He’s one of the most influential people in the history of Swansea City, he was a huge crowd favourite as a player, and as a manager presided over a 28 month spell that will never be forgotten. Of course it could and arguably should have been far longer, and his departure for Wigan in 2009 was a bitter pill to swallow and has certainly tarnished his reputation in SA1. But what will the legacy of Roberto Martinez be at Swansea City? Let’s go back to the beginning.
The Swans were in real danger of relegation from the Football League in 2002/3, and in January were at one stage six points from safety. Brian Flynn’s appointment as manager the previous September hadn’t had the desired effect, despite him starting to reshape the squad with the likes of Alan Tate and Leon Britton. It was in mid-January that the name of Roberto Martinez was first mentioned in the press as a potential new signing. He’d spent six years at Wigan, but since departing 18 months earlier he appeared to have lost his way and was not getting a look in at Championship club Walsall. It took a couple of weeks but we eventually got our man on a contract until the end of the season and Flynn told me years later in an exclusive fanzine interview that he viewed this signing as “the final piece of the jigsaw” as we aimed to stay up.
Martinez was certainly a different type of player to what we were accustomed to. He was comfortable on the ball, would always look to for a pass rather than launching the ball aimlessly forward in hope it would find a team-mate and was a good set piece taker. His assets were a breath of fresh air, and showed that we were going to try and play our way out of trouble as opposed to trying to grind out results which is what a lot of sides in that situation would try to do.
He would make his debut in a televised game at league leaders Rushden and Diamonds, a game which saw us earn a credible 1-1 draw and from then on he was a regular in the side. When Jason Smith was injured in a game at Torquay a few weeks later, it was Martinez who assumed the captain’s armband despite it being only his ninth game for the club. It was clear that Flynn viewed him as our new leader to help guide us to safety.
Ultimately, we were successful in our fight to survive the drop with Martinez playing a key role. His free kick early in the second half of the final fixture against Hull lead to the goal mouth scramble, which resulted in Lenny Johnrose scoring the all-important third goal in a 4-2 win which meant Exeter would go down instead of the Swans.
In truth his Swansea story could have ended there, there was interest from clubs in higher divisions, but Flynn was so desperate for him to sign a new deal that he flew out to Spain during the summer to persuade him to stay. A two year contract was agreed and at the time he said “If there is anything I can do for the club I will do it. I know that Swansea will be in my heart forever.”
In truth the following season didn’t go too well for Martinez, he hobbled off injured in the third league game of the season against Boston and would only play another three games before January as he suffered a setback after his initial knock. By the time he returned our early season form had tailed off, and although a run to the 5th round of the FA Cup proved to be a welcome distraction, Flynn would leave the club in March and was replaced by Kenny Jackett.
Jackett had been brought up with the long ball, rigid football of Graham Taylor at Watford which was a contrast to the possession football of Flynn which allowed the players to express themselves, and Martinez was seen as a player who could become a casualty of the new regime.
Initially all seemed normal as he continued as captain and as a regular in the side. But after starting against Northampton in the season opener of the Vetch’s final season, he was surprisingly dropped from the match day squad for the trip to Rochdale three days later with Kris O’Leary and Leon Britton playing in a two man midfield. No one had stood out against the Cobblers and a host of players could have been dropped, but to not even make the bench made it look like Jackett was trying to make a point. The fact that we came away with a 2-0 win did little to aid Martinez’s cause but he came out fighting and told the South Wales Evening Post “to give up and go elsewhere would be a coward’s decision”. In response to that Jackett said he was a good professional and was pleased he was going to fight for his place, but did concede that if a bid came in for him he’d “cross that bridge when I come to it.”
The Jack Army meanwhile were unhappy with the way we’d started the season with just four points from four games in a season where promotion was expected, and when we lost 3-0 at his former club QPR in the League Cup, cries of “Jackett, sort it out!” were heard and Martinez’s name was chanted as a show of support for the club captain. Lee Trundle says in his autobiography that Jackett “backed down a little after that, looked at his squad and saw the footballers he had and changed a little.”
