After leading Wigan Athletic to an unlikely FA Cup win over Manchester City last year, Roberto Martinez moved along the M58 motorway in England to take up a position at Everton, a team who have won the league title nine times. He replaced Manchester United-bound David Moyes and has so far been a success at the ‘School of Science’. With five games of the season remaining, the Toffees currently lie in fourth place in the table and are therefore on the cusp of a place in next season's UEFA Champions League.
However, it was solely on the subject of the FIFA World Cup™ that FIFA.com chatted to the Blues boss recently. In an enlightening and exclusive interview with the Official Website of Brazil 2014, the Spaniard explained how Mexico 1986 stimulated his tactical awareness, why South American sides are more likely to succeed than those from Europe and what a World Cup in Brazil will bring.
FIFA.com: You would have been about eight years old during Spain 1982. Was that the first World Cup you remember?
Roberto Martinez: It was. I think it’s more the preparations. Spain as a country in the early 80’s was a really good period for the country. It was a real celebration. I have great memories of those six or seven months, pre-tournament, especially after the mascot Naranjito was introduced!
As a young boy you could feel the excitement and everyone got excited about the prospect of winning the World Cup. Obviously during the tournament it was a real disappointment when Spain started losing, but I have great memories of what a big event it was. Now whenever a World Cup comes around I’m eager to try to watch the tournament and how it’s been prepared, and what it means to the country.
What was the first World Cup you remember taking a more tactical interest in?
I think it’s fair to say ’86 was the one I will always remember. I would watch every game with my dad. We would go into detail and wonder, ‘How could you stop Maradona?’ It was the first time we started to look at the game and having discussions about how you could stop someone with his talent, but also how could you take advantage of a player like him. It was incredible to witness how a team relied so much on one individual, but also how that individual produced a level of performance to take his nation into a World Cup Final and to win it. That was quite incredible.
The meaning of representing a South American side in a World Cup is, at the moment, much stronger than for a European player representing his nation.
Have you had the opportunity to travel to any of the previous World Cups?
Yes, and I have to say that I really enjoyed South Africa 2010. I had the opportunity to stay for the whole tournament. I’ve been to many games at other World Cups and I always wanted to stay the whole tournament and follow the preparation of some of the sides. I did that in South Africa and it was incredible to see how the country embraced being in the eyes of the world for a month, and what it represented for everyone there and then what the football brought. It was an incredible tournament.
If you were to pick out one game from South Africa 2010, what would it be and why?
It would have to be Argentina-Mexico. It was in Soccer City and it was fascinating pre-game to see Diego Maradona – one of the biggest names in the history of the World Cup, being a manager of a team with incredible talent. And then they came up against a very good side in Mexico.
You mentioned seeing teams’ tactical preparations. Who were you able to get an insight to?
I tried to follow a team from each continent. I followed Paraguay for a few weeks when they were working in different areas. I saw the preparation of Netherlands as a European side and then I saw Ghana from Africa. It was fascinating to see how the players saw the opportunity to play in a World Cup in a very different manner and how they prepared for the games. Some squads were sharing rooms, some were in individual rooms and others were having up to three players in each room! It was a completely different environment in each hotel and I think it reflected in the way that they played. It was very different to observe the way players approached playing for their countries when they are from South America as opposed to Europe.
What are the main differences?
Most of the big players in South America come to Europe to play and therefore there’s a special affinity when you represent your country. You bring your background; your family and everything you represent onto a football pitch. I think in Europe representing your country is a great feeling. It’s still a great opportunity for a footballer, but I think many people would tell you that playing in the Champions League is as good a feeling. And I think that is evident in the way that the teams approach World Cups. That’s why it will be fascinating in Brazil to see how a European side can match the enthusiasm and that desire of a South American side to be involved in a World Cup.
What is the biggest challenge to a European team succeeding at Brazil 2014? Is it mental or more tactical?
Both. I think it’s a real combination. First, as a European team to be able to adapt to the conditions - the conditions of the pitch and the climate - it’s very different and it takes a lot to get used pushing yourself under those conditions, so physically you’ll be affected. Tactically, it’s a very difficult way of playing the game. It seems South American sides are quite happy to go man-marking all over the park and they are happy with those one-on-one situations, rather than relying on systems and being a bit more zonal and organised. And third is what I said earlier; the meaning of representing a South American side in a World Cup is, at the moment, much stronger than for a European player representing his nation.
Last summer you covered the FIFA Confederations Cup for ESPN. What were your impressions of that tournament?
Teams had to adapt to the conditions of the country and Brazil had to be the team who were favourites to win it because of the support they received. I thought it was the best Confederations Cup I’ve seen due to the fact that the European sides, Italy and Spain, they had a real desire to win it. The competition was very impressive. I do think it gave us a little taste of what this World Cup is going to be. I think it’s going to be the best World Cup ever because of the connotations of playing a World Cup in Brazil. It will be great for me to witness it at first-hand this time around too!