It is an extremely difficult task to apply sport psychology to a premier league manager as they do not show weaknesses in the way players do and do not say anything without a reason, even if it wasn’t very well judged a la Benitez’s ‘fact not an opinion’ rant. This means it can be hard to read managers. Furthermore, they see themselves as a sport psychologist, and often rightly so, but who analyses the psychoanalyst? This blog is an attempt to examine Martinez’s mind-set and the effect his psychology will have on the club.
If I was to sum up Roberto Martinez in three words I would say positive, likeable and meticulous, all character traits I’m pleased to have in our new manager. I was sad to lose Moyes but the Spaniard’s enthusiasm and charisma has provided a new freshness and motivation to everyone attached to the club, including the fans.
I asked Blues on Twitter to sum up Martinez in three words or short phrases and the responses were overwhelmingly positive (extremely fitting considering who the question was about!). So, maybe even some of his initial detractors have been won over or maybe it’s just the usual pre-season optimism that grips fans of every club. Either way before a ball was kicked in anger he had gained friends and influenced people through sheer personality.
The positive thinker
An important reason for the amount of good feeling directed to Martinez is his unswerving positive outlook. Positivity is a major aspect of mental success in sport. Rory McIlroy recently spoke about his attempts to start thinking positively again to get back on form. If being positive is the key to success then Martinez will have us winning the Champions League in a couple of years! Many have marvelled at the Catalan’s unwavering optimism when faced with disappointment but let’s face it he had to stay positive at Wigan. Poor crowds both home and away, a rugby trodden pitch and limited finances, often meant he was left fighting a losing battle. If he hadn’t stayed positive he would probably have regularly been found in the DW dressing room at gone 5pm on a Saturday evening huddled in the foetal position mumbling to himself!
Following the Pie-eaters’ win over West Brom during the closing stages of last season, Martinez said it was “the start to a very exciting final two weeks of the season.” Yes, a cup final is exciting but is a relegation battle really exciting? I don’t remember excitement being my over-riding feeling as I walked through Stanley Park on the way to watch us play Coventry to stay up (I was too young for the Wimbledon game!) However, Martinez knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted the players to believe it was exciting because they were going to stay up. He wanted them to remember the feeling they had in previous seasons when they had successfully negotiated relegation battles and believe they could do it again. That statement from Martinez showed no hint of even considering they would go down. Of course Wigan got relegated but also won the cup in those two weeks.
So, is our Bobby’s positivity to be admired or can it become infuriating? It may become irritating for the fans, who don’t want to hear a positive gloss when we’ve just been well-beaten but the players will appreciate avoiding a public dressing down after a poor performance. I’m sure Callum McManaman valued the public backing he received from Martinez following his horror tackle on Haidara last season. Even if the rest of the country thought his support was misplaced, Martinez wasn’t interested as he only cared about his player. However, it could be argued that players sometimes need a public kick up the backside. Following our lack-lustre 2-0 defeat at Bolton in February 2011 Moyes suggested the “performance was as bad as I can remember since I’ve been in charge”. He went on to take some responsibility himself as he thought he had “gone a bit soft” on the players, despite this it was still intended to be a public scolding for the players, who had let their standards slip. The rights and wrongs can be debated but the following week we beat Chelsea on penalties in the cup after a never say die performance and continued on a good run till the end of the season.
Footballers are all individuals with different motivations some thrive on being challenged by managers while others appreciate constant reassurance from their manager. Consequently, having a go at a whole team or constantly encouraging a whole team is logically unlikely to always work. However, younger managers, including Martinez, have certainly taken the positive approach. This is an approach I certainly believe is the right way to go but positivity needs to be believable. If the players become fed up of hearing how wonderful everything is in difficult times they will stop believing in the manager and what he is telling them. There needs to be a line drawn between optimism and delusion, that will stop Roberto rivaling Brendan ‘David Brent’ Rodgers on the BS-ometer!
The Likeable Gent
An issue a manager often faces at a new club, if he has joined from a lesser team, is not just getting the fans onside but also the dressing room to believe in his methods. While I’m sure our players respect the new man’s cup success and other achievements in his managerial career, they may need some convincing as to whether he has the expertise to successfully manage them. Anichebe, Naismith and Stones have all previously been pursued by Martinez so they were probably thrilled with the new appointment. However, the whole squad, on the first day of pre-season was made-up of Moyes signings or academy players Moyes had brought through.
It would not be unrealistic to suggest that they would have had some loyalty to Moyes and so, needed impressing. However, considering no one in football seems to have a bad word to say about Martinez it was probably inevitable that his enthusiasm and innate magnetism would seduce the players into believing in him. The players all seem to have given the Spaniard a big thumbs up, although of course they wouldn’t say if they didn’t like him, but it does appear genuine. Further proof of Roberto’s magnetic tendencies is the signing of Gerard Deulofeu. Gerry had his pick of clubs but it was Martinez that won the day for Everton. A north west press association reporter tweeted;
‘Said it before but 10 minutes in a room with Roberto Martinez & it’s difficult not to come out a devotee. Add Gerard Deulofeu to that list’.