Martinez was then reinstated for the next game at Cambridge which was won, and from then on barely missed a game alongside player of the year O’Leary in the middle of the park as we went on to win promotion at Bury on the final day of the season in front of over 5,000 travelling fans.
You always sensed it was a strained relationship though, and that Jackett didn’t really want him around but knew getting rid of him would go down badly with the board, the players and the fans. Martinez tells the story in his autobiography that he was called into the manager’s office that summer and told to look for another club as he wasn’t part of his plans. Jackett couldn’t force him out though, as there was a clause in his contract which stipulated if he played a certain amount of games it would trigger a one year extension which had comfortably been passed.
Therefore Martinez knuckled down and would start the season in the side and all was well again until he was dropped for a top of the table clash with Southend in November. There was talk of a departure once again and he conceded he would move on if he had to, but his preference was to remain in south Wales.
That game proved to be a only a temporary absence as he returned as a regular before Christmas, although the signing of Darren Way from Yeovil did suggest he was under threat for a starting berth. The Swans form dipped in the second half of the season, winning just six games after Christmas, and after a bad Easter where both games were lost Martinez was dropped again, and didn’t feature at all in the Play-Offs as we suffered penalty heartbreak against Barnsley.
It was obvious to everyone what was coming now though. Martinez was out of contract and this time there was no clause to extend it. He himself knew this was the end of his time at Swansea and would go onto sign for Chester but on joining his new club said ” I didn’t want to leave Swansea, but the decision was out of my hands so you look forward.”
Jackett meanwhile set about trying to go one better after the previous season’s heartache, but in truth his time at the club started to unravel. Leon Knight was sensationally told he’d never play for the club again, despite having scored 19 times in 25 games, we struggled for consistency, shown by the fact that we struggled to win three games in a row all season and failed to win a game from a losing position.
In the end a home loss to Oldham, which saw us booed off after an abysmal display proved the end for Jackett and he resigned a few days later in February 2007, citing a lack of support from everyone at the club. It was a fairly big shock as although the fans were unhappy, it wasn’t at the stage where his position seemed under threat and he didn’t appear to be the type to walk away.
A few names were linked with the job and Martinez was one of them which seemed like a surprise. After all he was only 33 and was playing regularly for Chester, so for him to give that up to become a manager seemed farfetched.
But behind the scenes Martinez was the front runner from the start, the board had been aware of his desire to go into management when his playing days were over, and the resignation of Jackett gave them the perfect opportunity to give him the job.
“Ever since Kenny Jackett’s departure last week, Roberto has been the board’s preferred candidate” said a club statement and it doesn’t get more clear cut than that. Jenkins once described Martinez as the hardest person to ever negotiate a contract with on Real Radio’s sport phone in. He must’ve been delighted when Martinez accepted the offer.
Martinez himself admitted to BBC Sport “if it was any other club I would have carried on playing. But Swansea is a completely different situation. It’s a club I love, it’s a fantastic challenge and I couldn’t say no”.
It was a bit of a culture shock for the squad when they had to get used to calling him gaffer. After all this was a man who’d been a teammate of many of the players at the club, knew what they were all capable of, but had also seen them at their worst – which includes putting some players to bed after mammoth drinking sessions in Magaluf.
Martinez himself was not a fan of players drinking, but knew several of his squad were and it quickly dawned on club captain Garry Monk that things were never going to be the same again.
Bu in spite of the fact that he wasn’t a fan of players drinking, he was a huge fan of team bonding. And during his spell as a player was always arranging get together’s to go for coffee in Debenhams or food in Pacos, and would still turn up for nights out even if he was the sensible one of the group.
Those days were gone now though, he was no longer a team-mate, he was the boss. And his methods were very different to his predecessor. Whereas Jackett was heavily influenced by Graham Taylor, the key influence in Martinez’s life was Johan Cruyff, who’d overseen the greatest era in Barcelona’s history up until that point. His style was known as tiki taka, attacking football, dominating possession with short passes and working the ball through the channels.
