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Roberto Martinez, exceeding expectation

With a head for figures and modest ambition, the coach has written himself into Belgium's good books, despite the lukewarm reception he received when he was appointed
Thu, Jul 01, 2021

Roberto Martinez in 2015. PHOTO: Flickr.com

Roberto Martinez received a lukewarm reception when it was his name that was announced by the Royal Belgian FA back in August 2016.

The media, and perhaps even the majority of the country's 11 million population, wanted a manager with unquestionable international experience like Louis van Gaal or Marcello Lippi, who have both been there and done it.

But they got Martinez, who, at 43, was the most unlikely candidate for the job at a time the Red Devils' golden generation with emerging – but already established – talent such as Thibaut Courtois, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and his brother Thorgan, Kevin De Bruyne plus Romelu Lukaku, were beginning to bear fruit.

One of the journalists described Martinez as "a young manager with moderate success in the English Premier League", words that just about sum up how the press digested the arrival of someone who was taking over from Marc Wilmots.

It was true, but harsh.

Martinez's chapter as Belgium national team coach is exceptionally detailed in the short documentary titled: Whistle to Whistle on DStv Catch-Up.

His predecessor, Wilmots, was adored by many in Belgium, being a native and given credit for putting together a group of young players that would guarantee the Red Devils' trajectory to the top of the FIFA rankings.

But he also had his critics, and their argument was that Wilmots didn't put that much effort in unearthing more gems.

Martinez is a sucker for data.

"We always need data. Data in football is essential. But data in other sports probably makes the decisions. In football, it doesn't make decisions – it supports the decisions," he explains.

By his own admission, Martinez is unlikely to be remembered for his playing days having retired when he was only 33 to begin his coaching career.

When the camera zooms in on his daily work and visits to the venues to watch Belgian players that he wants to keep on his radar, you understand why he has written himself into the country's folklore because of his work ethic.

Guiding Belgium to third place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and being able to stay top of the FIFA rankings for three years in a row leading up to the European Championships, currently underway, remains his biggest achievement yet.

Belgians talk about it all the time; they can't help it.

Martinez has sold his vision to the Royal Belgian FA to the extent that he is hands-on with the construction of the country's technical centre in Tubize, where all national teams, from the kids to the grown-ups, will be based.

So involved is Martinez that he criticised the architecture of where the view for the players would be while they are using the indoor gym.

His bosses say he is very rational, and they love that about him. But the Belgian press hate that trait. They say he is too guarded and respectful when he should ooze confidence as manager of the world No.1 ranking national side.

It's a work in progress. The reality is that even if Martinez was walking with a spring in his step, some sections of the media would hold the opinion that he might be getting too big-headed.

What maybe counts a lot more for the coach is that his wife, Beth, is adamant Martinez is the most levelheaded person she knows – even if it means he drags her along to watch, on average, about five matches a day.

Some of them are recorded, and most are live. He is gathering data because his ultimate goal is a trophy for the Red Devils.

"When you've been No.1 for three years in a row, you deserve silverware," concludes Martinez.

  • Whistle to Whistle is on DStv Catch-Up

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