign as Toffees boss was an unmitigating success, as the Catalan led the Merseysider’s to fifth place in the league and a Premier League club-record points tally of 72 points.
Most of his critics were swept away by Martinez’s initial success, but there still remain a few doubters. Those doubters became larger in number last season, as hampered by their Europa League campaign the Toffees struggled to find form.
Eventually they finished 11th in the top-flight table, which was the Toffees lowest Premier League finish in nearly a decade. The campaign was one of disappointment after such a promising start from their highly-rated young boss.
Last season raised more questions than it answered for Evertonians. One of the most common questions was what has happened to our previously solid defence? In the 2013/14 season Everton had conceded the third least goals in the top-flight.
Under David Moyes they were a solid unit and hard to break down for much of the Scots reign. In Martinez’s maiden campaign he managed to merge Moyes’ defence solidarity with his passing style of football, without compromising the Toffees defence.
One of the main reasons for that was experienced former-England defensive midfielder Gareth Barry sat in front of the back four and covered the gaps left by flying full-backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.
Last season he struggled to find his best form and midfield side-kick James McCarthy was out of the team at times through injury. The pair are now back together and they have to help the defence get back on track.
The Toffees opening Premier League game of the season against Watford suggests that may not happen, as Martinez’s team again looked vulnerable at the back.
Martinez likes his team to play expansive, attacking football, but that only works if the ball is passed quickly. If the Everton players are passing the ball for the sake of it the opposition teams have time to get into a good defensive shape.
In Martinez’s debut campaign Everton hit teams on the counter-attack and played attractive passing football. Ironically for much of the Europa League campaign that style was still evident and it was the defence’s capitulation in Kiev that cost Everton a chance to go further in the competition.
That quick, passing and incisive football was missing last season. Instead it was replaced by laboured, slow build-up play and Martinez did not seem to know how to shake things-up. He showed great tactical acumen in the previous campaign, but last season he looked out of his depth.
That slow laboured build-up was again on display against Watford at times, but to be fair the Hornets did produce a very good performance.
Martinez has to start getting the best out of an undoubtedly talented group of players. The likes of Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu all have immense ability, but the Spaniard needs to harness that ability this season.
After last season’s disappointing campaign Everton were expected to strengthen their squad this summer. Martinez acted early to nap the signatures of central midfielder Tom Cleverley and Catalan winger Gerard Deulofeu, but he has been quiet in the market since.
He completed the signing of promising young Barnsley defender Mason Holgate yesterday, but at 18 even Martinez admitted that the youngster will not be thrown in at the deep end in the Premier League just yet.
The Spaniard will know that he has to bring players in before the transfer window shuts. The Toffees are frighteningly short of central defensive cover, after Sylvain Distin and Antolin Alcaraz left in the summer.
That leaves the Merseysider’s with just two senior centre-backs in John Stones and Phil Jagielka. The former is still being heavily linked with a move away to Chelsea.
The Toffees also recently received a blow in the fact that England international left-back Leighton Baines could be out of action for up to three months with an ankle injury.
Everton fans are looking for progression this season. They have saw the likes of Stoke, Swansea and Crystal Palace, all of whom finished around the Toffees in the table last season, make big signings and are wondering whether their Spanish boss is capable of helping the club progress.
Everton now have a vital period of games coming up against teams who finished in the top seven last season, starting with a visit to Southampton’s St Marys on Saturday.
It will be a testing period for Martinez and his players. The Spaniard now has to prove that his debut campaign was not a fluke and that he can guide this once-powerhouse of English football to success in the future.
If he does not prove that this season, then a club traditionally loyal to their managers may well be looking elsewhere and Martinez could be left wondering what might have been on Merseyside.
Is Roberto Martinez capable of moving Everton forward?