Trundle described his training sessions as a breath of fresh air in his autobiography More Than Just Tricks ” it was all about the ball rather than shapes and set pieces, games were about bringing the ball into midfield and into feet” he said.
Martinez would try to change our style, but also realised Rome wasn’t built in a day, and in the short term his aim was to try and salvage a Play-Off place and make the best of what he had at his disposal before he could build his own side. With limited midfield options due to Darren Pratley being ruled out for the rest of the season, Kris O’Leary would partner Ian Craney in a 4-4-2 formation, and having realised that Pawel Abbott wasn’t for him he signed Darryl Duffy to partner Lee Trundle in attack a few weeks into his spell in charge.
Results would take a sharp upturn from that point onwards. We won seven of his first eleven games in charge which put us level with Oldham for the final Play-Off spot with one game left. It wasn’t to be as the Swans lost 6-3 to Blackpool trying to make up for an inferior goal difference, but the positive signs were all there. We’d averaged 2 points a game from when Martinez took the job, which would have won the league if that was maintained across a full season.
Players who had underachieved that season had looked far better under our new manager and there was real excitement about what the future would hold with him now having a full summer to mould his own side.
Martinez always believed the British market was over inflated and believed you could get better value for money on the continent which meant new signings came from all over Europe. In came a host of new arrivals, Dorus De Vries was our new goalkeeper, a sweeper keeper who was just as good with his feet as with his hands. Angel Rangel who was stumbled across by chance when chief scout Kevin Reeves went to watch someone else in Spain and spotted him, the best £10,000 we’ve ever spent. Ferrie Bodde was dubbed the Dutch Roy Keane when he signed from ADO Den Haag and was far better than our level, while the prolific Jason Scotland’s arrival from Dundee United meant we now had two natural goal scorers at the club.
Or at least that was the plan, but Martinez was thrown a curveball just a couple of weeks before the season started when Trundle left for Bristol City. Martinez wrote the foreword in Trundle’s book and offered an insight into how that altered his plans for that season by saying “I knew I couldn’t replace him, instead I changed the whole way we played.” A remarkable admission for a manager to admit on the eve of his first full campaign in management.
You would never have guessed it though when we travelled to Oldham on the opening day. Although we lost to a late goal, the Swans had produced a tremendous performance and it was a travesty that the game had ended in defeat. The side who had beaten us to a Play-Off place just months before simply couldn’t live with Martinez’s side, we kept the ball with ease and created numerous chances to score. There was clearly some work to do defensively, but in terms of overall play it was clear that Martinez was working wonders behind the scenes.
It took time for results to reflect performances, but after a loss at Leeds in late September things began to take off. The Swans scored nine goals in two away games as both Leyton Orient and Bournemouth were on the wrong end of hidings on their own turf, and a narrow win at Yeovil which had been a bogey ground for us gave extra confidence that this could be our year.
The dominance of our performances was summed up in early November when despite an early red card for Warren Feeney against Gillingham, we still bossed the game and would have deservedly won had Andy Robinson not missed a penalty in injury time.
With Feeney now missing from the next game at Millwall, Martinez decided it was time to tweak the formation from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. This would allow us to dominate the midfield area even more, with Leon Britton moving from the right wing into the centre alongside Ferrie Bodde and Darren Pratley, with Paul Anderson on the right wing and either Robinson or Tom Butler on the left.
This would improve our home form, which up until that point had only seen us win only two of the first seven home games. After that we would win ten on the trot at the Liberty which put us in a commanding position.
By the time that run ended, coincidentally by Kenny Jackett’s Millwall in early March, we were comfortably clear at the top of the league and promotion seemed inevitable. It was sealed with three games to go in a 2-1 win at Gillingham with both goals coming from summer signing Guillem Bauza.
After a twenty four year absence Swansea were back into the second tier of English football, and had achieved it in style. On the pitch after the game was when Martinez would utter the now infamous quote “I was kicked out as a player and it’ll be the same as a manager.”
As things stood his stock couldn’t have been any higher, he professed his loyalty to the club and had just overseen our greatest season in a generation, a new contract was agreed and everyone was excited to see how we would get on in the Championship.
