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A LOOK AT LA LIGA

Roberto to the rescue

'Bobby' Martínez has been Belgium coach since 2016.
'Bobby' Martínez has been Belgium coach since 2016. / Reuters
  • opinion

  • He left Spain a nobody, but could Belgium manager Roberto Martínez be the perfect choice to revitalise La Roja?

We suspected it on the eve of the tournament, now we know it to be true. The "poaching" of Julen Lopetegui created more disharmony in Spain than a year of political arguments.

Ultimately it was like the step-father standing in to take the kids to the zoo. Fernando Hierro thought he knew how to handle the behaviour and idiosyncrasies of the egos he was asked to babysit but he just wasn't able to gather their focus.

The plans for the World Cup finals started two years ago; Lopetgui's approach was similar to Gareth Southgate's - he was creating a pathway and legacy. How football federations love buzzwords like those!

In truth Spain's team is in a different sphere, in fact few of the England team would even get into the Spain squad. England have a plan though and Southgate managed to advance by following the long-considered ideas. Spain's plan was ripped up and scattered on the tarmac as Lopetegui jetted home to answer the call from Real Madrid.

Where there once was harmony and organisation there was now disharmony and distraction. The leaders of the team didn't lead. David De Gea looked far from the most respected goalkeeper in Europe. Gerard Piqué appeared diverted, Sergio Ramos was unable to pull the group together and Andrés Iniesta wasn't selected to start the knockout game.

So what now for Spain? There has been a loud call in some quarters for Roberto Martínez to come home and take on the role.

In the interests of full disclosure I have to admit that I'm a big admirer of the man I met on his very first day in the country back in 1995. It was my idea to take him and his two Spanish compatriots to Wigan Pier, feed them Uncle Joe's mint balls and christen them the 'Three Amigos'.

I've admired his scholarly approach to football as he advanced from being a third-tier player to World Cup manager. He's unified a Belgium changing room where half speak French, half speak Dutch and all have a high regard for themselves. The Spaniard does this by delivering his team talk in the neutral language of English.

Since his first game against Spain in 2016 he went undefeated all the way to the World Cup Finals.

The Everton fans didn't appreciate him even though he took them to two domestic semi-finals and the last 16 of the Europa League. This after securing 6th place in 2014.

At Wigan he goes down in folklore as the man who inspired the club to the FA Cup final win against the mighty Manchester City in 2013. The year before he'd kept them in the Premier League by beating Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle in a run of seven wins in nine games.

He is also one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Not in football, in life itself.

So his name has to be in the frame given his managerial achievements. He could be heading home after leaving the footballing outpost of CF Balaguer twenty-three years ago.

He left a footballing nobody and is now well qualified to return to the top job in Spanish football.

Vamos Roberto, Go Bobby Go.