OPINION: Roberto Martinez’s Portugal appointment is a masterclass in failing upwards
Roberto Martinez’s new job as the Portuguese head coach is the latest in his career trend of getting rewarded for mediocrity
Roberto Martinez was confirmed as the new head coach of the Portuguese senior national football team on Monday, replacing the departed Fernando Santos.
The appointment comes as a huge shock, especially as Martinez only just quit his role with Belgium, where he underperformed for over six years.
However, this might not be entirely surprising to people who are familiar with the Spaniard managerial career so far, failing upwards is a recurring theme in Martinez professional life so far.
Roberto Martinez’s career so far
Martinez started his managerial career at Swansea City in the English League One where he was appointed in 2007 and made waves within a year.
He led Swansea to the 2007/08 League One title, helping the Welsh club gain promotion to the English second tier for the first time in 24 years, while also winning the League One manager of the year award.
His exploits earned him a Premier League move to Wigan in 2009 under circumstances that could best be described as controversial, which will be explored later.
Martinez did a decent job at keeping Wigan in the Premier League for four more seasons but the highlight of his time in Lancashire was winning the FA Cup in 2013, the first and only so far in the club history.
He then joined Everton which remains his last club job to date as his three years in Merseyside were followed by six more in charge of Belgium and now Portugal where he about to take on another big job but rather undeservedly.
Roberto Martinez failing upwards at club level
As Martinez enters the 16th year of his professional management career, he still only has two trophies to show for it, the English League One with Swansea in 2008 and the FA Cup with Wigan in 2013.
For every level he has coached at since Swansea, one could argue that Martinez has underperformed, but he still somehow manages to land a bigger job.
He openly criticized Swansea players who were leaving for bigger clubs and publicly said he would only leave the club if he was forced out, only to leave for Wigan shortly after, prompting the Swansea fans to nickname him El Judas.
In Martinez four seasons as Wigan manager, he had a measly 29% win ratio in 175 games and the club never finished higher than 15th, which they achieved in 2011/12 with 43 points.
To contextualize, Wigan finished 11th with 45 points in the Premier League the season before appointing Martinez and the Spaniard was supposed to be an upgrade on Steve Bruce, the man who did it.
But Martinez never matched Bruce and would have the club in a four-year-long relegation battle, which they eventually lost in the 2012/13 season.
But at the least, they got an FA Cup trophy as compensation for their troubles, even though Wigan have since never made it back to the Premier League.
It is safe to say Martinez four years at Wigan were not exactly successful, but he still moved up in the world immediately after relegation when he was appointed as the Everton manager in May 2013, just 14 days after relegating Wigan.
His first season at Everton was honestly impressive and his best managerial season to date as he led the club to a fifth-place finish, with a total of 72 points, which is still Everton highest points haul in Premier League history.
But that was as good as it got for him in Merseyside, as Everton finished 11th with 47 points in each of the next two seasons, leading to him getting fired in May 2016 with one game left to play in the season.
Roberto Martinez climbing up the international ladder
Following the established theme, Martinez once again landed on his feet, getting a bigger job than the one he was fired from when Belgium announced him as their new manager, replacing Marc Wilmot’s.
Wilmot’s, a Belgian legend, was fired after a poor EURO 2016 campaign which ended in the quarter-finals only for Martinez to also get knocked out at the same stage in EURO 2020 (played in 2021) but he remarkably managed to keep his job.
His most notable accomplishment with the Red Devils was keeping Belgium as the number one team in the world according to the FIFA rankings from September 2018 to February 2021.
Despite having what was statistically the best national team in the world and a golden generation of world-class Belgian players, a 2018 FIFA World Cup bronze medal is the best Martinez could show for it.
The embarrassing capitulation at the recently-concluded 2022 FIFA World Cup, in which Martinez oversaw a group stage exit, was still not enough to make him unattractive to prospective suitors.
How he has managed to get a better job once again, this time with Portugal, a team on the upward trajectory in the early stages of its Golden Generation remains to be studied.
To summarize Martinez international career so far, he wasted the last six years of Belgium best periods in history, underperforming at every major tournament, including the UEFA Nations League.
He now gets to leave with the Belgium team in its worst shape in over a decade with aged players and needing a reboot to join Portugal, a team full of vibrant, world-class talent similar to what Belgium was when Martinez was appointed in 2016.
They make luck like Martinez any more#, karma is a foreign concept to this man and in his universe, there is no such thing as consequences for actions, just an upward trajectory regardless of how badly he messes up.
One thing is for sure, if football coaching stops working out for Roberto Martinez, he can transition into life and career coaching; he knows a thing or two about securing dream jobs while being underqualified.