There were setbacks though once again as Andy Robinson left for Leeds and Paul Anderson declined to spend another season on loan at the club and instead opted to move to Nottingham Forest.
Ferrie Bodde seemed set to follow them out of the Liberty exit door when Derby showed an interest in taking him, but the manager’s powers of persuasion put an end to their pursuit of the Dutchman. Bodde explained on the Longman’s Football World podcast that Martinez picked him up and took him to his house and once that happened he knew he would be staying and described Martinez as the “best speaker to convince you” to do something.
The new faces that summer saw Ashley Williams’ loan switch made permanent, another Spaniard in Jordi Gomez signed on loan and Southend’s Mark Gower joined on a free transfer. He was another who Martinez had eating out of the palm of his hand after just one meeting. “I had quite a few offers on the table, my wife famously said anywhere but Swansea. I’d arranged to meet Swansea, Blackpool and Doncaster on the same day. Roberto absolutely blew me away when I met him, he’d already mapped out how many minutes I was going to play that season, he knew how many I’d scored and assisted. The attention and level of detail that he went to I’d never seen before, we’d come out of the meeting and I rung the wife and said I’ve got to play for this guy. I didn’t even meet the others.” Gower told the Longman’s Football World Podcast.
The Swans collected nine points from their first seven games which prompted Martinez to revert to 4-4-2 for the trip to Reading, pairing Jason Scotland with summer signing Gorka Pintado. It was an experiment that wasn’t tried again with a 4-0 loss seeing a return to 4-3-3 for the trip to Preston.
This would spark a run of one defeat in the next eight with Bodde at the forefront of our good form. In that game at Deepdale he would score an outrageous goal from 40 yards, and his vision and range of passing was doing considerable damage to opposition sides.
In a game against Watford at home for example, he scored with another trademark shot from outside the box, and would go onto set up Jason Scotland with an assist Kevin De Bruyne would be proud of with a pass from just inside his own half. The midfield trio of him, Darren Pratley and Leon Britton were dominating games just like they had the year before and another promotion push was taking shape.
But Bodde would see his season and ultimately his career ended in an innocuous incident in the home defeat by Birmingham, which robbed us and the game of football of his prodigious talent.
It posed Martinez an issue too, how would he replace him? Jordi Gomez seemed the obvious call, as he’d been shunted to the wing because he couldn’t gain a starting berth in the middle, but Joe Allen had shown much promise and had featured intermittently the year before, and it gave the then 18 year old his chance which he grabbed with both hands.
Following the Bodde injury the Swans would equal a Football League record of eight consecutive draws, we had an issue breaking some teams down even though games were being dominated and the problem was a lack of pace in the side.
Martinez had been trying to replace the speed of Paul Anderson all season, but the right player had not become available and our manager was never the type to bring players in for the sake of it, they had to be an improvement on what we had.
In January that player became available and Nathan Dyer was signed on loan until the end of the season, and he gave us that outlet we’d badly missed since the previous term. He announced himself to the club in style by scoring in our FA Cup win at holders Portsmouth and played a key role for the remainder of the campaign before joining permanently in the summer.
A second successive promotion looked a possibility for much of the second half of the season, but Swansea would eventually fall short of the Play-Offs and finish 8th, a fine achievement for a newly promoted side and their manager who was only in his second full season in charge.
Hopes were high for the future, with Martinez at the helm anything seemed possible and the dream of reaching the Premier League which seemed impossible before he took charge now looked a realistic aim.
Clubs were interested in his services, but having been told “I was kicked out as a player and it will be the same as a manager” there was no real fear amongst the Jack Army that he would leave, not only was Martinez a top manager but he was one of us, a man who’d been through so much at Swansea and had deep affection for the club that nothing would be able to tempt him away.
Or so we thought, Wigan came calling but the expected pledge of loyalty didn’t occur and the only comment we got from him after the speculation was “the only person who can speak about my situation was the chairman”. Huw Jenkins meanwhile claimed “we will do everything in our power to keep him”.
