Originally aired on: NBCSN
We see Premier League managers on the sidelines every weekend, clad in their suave scarves, hard to zip-up raincoats, and signature baseball caps. Yet what do we actually know of what they do?
They pick the team, make up to three substitutions, mercilessly harangue the fourth official and provide grateful cameramen with a wide array of choice reaction shots. But is the Premier League like the NFL in which coaches are Bill Belichick style control freaks hellbent on controlling every move. Or is it more like jazz in which the players spend 90 minutes improvising, free of managerial will?
The legendary Italian coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, once addressed that question by saying, “a good manager can make a team 10 percent better, a bad manager can make that same team 30 percent worse.”
I travelled to the North West of England to explore this matter at length with Roberto Martinez, a man who is living the answer. Under his leadership, Everton thrilled last season, unfurling optimistic, bold football to capture 5th place. This year, Martinez’s charges are experiencing a version of indie music’s “difficult second album.” Bereft of confidence, Everton have stumbled to the wrong end of the table.
I visited Finch Farm, Everton’s training facility, on a symbolically storm-filled afternoon. Yet Martinez ignored the heavy black clouds darkening the skies, as he held forth on the role, leadership style, and hysterical pressures of a modern Premier League manager’s life.
With the charm, intelligence and insight that are his trademarks, the 41-year-old Catalan patiently indulged my every question—not just about Everton per se, but Premier league management in general:
How much in-season training is individual, and how much is collective?
What statistical data does he value most when analyzing his squad’s performances?
When does he pick the team, and when, exactly, does he let the players know?
What does he say to his players before they take the field?
And what exactly do the managers say to each other, when they cup each others necks, shake each other’s hands, and mumble a few words for the cameras on the cusp of kick-off.
Martinez revealed to me that he views the season as a campaign to be divided into thirds. “We always try to work on a physical program that the peak of the team is going to start in the final third,” he explained. “Going into the last 10 games in the league… that’s the moment that you can see that the players can really hit the maximum of their powers.” Everton fans around the world will pray that he is right.