The New Romantics

Everton manager Roberto Martinez is a lucky man. Before last month’s game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the Toffees manager made the point that his job allowed him to adopt a ‘romantic’ philosophy when it came to the style of football his team played. He contrasted this starkly with the position of Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho who, he said, was forced to a take a more ‘pragmatic’ approach to the game. In short, Chelsea have to win as many games and trophies as possible; Everton don’t.


I’m not sure Evertonians would see things in quite the same way but he had an interesting point. When he was manager of Wigan Martinez always seemed to be fighting relegation and it’s a testament to his single-mindedness and his integrity that in the face of such trauma he refused to compromise his style. For him, playing football the right way, in an attractive and entertaining fashion comes first. The rest is just detail. Again, should Evertonians find their team embroiled in a relegation dog fight any time soon they may beg to differ on the best way to get out of it (get out of it without actually being relegated that is). For the moment, with Everton flying high, it’s by the by.

Jose Mourinho is also adept at making teams play the way he wants – but for him style can take a running jump. At the rarefied level he works winning is everything. Style’s nice, but only as a non-essential decorative add-on, and one that trophy winning coaches aren’t necessarily willing to accommodate. Certainly, during his time in Spain in charge of Real Madrid Mourinho found himself constantly and unfavourably compared to Barcelona‘s Pep Guardiola in this respect. Not only did he famously fail to knock Barca off their perch, he had to suffer the indignity of watching the Catalans capture the hearts of neutrals everywhere with their brand of mesmerising (and winning) football. Too often Madrid were cast in an unflattering light. Consequently Mourinho left the city under something of a cloud while his nemesis Guardiola has gone on to weave his magic in Germany with Bayern Munich.

All this underscores the real problem for Mourinho at Chelsea. Owner Roman Abramovich isn’t ever going to be satisfied with merely being a winner. As befits a self-made billionaire he wants it all. He wants his team to win with a swagger; to play gorgeous football in the process. If there’s not much else to like about how he does things his yearning for beautiful football is an admirable ambition. In Mourinho he certainly has the right man to deliver the silverware but Chelsea are never going to be an English Barcelona under their Portuguese manager. I feel that for Roman and Jose it’s destined to end up as it did last time, with disillusionment, tinkering and a sour parting of the ways.


In Martinez and Mourinho then English football may have two halves of the perfect manager. Sir Alex Ferguson was the last gaffer to brilliantly merge theseĀ  football philosophies together in the English game, producing an entertaining team of winners, but fully fledged Ferguson clones and mini-me Pep Guardiolas are hard to come by. Arsene Wenger seemed to be one for a while when Arsenal still played at Highbury but of late he’s lost the winning touch. And Liverpool fans may fancy that in Brendan Rodgers they finally have such a man at the helm of their club. As yet he still has a lot to prove, but for the time being it looks like the city finds itself the centre of English football’s new romantic movement.

In the end Roberto Martinez’s Wigan were relegated. However, they went down with heads held high and clutching the FA Cup after defeating champions Manchester City at Wembley. It was an indication that Martinez at least knows how to be a winner (putting himself one up on Merseyside rival Rodgers). In Bill Kenwright, and as in Dave Whelan when at Wigan, Martinez works for an old-school chief executive, one who perhaps through necessity doesn’t preach the need to win at all costs. Previous manager David Moyes went eleven years at Everton without so much as winning a League Cup but you felt Ken Wright would happily have given him another eleven years had Manchester United not come calling.

At Chelsea Jose Mourinho has more resource at his disposal and much more money to splash in the transfer market, the flip side being that the club won’t tolerate an empty trophy cabinet. For clubs operating in the uppermost echelons pragmatism trumps romanticism every day of the week. Filling the trophy cabinet doesn’t seem to be the issue here though. Ultimately it’s an inability to foster attractive football that’s likely to be the Special One’s undoing. Perhaps then, in the counter intuitive world of football management, it’s the romantics of this world who are the real winners?

The Puma

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