Roberto Martinez bringing perfection to Belgium
Belgium and their star-studded team of individuals open their World Cup campaign against Panama at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on Monday. A collection of exceptionally talented players, manager Roberto Martinez can be the catalyst to this side finally realising expectation.
A student of the game from a young age, Spaniard Martinez was destined to become a manager, even in the early years of his playing career. What he lacked in ability he made up for with his natural intelligence and leadership, and management was always going to be the role that would catapult his status in the game.
Now entrusted with a team of incredibly-blessed players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Thibaut Courtois to name a few, there is a natural expectation for such players to shine on the biggest stage. However, UEFA EURO 2016 exposed the flaws in their collective character, but Martinez will bring a new element to the squad this time around.
In fact, Martinez is well-suited to international management, as the time between fixtures will compliment his attention to detail and meticulous research. Club football at Swansea City, Wigan Athletic and Everton did not offer such privilege. No stone will be unturned, and while the draw for Group G has been kind, he will have studied in detail each and every other nation and player at the tournament.
Supported by long-term sidekick Graeme Jones and legendary French striker Thierry Henry, Martinez has a backroom staff built in his own intelligent image. Henry knows what it takes to lift the World Cup, having enjoyed success with France back in 1998, and he will ensure that there is respect for the philosophy and ideology presented by Martinez at this tournament.
This is a golden generation for Belgium, and it is interesting that Martinez has elected to do without the services of controversial character Radja Nainggolan. Clearly, a decision based upon his impact on the squad off the field, Martinez will have studied the failings of EURO 2016 when assessing his group of players, and the omission of Nainggolan indicates the problem. Notably, AS Roma no longer appear in need of his services.
Martinez was never considered to have the same mentality or personality of your average footballer when he arrived in England from Spain back in 1995. Team-mates recall late nights spent watching lower-league games from around Europe in hotels before and after games, making notes and studying tactics and formations while other players relaxed in more conventional ways.
Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins appreciated the coach that was clearly within the man from the Spanish town of Balaguer, and offered him his first opportunity in management in 2007 at the age of just 33. It was the opening Martinez had been waiting for, and he voluntarily brought his playing career to an early end in order to focus without distraction on what was his inevitable footballing destiny.
Martinez implemented a strict footballing philosophy and identity at Swansea City, and his approach formed the basis and foundation for his successors to follow. It is no coincidence that since losing this identity, Swansea City have suffered in recent years, and it makes the early vision of Martinez all that more impressive when compared with the failings of recent appointments.
Now, with over a decade of managerial experience, Martinez has been chosen to ensure that this incredible generation of players do not fail. It is a testing challenge, and while success has been limited, expectations are already high. Considered an underwhelming appointment in some quarters, that view is purely one of ignorance, as Martinez is the perfect fit for Belgium at this time.
A big name manager with a big ego would have been seen as confrontational to this group of players after the failure of 2016, and for that reason, it was right to take the team in a different direction. Calm, confident, infectiously optimistic and calculated in his approach, Martinez is an endearing figure that commands respect, and he will gain the trust of his squad with his preparation and attention to detail.
The tools for Martinez are already in place, and a successful World Cup campaign can be the springboard to the next stage of his career. While he is suited to international management, bringing the best out of a talented collection of individuals will make him an attractive option to Europe's biggest clubs. As a result, there will be plenty of potential employers taking a keen interest in Belgium this summer.