This told us that if Martinez was going to leave, it would be his decision and that the club weren’t prepared to let him go without a fight. The players were desperate for him to stay, Garry Monk told BBC Sport “we want the gaffer to continue the work he’s been doing here” while Ashley Williams described him as “Mr Swansea City and if he goes it will be a big blow”.
Unfortunately none of that seemed to matter, and after protracted negotiations which included other key staff, Martinez was eventually named as the Wigan manager to the absolute fury of the Jack Army.
We’d been lead up the garden path by this guy, believed he was one of us and here he was ditching us for poxy Wigan, a Premier League club, but one who’d only ever achieved anything because of the millions of Dave Whelan. It was a crushing blow, it felt like betrayal and all eyes were on our now former manager when he would finally answer questions about his departure.
When asked about the “forced out” comments he’d made little over a year before he said “I wanted that to happen, but obviously there are situations that develop in certain ways and you need to make a decision”. He would also ask for forgiveness from the supporters, but given what had just happened it didn’t seem likely.
At a fans forum early the next season the panel on the top table which included members of the playing squad, a member of the audience asked how they felt about Martinez’s departure. Alan Tate was typically forthright and claimed “he wasn’t bothered” and “if he didn’t want to be here then that’s fine” which drew applause from the room. Then vice chairman Leigh Dineen said he felt “let down” by our former manager and it showed that it wasn’t only the supporters who were taken in by him.
It left Swansea with a real dilemma, where would they now turn? Martinez was such an influential figure that those brown shows we were so accustomed to seeing on the touchline were going to be enormous one’s to fill. When Paulo Sousa was eventually unveiled as his replacement, the statement from Huw Jenkins explained that we were looking for evolution rather than revolution, “Taking into account the development of the football club over the last two-and-a-half years and the image we have portrayed as a footballing side, myself and the board of directors felt it was vital to continue along the same lines.”
The philosophy of our playing style had now been determined, managers and players would only be targeted if they suited it. The Martinez way has become the Swansea way. It was not the way most clubs did things, but it worked for Swansea as Sousa guided the club to a higher finish the following year, although we missed out on the Play-Offs by just one point and one place.
In truth the football had gone backwards though, Swansea were still trying to pass the ball and dominate possession, but it was far more cautious and rigid than under Martinez. Sousa would leave for Leicester that summer and Brendan Rodgers would take up the Liberty Stadium hotseat.
At a fans forum the next season, Martinez’s name cropped up again as we were due to face his Wigan side a few weeks later in the League Cup. Rodgers revealed shortly after taking the job he’d received a text message from Martinez saying “take care of my Swans”.
While he still held the Swans in his affections, the feeling wasn’t mutual for most of the 4,500 fans who travelled to the DW Stadium. Cries of “Judas” were heard from the away end along with other derogatory chants. It was all quite sad really, but Martinez couldn’t complain. He’d criticised Swansea fans for showing their appreciation for Lee Trundle when he featured against us for Bristol City during his tenure, “when you’re competing for three points, whoever is in the opposition team is our enemy,” he said a few days after that incident. And there was no doubt now that he was regarded as an enemy in south west Wales.
Rodgers was far more similar to Martinez than Sousa was, the football became easier on the eye again and the campaign would end with promotion to the Premier League after a pulsating victory over Reading in the Championship Play-Off final.
As fate would have it, Swansea’s first home game in the top flight for nearly three decades would see Martinez make his first return to the Liberty since his departure. By now the ill feeling had lessened slightly as the Swans had reached their ultimate goal and were more concerned with their own team than their former manager and would go onto finish 11th in their debut season in the Premier League, five places higher than Wigan.
Rodgers would then leave for Liverpool that summer and although frustrated and disappointed, there certainly wasn’t the same feeling as when Martinez had departed three years earlier. But there’s a big difference between leaving for Liverpool compared to leaving for Wigan, and while Rodgers was happy at Swansea, he never claimed he would have to be forced out like one of his predecessors had.