It certainly sounds like Martinez possesses a fatal allure or alternatively, he is the living embodiment of X-men’s Professor Charles Xavier! Mind control powers aside Martinez seems to have a knack for getting players to like him which means they will play for him no matter what. Gary Leboff, a sport psychologist who worked with Martinez at Wigan, wrote;
“While there are many reasons for Wigan’s resilience, none is more important than this. Wigan’s players WANT TO PLAY for Martinez; they relish his positive attitude and confidence in their ability.”
Every player would love these qualities in a manager and when times are tough playing for your manager might be just the motivation they need. Now he is at Everton, Martinez can now create a ‘triple threat’ for the first time. He had to get the players at Wigan to play for him because there wasn’t a multitude of fans to play for. He now has players that are motivated to play for the fans, each other and the manager.
A Meticulous Planner
It became obvious to Evertonians very quickly this summer that Martinez had an incredible work ethic. It is believed he could be found in Finch Farm every day after he had been appointed. His meticulous hardworking nature will have impressed everyone at the club and he will have gained a lot of respect for his approach to his new job. However, the Spaniard does not appear to know a different way to work. His own home boasts a 60-inch pen touch screen and he insists he ‘knows players inside out’. This is probably true considering Steven Naismith’s admission that Martinez had spotted that it takes him a while to settle at a new club. This is not only meticulous but extremely perceptive of Martinez and this sort of knowledge bodes well for the quick integration of new players to the club.
Furthermore, Martinez analyses every aspect of a player before he signs him. When he goes to watch a player he observes their warm up and how they conduct themselves from start to finish. He wants players who will fit into his team both on and off the pitch and have the right temperament. He is part of a new wave of thinking that considers players as individuals and not just parts of a team. Furthermore, he looks upon them as human beings and not simply football players;
“You have to try to understand both the player and the human being. In football you need to appreciate that from Monday to Friday you are dealing with human beings and then you are dealing with footballers on a match day. Understanding the human being during the week allows you to understand the player”
Once again, this will help to create a bond between the manager and the players, which will be important at difficult times in the season. Moreover, it will benefit Martinez as he understands the players inside out so can apply his meticulous deliberations to every team selection with the up most amount of knowledge possible.
The Over Achiever
There are similarities between Roberto’s last two jobs; Wigan coveted Premier league football despite a smaller budget than some of their counterparts while we expect a minimum top 6/7 finish with a cup run on a significantly smaller budget than our main rivals. Consequently, both Moyes and Martinez have regularly been told they have over-achieved at their respective clubs and get the most out of their squads.
If this is true, then it is an important characteristic that we need in our new man at the helm but a manager cannot lead by just pure personality. The whole club needs to adopt the philosophy of the manager.
Dealing with division
Consequently, Martinez wasted little time appointing a number of his Wigan staff into vacated or newly created roles within the backroom team. It makes sense for the Spaniard to bring in people he knows and trusts as he faces a new challenge but I’m afraid former Wigan Athletic staff do not come with a great deal of kudos attached to them. It is unfair and I’m sure they are all exceptional at their jobs but it may take time for the players to accept them. Furthermore, three out of four summer signings so far, have played under Martinez for Wigan. Indicating Martinez is going with who he knows and trusts in all areas of the club. The large number of Wigan newbies may have created a David Brent style ‘Swindon lot’ situation, creating a divided dressing room and backroom staff. All parties will feel threatened when a new manager arrives as no one’s position in the team or staff is safe. This creates uncertainty which is inevitably followed by anxiety.
So, bringing in a number of people that could instantly be seen as ‘favourites’ is a risky but probably unavoidable move. However, Martinez will have moved quickly to negate any problems and avoided a welcome party complete with anaemic buffet, plastic cups and dodgy jokes! Instead, Martinez will have led in his usual charismatic style to bring all parties together and give the ‘Wigan lot’ the chance to prove their expertise while helping them to settle at the club. The players will have also played their part as they always appear to do.
New signings at Everton often remark on the welcome they received from their teammates which helps get them embedded in the squad quickly. The key to the ‘Wigan lots’ successful transition is their recognition of just how special Everton is. Every club likes to think its special but we’re the only ones who are right! Evertonians within the club, like Dunc, Sheeds, Stubbsy, Ossie and Hibbo will want to see that they have grasped the nature of football on Merseyside and just how special we know our club is.
The Impress Formula
Martinez does bring a different style of play to the club which inherently comes with its own psychological challenges for the players. The Catalan focuses on retaining possession and dictating the pace of play. Although, I do not believe this will be as much of a culture shock to the players as some would have us believe (watch the season review dvd to remind you of the passing involved in goals vs Villa (a), Swansea (a), West Ham (h) and Fulham (h) to name a few) time still needs to be allowed for the players to adjust to the transition. The main alteration is how we play from the back.
