Everton manager Roberto Martinez has been in Brazil since the Opening Match as an analyst for ESPN, running the rule of the tournament's 60 matches so far.
Before his return to the Toffees and their pre-season preparations, he made time for an exclusive, in-depth interview for FIFA.comdiscussing the end of an era for Spain, the tactical trends at this FIFA World Cup™ and Brazil's chances without Neymar.
FIFA.com: Roberto, you've described this as the best World Cup in your lifetime. Why? Roberto Martinez: Well, I'm focusing purely on what you see on the football pitch – so it’s the bravery, positive approach and trying to win games. There has been a real concern for European sides of how to cope with the conditions, so rather than having a negative approach and trying to grow into games, I think everyone has decided to have a proper go; and if you don’t get the result, it’s not for the lack of having an adventurous approach - and we've seen that it in the substitutions which have paid off. There have been open and dynamic games. Tactically, we have seen a different trend with teams trying to play back threes and with a lot of success. Personally I think the influence of Chile has been very beneficial. So from a neutral point of view, I think it has been the best World Cup to watch games.
Do you think that dynamic approach has been a response to try to counteract Spain’s dominance?
Yes, I think so. Everyone came to the conclusion that if you wanted to compete against Spain, it couldn’t be on their terms – trying to out-possess Spain or trying to play the game that they play. The only way that you can unsettle the approach that Spain had was to be dynamic, use the counter-attack well and expose the back four of the possession team. We have seen it in Europe with Real Madrid playing Bayern Munich and certain key moments when teams have played against Barcelona and tried to take that sort of approach. I think that’s what we’ve seen in this World Cup; a little change of trend of accepting that Spain were the best at what they were doing. That has given a completely different approach to the game than it was four years ago.
There has been an awful lot of negativity around Spain’s results, but in terms of the crop of youngsters coming through, there are a lot of reasons to be positive aren’t there?
I don’t think it has been negative at all back in Spain. There has been real disappointment about the results, but there has been an understanding that Vicente del Bosque wanted to allow football to make the decision of when the new generation had to come through. Straight after the disappointment of a bad result, there was a celebration of the golden generation in world football they have provided – not just for Spanish football, for the whole community of football. To win three major trophies on the trot, I don’t think we’ll ever see again. It has been a matter of being sad but celebrating and being thankful for what this group of players has done. Now it’s allowing the school and ideology that this group of players brought to Spain to continue. It’s a change of cycle in terms of personnel but not in the mentality and the way of playing, because the young generation have been successful at U-21 level and there are replacements there ready to take responsibility.
To win three major trophies on the trot, I don’t think we’ll ever see again.
How would you assess England’s performance?
I was very impressed with the manner that England approached the competition. Looking back at other tournaments, it was the case of trying to progress and go through. This time around, it has been a clear approach of: let’s try to be ourselves, let’s try to find solutions and learn from the experience for the future; if we progress in this tournament, great, if not we’ll get the benefits. There is a real legacy growing in this new England set-up. I love the eye-to-eye mentality and having a really brave outlook about their performances. The defeat against Uruguay was marginal, the game against Italy was very small margins as well, not to get the victory. Overall, it’s a positive approach, and I think there is an understanding from the English public that there needs to be a bit of patience and a structured path to be successful; not just to be good in big tournaments, but to try to win a big tournament. To get there following the methods of Belgium or even Spain takes time. There has been a step towards achieving that with how England allow youngsters to have a major say and develop a clear way of playing that is going to be very beneficial for the future.
A lot of teams have come from behind to win games, is that because of positive approach or because teams have been struggling to see out games?
I think it’s a bit of both – you never get a clear reason for one or the other. The conditions have played a big part on that. The fatigue, especially the physical fatigue, affects your decisions and your mental state. So, when you make a big effort to get in front on the scoreline and then you concede, to cope with that disappointment is very difficult. The team that comes back by scoring gets real momentum and it works with the conditions that we have here in South America, and in extreme locations like Manaus. It’s a combination of the conditions in South America and a little bit of the psychological part of playing in a World Cup. It becomes a lot easier to cope with adversity when you create momentum during the game.
Which team do you think has been the best at managing games when they have taken the lead?
It’s difficult to say. Looking at what Argentina did, playing against Belgium, that was quite impressive. From a neutral point of view, you want to enjoy teams taking risks and entertaining, but Argentina stopped Belgium from having a real threat. That’s not easy at all. The experience of Belgium will benefit them in years to come. But the way Argentina managed that game showed that they are mature enough to go far in this tournament.
The Dutch have been the best at coming from behind, they have done it three times. Are you looking forward to coming up against Louis van Gaal next season?
Yes, I’m looking forward to the challenge. Louis van Gaal is a fantastic manager and he has been showing that for years. He has created a very specific way of working that has affected a lot of managers. His experience is going to be a real asset for the Premier League. I do expect a very good time for Manchester United with Van Gaal.
Brazil have got enough quality to win the World Cup without Neymar, but undoubtedly it’s going to be really difficult.
Do you think this World Cup has shown a greater tactical awareness on behalf of the players as well?
The way the players have been developed in any federation around the world in the last ten to 12 years has been a real focus on giving that tactical awareness to the players, flexibility and spatial awareness. That modifies how teams can play and adjust in different formations. It’s not just something that has happened this year, it has been growing in the manner that we are developing players – not just in Europe, but all over the world. The players have been more open-minded; they know that everyone should be able to defend and everyone should be able to attack. With that in mind, it’s a lot easier to be flexible with your systems both in games and between games.
There is so much excitement about the hosts, but do you think Brazil can win it without Neymar?
It’s difficult. Sometimes you need a bit of luck in terms of who you are facing. For Brazil, without Neymar, it will be very difficult to face a team when they are the favourites. Now, facing Germany, everyone would agree that they can play the role of underdogs. However it’s not just Neymar, Thiago Silva is missing from the game as well. Maybe that will give a bit of time to whoever replaces Neymar to find a way to be effective for the side. Brazil have got enough quality to win the World Cup without Neymar, but undoubtedly it’s going to be really difficult because Neymar has been very impressive and in a way he has been carrying the hopes of the fans, which always helps. He has very much been the difference in front of goal.
We spoke about the World Cup influencing domestic football – how do you as a manager stay ahead of the trends?
I don’t think you want to be ahead. It’s just making sure that you get the best trend that suits your players. It’s true that any FIFA tournament or big tournament affects the domestic leagues, it happened after the previous World Cup. What we saw in South Africa was a real understanding of trying to keep the ball, trying to base your football in possession and the 4-2-3-1 system became very much the way of playing. Now I think there’s going to be a real change in that; there’s a more dynamic approach, you need to be flexible with your tactical awareness. As a manager, you need to find what suits your players rather than trying to be trendy with your approach in games.