Pre-season there was much speculation about how the managerial changes at the top of the Premier League would pan out this campaign.

Chelsea and Manchester City — clubs used to changing their bosses — have fared as expected under Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini respectively.

But Manchester United and Everton, clubs where stability at the top has been a byword for years, have experienced wildly differing fortunes.

David Moyes always had a huge task following Sir Alex Ferguson at United but it is the scale of the decline — 14 points off the top of the table — that has been so worrying for supporters at Old Trafford.

At Moyes’s previous club, Roberto Martinez has Everton challenging for a Champions League spot after radically overhauling the team’s playing style.

One of the first things Martinez did on his appointment was to redecorate the players’ entrance at their Finch Farm training ground. This was not whimsy but designed to be a spur for his new team.

On their way up the stairs to the dressing room, players now pass pictures of Everton’s glorious history starting with a print of the 1891 League-winning team. At the top, there are two frames, one a picture of an Everton player lifting the 1995 FA Cup — the club’s last trophy. The next is blank. “We want to get that new picture on the wall,” Martinez tells me. “I want the players to understand they have an incredible opportunity to make history again.”

Qualifying for the Champions League — a realistic prospect given Everton are only one point off fourth following last night’s 1-1 draw at West Brom — would be a landmark but Martinez is thinking even bigger. Indeed, when I ask him how he sees the title race, he suggests the Toffees might be contenders.

“It is foolish to guess who will win. Everyone rightly talks about Man City but they have to go to all the top teams barring Chelsea: Emirates, Anfield, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford, Goodison. You look at the top seven and everyone has a chance to win the title. This is the most open title race I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Premier League.”

High point: Leading Wigan to the FA Cup last year was a defining moment in Martinez’s careerHad things turned out differently, Martinez could have been across Stanley Park at Liverpool. Reflecting on the discussions two years ago for him to take over at Anfield, he says: “It wasn’t the right time for Liverpool and myself. Dave Whelan [the Wigan chairman] said we need to work together for another year because something special is going to happen. The FA Cup did. I was meant to be on the blue side and I fit in so well.”

And, while Brendan Rodgers has made Liverpool potential title challengers, Martinez says: “That has been an incentive for us. When we are so close, it is harder but we have benefited from each others’ success.”

During his 11-year reign, Moyes believed top six was the best Everton could aim for given the club’s resources. “But that is not an excuse not to aim for the title,” says Martinez. “In football, you need to be creative and brave enough to make up for the lack of finances. The title win was a long time ago [1987] but we have won it nine times. Not many clubs can say that. That means we have the right to dream.”

This may come naturally to the man who, in charge of League One Swansea, said they could get to the Premier League and won Wigan their only FA Cup. But, is he not burdening himself with all this talk of Everton’s great past? “Worried about history?” responds the 40-year-old Catalan. “The opposite.History gives you a little bit of direction, a real advantage.”

Then, leaning across his desk, he produces a picture of him with Howard Kendall. It illustrates how Martinez has already used history this season to get results that have been beyond managers for two decades.

“Howard had never been to Finch Farm and it was great to see him here and pick his brains. He was the last Everton manager to win the League, the last to win at Old Trafford [in 1992]. I met him before we went to Old Trafford. He was very encouraging and confident saying, ‘Why can’t you do it?’”

With that he smiles, aware how the match saw Moyes’s new team lose to his old one. Martinez has changed the style of play and says: “How you win games is more important to me. Some people feel you just need to be a parasite team. By putting the ball in the box 70 times, the ball ends up in the net. I don’t enjoy that kind of football. And it won’t give you success. By being creative and developing a really good way of playing, you can compete against even the best team.”

Martinez’s Swansea and Wigan teams exemplified this philosophy but he admits it was hard to change the more direct approach he had inherited from Moyes.

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 01: Leighton Baines of Everton celebrates scoring the equaliser from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Everton at Britannia Stadium on January 01, 2014 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)Key player: Leighton Baines is expected to sign a new deal and commit his future to Everton“It was not easy, especially when you have such important characters and good footballers. Players could have easily have said, ‘We’ve been successful by playing in a certain way and we don’t want to change.’ But, from the first day, they were open minded and wanted to try new things. After seven weeks and the pre-season, I knew the players were ready to be brave. It is not normal to get such as turnaround in seven weeks. I was very impressed.”

Evertonians have been so impressed they now chant about the club regaining their status as English football’s school of science. For Martinez, whose team have lost only twice in the League this season, the fans have seen nothing yet. “In every game, we’re getting stronger and you can see better partnerships. Some of the football has been outstanding. The understanding of the team is a lot stronger now.”

Martinez’s confidence has been reinforced by his belief that Leighton  Baines will agree a new deal and by the players he has brought in this month including Aiden McGeady, signed from Spartak Moscow. “He is an out-and-out winger. He can play on the left-hand and the right-hand side and is excellent in one-to-one situations.”

Everton have pipped West Ham to Lacina Traore although the loan deal is subject to a work permit.

The imminent arrival of the 6ft 8in Ivory Coast international may hint at a long-ball approach but Martinez says with a smile: “I don’t think he is great in the air. But he has a terrific touch.”

And, crucially, Traore is a thinking player. “In the English game we have been developing an inferior type of player because we didn’t allow them to think. We, the coaches and the managers, are to blame for the way we educate the players. We tell them what to do. It is very structured, everything’s a straight line. We kill the creative vein of the player.

“Footballers should have the freedom of how to put the ball in the back of the net. To do that, you need to engage with other players, appreciate space, control the ball, the tempo. It shouldn’t be just box to box. On the continent, players are thinkers. They know you cannot play the same way in the first five minutes as in the last five, when you are 1-0 up or 1-0 down, when the other team presses you high up or when it allows you to play.”

But the English game is changing and Martinez identifies five thinkers in his squad. “Leon Osman takes things on very quickly, makes them his own and affects the game straightaway. Johnny Heitinga has played 80 times for Holland and has that sort of thinking background. Tim Howard, Romelu Lukaku and James McCarthy are also very good thinkers.”

Even 20-year-old Ross Barkley is learning, says Martinez. “Because he’s been the best player in every year, he didn’t have to think too much. Now he’s starting to understand that he needs to think on the pitch. Young players need to understand that, if you are a thinker, you will last longer. So, if you lose a bit of pace, you replace it with tactical awareness.”


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