After the euphoria of surviving in the Premier League last season, Roberto Martinez has endured a difficult start to the season this time around.
With just one win in their opening 12 league fixtures, the Latics are rooted to the bottom of the table and must now face Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in their next three home fixtures.
However, just like the team's style of play, manager Martinez is remaining positive. FIFA.com caught up with him in his office at the club's training ground where the Catalonian was on fine form.
FIFA.com: When you made the decision to come back to Wigan, were you a little bit worried that if it didn’t work out that you might lose that idol status that you had with the fans here as a player?
Well yes, but I always felt that that was a separate chapter. I think the chapter that I had as a player will always be in my memory and I hope that the fans will never lose those memories. That was a special time and, whatever happens, Wigan Athletic is my club and is the reason why I am in the British game and that will never change. As a manager you have to be brave and embrace these challenges, and I just feel really proud of the experiences that we had to get through. We are Wigan Athletic, playing in the best league in the world, so we have to face adversity and be able to cope with frustration and disappointment. I just feel now that as a football club we are together, we are ready to achieve our aim once more and I’ve always been excited about the challenge rather than having the fear of losing the relationship that I have with the fans, something that I will never lose from my point of view.
When some pundits say you should change your style to get more results, how does that make you feel?
I just see it as lazy journalism. I think it’s all too easy to speak about Wigan without any substance. Now it makes me laugh really. When we have a good player performing well, the next question is “When do you think he is going to move on?” If you have someone who you invested a bit of money in and is not playing well, you get “How can you have someone being a flop at Wigan Athletic?” It’s never a mature assessment of our football club, but probably that’s what excites me more than anything because we are so different, we are a family football club.
Yes, we get disappointed with bad results and you can expect supporters having a sad time when we have been in the middle of such a bad run, with the eight defeats. We always face adversity in a way that I don’t think any other football club in world football do, which is sticking together, helping each other and making sure that we can get the rewards. That’s probably the biggest strength that we have got. But criticism is part of the game; I don’t mind that at all, it’s the opposite. I want to know what the fans think, I want to hear what the fans think because I can explain why we do things in a certain way, and I’m sure that once they see that they can understand things a lot better. We do quite regularly, probably every two months, meet with the fans and I need to know their worries. I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn't listen to the fans. When you’re in the middle of a very good run, you know that the feedback is going to be very positive and when you’re in the middle of a bad run, you expect criticism and you expect bad feedback because it’s their lives and their passion and I wouldn’t expect it any other way. I just hope that if the fans can understand my view and why we do things in a certain way, then they can support the football club and see the other side.
Probably the first season I could feel a bit more frustrated when people didn’t want to understand that you can play good, attractive football and get results and stay in the Premier League. Now it’s the third season, we’ve played nearly 100 games and stayed in the Premier League twice, last season off the back of 12 very good performances and our football was at an outstanding level, something that allowed the players to grow. It also allowed the players to move on in the case of Charles N’Zogbia and Tom Cleverley, who went straight into the England side. That shows you that we’ve been doing certain things really well. Now we’re in the middle of a difficult moment, we are catching up. We’ve got seven points to catch up, I would say, and we need to find a way to get them points back but that’s the challenge that we always need to accept at Wigan Athletic.
Do you think Wigan have inspired other teams, in terms of the brand of football you play? Promoted sides, for example, are playing more attacking football. Do you think you might have had a factor in that?
When you see other teams, you always get inspired. The competition is a fascinating competition because teams are prepared to have a go and you don’t see the damage limitation approach any more in the Premier League. You always feel that if you do things right, you could make things very difficult for the opposition. Look at last year - Blackpool, West Brom and Newcastle came from the Championship and they really had a go and played brilliant, attacking football.
Blackpool at the end got relegated scoring 59 goals, which is something unheard of before. That has improved the standard of football, the competition and the lower leagues as well. It is so refreshing to see clubs fighting for promotion playing good football, possession football, which we didn’t see years ago. We did that with Swansea and I feel that opened the route a little bit to do that. I think that’s been phenomenal for the development of certain players and, as a whole, our football is a great mixture of cultures, beliefs and influences. Possession football is something that is very much in fashion at the moment, with Spain and Barcelona’s success, and it’s great to see that part of the Premier League with a very British adaptation and I think that’s a really good sign.
You made a big decision to come to England at a young age. Why do you think young English players don’t take the chance to move abroad? Would you recommend that they should?
Without a doubt. I think it’s such an experience to go abroad. Nowadays the biggest help in your development is moving abroad and experiencing different cultures. All of a sudden you open your spectrum of knowing how to do things, how to play the game and how to approach life. I would encourage any youngster to go abroad for the right reasons. In the other way, I do feel that developing young players is a big issue in our country and we should get it right. I don’t think it’s right now, in many ways the structure of developing players up to 18 years old is very good and in many aspects as good as it gets. But then I feel that from 19 to 21 or 22 I don’t think that we give the right opportunity to the players to be as good as they can be, in every angle from the technical side to the tactical to the lifestyle, and make them fight to achieve the professional status that is so easily achievable in the British game.
I do feel for the youngsters, I don’t think that we help them enough. It hurts me when I hear that English players cannot be as talented as Dutch players and Spanish players, and that’s such a wrong statement. I would maybe agree that Brazilian players, because of the weather and the way they play on the street, they develop special skills. But comparing Dutch and Spanish and Italian and French, English players have got the talent and should be as good as them. It’s just probably the structure doesn’t allow the youngsters, from 18 to 19 to 22, to develop as well as they can do.
Where do you see your long-term future, is it here or is it in Spain?
It’s funny because at 16 I left my hometown to play for Zaragoza, then I came to Wigan when I was 21, and then I moved and went to Scotland and Wales. I’ve been moving around. As long as you’re happy, you can feel home anywhere. I’ve never had the feeling of knowing where we are going to be next. I’m just excited; in football you have to be very focused and concentrated on what you are doing and the job in hand. I feel at home in Wigan, I felt at home in many other places and with my wife, I’m very lucky that we like to take different challenges and we don’t feel being abroad anywhere as long as you feel happiness. I can say as long as I’ve got my people around I feel happy, so it’s impossible to answer because I feel happy wherever the challenge is.
As a Spaniard, Do you think Real Madrid can catch Barcelona this season?
I think in many ways Real are making Barcelona be a better side and Barcelona are pushing Real Madrid to be a better side. I think they are feeding each other; the levels they are starting to reach are very good and in many ways, the league is going to go down to very small details and very small margins between them.
There is a contrast in styles, both are really successful, and sometimes in those situations you feel that whoever is hungrier for titles normally wins them. But I’ve seen it time after time with Barcelona under Pep Guardiola that they feel that every time they play a game it’s like they have never won a trophy before. So I cannot really see a favourite. I do feel that it will go down to the two games in the league, very small margins, and it could go down to a referee’s decision or a moment of individual brilliance that both are capable of doing. Whoever calls it one way or another is just fooling himself because the levels are so high and the margins so close, it’s anyone’s league this season.