As the number of short passes out from the goalkeeper to a holding midfield player or one of the centre backs has increased. This allows the opposition to press high up the pitch and could result in a few nerve jangling moments as the players get used to it. Swansea’s Leon Brittain said he was initially scared at the prospect of dropping deep to pick the ball up off his goalkeeper when Martinez first became manager. Anxiety in these situations is never helpful and players who are better on the ball will adapt quicker. Just be glad Titus Bramble isn’t another one of Martinez’s former Wigan arrivals!
However, anxiety in all areas of the pitch for all players should be diminished by Martinez’s use of the ‘impress formula’. By highlighting positive aspects of the team’s performance and never focusing on individuals, even after a defeat, Martinez knits the squad closer together. This brings a sense of togetherness and reduces fear as the players know individual mistakes will not be highlighted and they lose as a team. This may have taken some pressure off Ross Barkley, a player with raw talent who seems to have let his mind hold him back at the beginning of his career. Martinez’s approach may well help Barkley play with freedom, not in terms of his position on the pitch but rather, in terms of his psychology. Furthermore, Martinez uses ‘attention direction’ to focus players’ minds. This means that players do not think about the size of the task ahead but instead focus on what they do when they play well and how they can replicate it.
In pre-match press conferences Roberto rarely considers the result expected or needed but rather the smaller goals and targets that need to be achieved in order to get a good performance. With smaller achievable goals suddenly any task seems possible. This approach helped Wigan to regain a large amount of points from losing positions in the last three seasons, something we already have a penchant for, along with scoring vital late goals. So, as Martinez has stated, ‘It’s not a drastic change, I can’t afford to lose the things already in place at the club. I need to build on this incredible platform.’
Consequently, Martinez is entering his first role where his aim is to purely (but not easily) add the cherry on top. His previous jobs involved building from scratch at Swansea and implementing an entirely new approach at Wigan compared to his predecessors. In truth, the Spaniard could be considered a trailblazer. Martinez’s short passing attacking style was rarely, if ever, seen in League One before his arrival. The success he had has encouraged lower league teams to follow in a similar style. Doncaster, Brentford and Bournemouth, to name a few, have all gained plaudits for their approach to the game. Considering, Swansea was Martinez’s first job in management he was incredibly brave. He stuck to his own philosophy and showed a very single-minded nature. This suggests there is steel behind his natural, unwhitened smile!
However, as Arsenal and even Barcelona have found sometimes you need to have a plan B. Martinez could be considered inflexible and stubborn to changes that may on occasion be necessary. Nevertheless, psychologist Gary Leboff views Martinez beliefs in an entirely positive light. ‘Under no circumstances will he countenance ‘parking the bus’ for the sake of a point. It is an approach that creates absolute clarity in the dressing room and gives everyone pride in the team that they play for.’ Whether, you want a plan B or not you have to admire Martinez’s belief in his philosophy and in his players’ ability to implement it.
I certainly believe the Spaniard’s ability to get Wigan’s team relaxed and performing in big games could signal potential success in cup competitions and the end of our voodoo at certain away grounds. I feel in certain cup matches in the last two years that will not be named, our players froze. Whether it was the pressure, the occasion, the expectation I’m not sure but the size of the task and the size of the reward certainly affected their performance (not, as some unfairly and wrongly suggested, that the players didn’t care). A new psychological approach from Roberto may contribute towards a different type of performance in future big games, it doesn’t guarantee victory but may at least guarantee a performance. However, his approach may not provide the consistency required for a top 4 push.
Last season Wigan won at White Hart Lane but lost at home to West Brom a week later and similarly won 3-0 at Reading to go and follow that with a 4-0 home defeat to that lot from across the park. In truth, it would have been difficult for any manager to achieve consistency at Wigan, in part due to low attendances. Players must find motivation hard to come by when they see thousands of empty seats every week. Martinez does have experience of producing consistent results as he led Swansea to a League One championship title including a run of 18 matches without defeat. Swansea averaged a 14,000 attendance that season in a stadium holding 20,000. A good turnout for a team in League One. Consequently, Martinez has spoken about the fans a great deal this summer and mentioned ‘the Goodison effect’. He is trying to take of advantage of what he didn’t have at Wigan but experienced, to an extent at Swansea, and use the crowd as a ‘weapon’ to motivate players and thus, produce a greater chance of consistency both home and away.
Beneath the smile and the snazzy shirts there is a grit and determination to Martinez that may not be as obvious to an onlooker as when we look upon a gruff Scotsman or an arrogant Portuguese. Nevertheless it is there, so maybe words like focused, brave and even stubborn could be more appropriate to sum up our new manager. Yet, he retains his likeability and charm when other managers simply appear unpleasant and spiteful (I’m thinking of a Spaniard with a goatee, currently plying his trade in Italy). Wigan adopted the monkees hit ‘I’m a believer’ and I can certainly say I’m also a believer in our new man, although I suppose Martinez could have done his Professor X trick on me!
By Natalie Bargery