As West Ham prepare to welcome Wigan Athletic to Upton Park, Premier League safety and a new deal for Sam Allardyce seem imminent for the Hammers.
While Big Sam should be praised for re-establishing and securing West Ham’s status as a top-flight club, the man in the opposing dugout could be the best person to take Allardyce’s job when he eventually departs in the future. Big Sam has only ever been seen as a temporary fix for West Ham, so only a select few people are under the illusion that he will be the man in charge at the club when they leave the Boleyn Ground for the Olympic Stadium in 2016. Replacements for him were bandied about almost immediately after he took over as manager of the Hammers in June 2011.
Paolo Di Canio and Slaven Bilic have been ubiquitous in conversations about the finite nature of Allardyce’s time as West Ham boss, and even Harry Redknapp was thrown into the mix. Roberto Martinez’s name is always conspicuous by its absence from those discussions. The Spaniard would, after all, be the perfect fit for West Ham – a club with limited resources but famed for developing talented youngsters and playing attractive football.
He has worked wonders with Wigan, guiding them to this year’s FA Cup final with a 2-0 victory over Millwall in the semi-final at Wembley last Saturday and keeping them in the Premier League despite flirting with relegation annually. He has done all that on the restrictive budget caused by an average attendance of only 18,997 – actually an impressive audience for football club in a rugby town. In addition to his excellent work in Lancashire, it should not be forgotten that Martinez was the original mastermind behind Swansea’s magnificent renaissance.
But, in order to temper the somewhat overbearing tone of admiration and prevent this from becoming a Roberto Martinez love-in, it is worth reminding ourselves that West Ham aim to rid themselves of the ‘yo-yo club’ status they have been labelled with over recent years and strive to compete with the top sides in the Premier League. As such, appointing a manager whose only real success has been lowerleague promotions and seems to have a worrying affinity with the top-flight drop zone may not be a step in the right direction for the Hammers.
Furthermore, Martinez has only managed teams with little money to spend and could, therefore, waste vast sums of money on useless players if he was given a larger budget to work with – something Hammers fans may understand as a ‘Curbishley effect’.
That said, West Ham supporters crave a manager who will reinstate the ‘West Ham way’ and get the team playing football that is easier on the eye. Some desire that immediately and would like to see Allardyce replaced before the referee even blows the whistle for kick-off against Wigan this week. Other, more sensible fans can see that Big Sam is exactly what West Ham need right now, but still cling to the hope of seeing the passing game return to the home of the Hammers. Martinez can make that happen.
Of course, were West Ham to set their sights on the Wigan boss, getting him to leave the North West could prove to be quite difficult. Clubs bigger than West Ham have tried to prise the 39-year-old away from the DW Stadium before, only to be rejected. In an interview with Philippe Auclair published in issue seven of , Martinez gave his reasons for staying at Wigan
“I do feel strongly about thinking in the longer term,” he said. “I don’t get satisfaction from just seeing the first team winning. I also get it from being in a club that is financially stable and which is developing in every area, making sure the youngsters are getting a certain type of coaching that’ll enable them to become professionals, hopefully in our first team. That’s vital. As a manager I feel that I have to take decisions the impact of which will only be seen four, five, six years down the line – as with Joe Allen.
“Maybe I won’t be here then, but that’s the only way I can do my job. But that’s not why I’m still at Wigan. I’m here because my chairman [Dave Whelan] is unique. He is a very persuasive man. The power of Wigan Athletic is that it is a club which is built on a person’s dream. That’s why it is so special.” So that man Dave Whelan, who will forever be remembered in east London for his toys-out-of-the-pram approach to the Tevez affair, could again be a problem for the Hammers.
Nevertheless, I am sure you will agree that the tremendous loyalty Martinez has shown towards Wigan does, somewhat paradoxically, make him all the more desirable. In addition to that, the intelligence behind his football theory and the way it chimes with the culture for which West Ham were renowned (pre-Allardyce) make the Spaniard the perfect person to take charge of the Hammers when Big Sam has gone.