The Martinez quest for Champions League is go

By Paul Dargan Well, who thought it would begin like this? The last unbeaten side in the Premier League, third top scorers, fourth in the table and with an outside chance of topping the division this coming Saturday with a trip to the title favourites, Manchester City.

If Everton manager Roberto Martinez could have written the script for his opening three months in charge at Goodison Park, it may have gone a little something like the above. Certainly, if he’d have commissioned it with an Everton-esque budget, Clive Owen would have been playing him instead of Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Bill Kenwright Productions may have even tried to get in Tommy Steele, somewhere…

The aforementioned impresario and chairman at L4 4EL heads that production company bearing his name and when he introduced the former Wigan Athletic manager as his own club’s chief, he proclaimed loudly the aims that the Martinez had underlined. There were sharp collective intakes of breath heard all around the Blue side of the city and a few whispered that Martinez’s time may already be in jeopardy before it had even begun!

But luckily, when you can strike up loan deals with the efficiency that the Catalonian boss has – not to mention coaxing the biggest club in the country into paying over the odds with a desperation purchase for an above-average midfielder on deadline day, money and ambition isn’t an issue. That’s maybe a little unfair on the former Blues man, Marouane Fellaini, but Everton unquestionably got a great deal for a man who made it clear that his desire for pastures new had gotten the better of him, instead of the £10m they recouped for Mikel Arteta in January 2011 – a player in my eyes, who did more for the club in good ways over time than the Belgian, Fellaini.

Basically, the Everton fans are beginning to buy into Martinez’s ideology and thoughts of aiming so high – of which he is actually yet to confirm and would probably be mistaken in doing so. But the facts are there in the opening paragraph. Whilst the rest of the league has been pretty inconsistent – Arsenal apart – Everton have managed to add to three opening draws at the beginning of this campaign, with as many wins following. An already talented squad has also been supplemented with the twin industry and intelligence of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in the heart of the midfield, the running of Arouna Kone – if not yet, the goalscoring touch – and the able goalkeeping and defensive deputies, in Joel Robles and Antolin Alcaraz, respectively, from his old club, Wigan. Not to mention the impressive – if raw – trickery and pace of Barcelona youngster, Gerard Deulofeu.

However, it’s one man who has instantly lit the touch-paper at Goodison since his arrival in the final minutes of the summer transfer window. Needing no further introduction, the 20-year-forward from Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku, has added what was so blatantly missing from a side which created scores of chances in games, yet converted less than 10%. What is immediately evident is that the power, pace and clinical finishing of Lukaku up front is the perfect end to the quality of the Everton build-up play and it is incredibly vital that the Blues use this advantage to the fullest, during the 20-year-old’s time on loan until his scheduled departure, on May 11.

The final league game of the season at Hull City (Tigers).

The way he is going, Lukaku could drag a good Everton side into the Champions League and make them very good indeed. Although a massive amount of pressure to heap onto such young, yet broad shoulders, he seems quite capable of carrying the mantle. But, thankfully, he is not alone and it is a similarly precocious talent who has been at the club since a young boy and one who is turning out to be even better than all the comments and praise directed at him within the game. And what’s more exciting is that he is home-grown.

Ross Barkley.

A burgeoning prospect who has been given the chance to prove that he deserves the chance to start alongside all those he has been striving to emulate since training with the first-team three years ago. But just months after, his world was in tatters after breaking his leg whilst on international duty for the England Under-19s; something which a few behind the scenes feared he may never fully recover from. He has happily proved them all wrong – and some – by going on loan to Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday to get some game time, as well as helping him to toughen up. And now this season, his new manager has showed faith in him and he is repaying it tenfold with goals and some tremendous performances.

It has also led to effusive praise from all quarters, not to mention the England captain Steven Gerrard, who coincidentally wears the armband at rivals across the city, Liverpool, taking him under his wing and making sure Barkley stays at the club he loves and where people love him and doesn’t chase the dream of more money or Champions League football elsewhere – especially so early in his career.

The last time we saw such a promising young player in Royal Blue, he was quickly snaffled by Manchester United and has gone on to achieve all manner of individual and team accolades during the last 10 years or so. This time, Evertonians would obviously much prefer this player to know that the grass isn’t always greener – something proven by their former manager David Moyes making that same trip up the East Lancashire Road to Old Trafford and is seemingly finding himself in a world of pain, early on in his tenure.

It may also be far too early to tell if Lukaku and Barkley, amongst others, were the missing links from last season for Everton in their bid for at least a place in European competition. But, the signs are good and the philosophy has already segued quite nicely from Moyes’ more defensive approach to game to the unmistakably further attack-minded game-plan of Martinez. But the foundations have been laid and the quest for Champions League is one which Everton have in their grasp.

As an Evertonian, you’d be plain mad to relinquish it.

Follow @Dejonefc

Picture provided by IamJomo.

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