The Swans continued to grow following the appointment of Michael Laudrup as manager, a man who like Martinez sighted Cruyff as the major influence of his footballing beliefs, and after his spell in south Wales it was the Spaniards ex captain Garry Monk who was given the opportunity to lead the club.
Martinez by now was at Everton having left Wigan following their relegation in 2013 and came up against Monk at Goodison Park in November 2014 in a game that finished 0-0. Martinez explained afterwards that he was disappointed by the visitors “I thought Swansea came to slow the tempo down and to hit us on the counter attack, and the stats show that.” It seemed like sour grapes at the time, he was clearly frustrated that Everton were unable to break us down.
But in truth he was right, we’d started to move away from the Swansea way and it would eventually bite us on the backside. Monk paid the price for it when results took a nosedive and Francesco Guidolin was given the job of trying to keep us in the Premier League until the end of the season.
When he succeeded, he was then given the job permanently in the summer of 2016, with the board snubbed the chance to give the Swansea way a rebirth by bringing back Brendan Rodgers which Huw Jenkins later admitted was a mistake. Guidolin didn’t last long and in came Bob Bradley who lasted even less time before Paul Clement pulled off a minor miracle and kept Swansea up despite only having twelve points at Christmas.
The football got worse still under Clement the following year, whose caution made us one of the boring sides I’d ever seen. Carlos Carvalhal replaced him at Christmas but in the end Swansea’s luck ran out and we were relegated to the Championship after seven seasons in the top flight.
This was now a club that had completely lost its way, the style of play implemented by Martinez had disappeared and lack of finances dictated that players would need to be sold and a complete rebuild was now needed. Changes were drastically needed to try and turn the tide.
Fortunately through all the mayhem surrounding the first team and behind the scenes at board level where the club were now owned by an American consortium with Huw Jenkins now an employee, the youth set up had still persisted with the Swansea way.
So when Graham Potter (a good friend of Graeme Jones who was Martinez’s assistant whilst Swansea manager) was tasked with rebuilding the club, he sought to re-implement the style of play that had made us successful. It took time but youngsters like Oli McBurnie, Connor Roberts, Joe Rodon and Daniel James flourished under the former Ostersunds manager, while players like Matt Grimes having struggled to make an impact previously, became regular starters.
A 10th place finish was a fine achievement considering the amount of players who had left over the previous twelve months and hopes were high for the following year, until Potter had his head turned like Martinez did all those years ago and left for Brighton, leaving new Swans chairman Trevor Birch with a huge decision to make early into his tenure.
When he appointed Steve Cooper as our next manager he described him as “hungry, ambitious, had a clear track record of playing our style of football, plus a pedigree to work with and develop young, talented players.”
To me that once again sounded like looking for the next Martinez. Which shows us after all this time, his influence is still very much here in Swansea.
The ill feelings towards him for his departure have appeared to have subsided on the whole. When he took part in Alan Tate’s testimonial in August 2017 he received a warm round of applause from the crowd for the first time since he left and Tate in his speech afterwards credited him with starting our rise up the leagues.
To some maybe he’ll never be forgiven for his departure. With hindsight I’m sure he would admit he was naive to have said he’d have to be forced out, and if he’d held his hands up to that then maybe the strength of feeling against him wouldn’t have been so strong. And there’s no doubt that he could have been the one to take us into the Premier League if he’d just shown more patience and loyalty.
But what can’t be in doubt is that he gave us great service as a player, his spell as manager was like nothing we’d seen up until that point unless you were in your mid thirties when he was appointed. And the fact that the style of play that became synonymous with Swansea which he started, then gave the club a spell of unprecedented success means his status as a club legend can’t be questioned.
I’d liken his influence to that of Bill Shankly at Liverpool. He may not have been there for their greatest days, but he set them on their way to greatness, just like Martinez did at Swansea.
Meanwhile at Barcelona when they are struggling for inspiration they always look back at the principles of Johan Cruyff for guidance. At Swansea it’s become obvious that we should do the same for Martinez.
That’s his legacy, and it’s not bad for a man who last worked for the club over a decade ago.