Why is Roberto Martinez in contention for the Real Madrid job?
Real are searching for a new boss having sacked Julen Lopetegui
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 02/11/18 1:44pm
The news that Roberto Martinez has emerged as one of the front-runners for the Real Madrid job has caused surprise in some quarters. So why might the Spanish giants be chasing him?
The Belgian FA insists they have not yet had any contact from Real Madrid, who sacked Julen Lopetegui this week, but their interest is thought to be genuine and Martinez, who guided Belgium to a third-place finish at the World Cup in the summer, is eager to speak to them.
We examine some of the reasons why the former Swansea, Wigan and Everton boss may be an attractive proposition to the Madrid hierarchy.
World Cup success
Belgium were perennial underachievers when Martinez succeeded Marc Wilmots following their European Championship quarter-final exit to Wales in 2016, but the Spaniard guided them to the World Cup with 28 points from a possible 30 in qualifying and followed that up with an impressive run to the last four in Russia.
Belgium were defeated 1-0 by eventual winners France in the semi-finals, but their third-place finish - secured with a comfortable 2-0 win over England - represented the best World Cup campaign in their history and there were some impressive results along the way.
Martinez's side breezed through their group with three wins out of three before showing impressive spirit to come from two goals down to beat Japan 3-2 in the round of 16. Belgium then produced an outstanding performance to defeat tournament favourites Brazil 2-1 in Kazan.
Unlike his predecessor, Martinez succeeded in bringing the best out of Belgium's brilliant attackers. The Red Devils scored the joint-most goals in qualifying along with Germany (43 in 10 games) and they were prolific at the tournament itself, too, scoring more goals than any other side (16). They also had the most shots (106) and completed the most dribbles (93).
The exciting, attacking style of play implemented by Martinez with Belgium is part of the appeal to Real Madrid, where the pressure is not only to win but to entertain.
Martinez's side were a joy to watch at times in Russia, not least with their counter-attacking masterclass against Brazil. Led by Kevin De Bruyne, it was the kind of fast and ruthless attacking play which has been the hallmark of the best Real Madrid sides.
Of course, the Belgium job is not the first in which Martinez has successfully implemented a forward-thinking style of play. His possession-based approach earned Swansea promotion from League One and provided a template for the future in his first coaching role, and he went on to enjoy more success at Wigan, winning the FA Cup in 2013.
"He always encouraged us to play, whether we were making mistakes or not - play, play, play, learn from those mistakes," recalled Garry Monk, who played under him at Swansea.
Martinez then guided Everton to their best-ever Premier League season in 2013/14, finishing in fifth place with record totals of 72 points and 61 goals scored. Everton's fortunes dipped after that, but Martinez's record was enough to convince Belgium to make their move and it did not take him long to instigate his preferred style of play there, either.
"He impressed me very much from day one," Tottenham and Belgium centre-back Toby Alderweireld told Sky Sports this week. "When he took over he had a clear idea of how he wanted to play football - attacking football. He said that we don't have to be scared of anybody, just have a philosophy and play in that way.
"Hopefully he stays a long time for Belgium but I think he can manage any club in the world."
Having endured their worst start to a season since 2001/02, Real Madrid would certainly need Martinez to hit the ground running.
Managing the stars
Real Madrid's star-studded dressing room is one of the biggest challenges facing any coach who steps into the hot seat at the Bernabeu. Can they control the egos? Can they get the best out of the players and keep them happy at the same time?
Real Madrid will be encouraged by how Martinez has handled the big players in the Belgium squad. With help from his assistant Thierry Henry, he was able to get the best out of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and De Bruyne on the world stage in Russia.
With De Bruyne, it could have gone another way. Last November, following a 3-3 draw in a friendly with Mexico, the Manchester City midfielder was strongly critical of Belgium's tactics. "Mexico were just tactically better," he said. "As long as we don't have a good tactical system, we will have difficulties against countries like Mexico."
Martinez could have reacted angrily to De Bruyne's comments, which were widely interpreted as direct criticism of him, but instead he took them on board, abandoning the uncharacteristically defensive approach he had employed in that game and finding a system which suited Belgium's most influential players.
It was an example of intelligent man-management.
"As a human being, I think he is unbelievable," added Alderweireld, who praised Martinez for allowing the players to spend time with their families during international training camps. "He has got a good mix of that. Sometimes we see the families but then it's time to work hard. I think you're seeing results from that method."
Real Madrid might be particularly encouraged by his relationship with Hazard. The Chelsea man is a long-standing transfer target for the Spanish giants, and having been one of the outstanding performers at the World Cup in Russia, they know that by employing Martinez, they would be getting a manager who already has a good working relationship with him.
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