In so many ways Roberto Martinez fits the criteria which Fenway has laid out for a Liverpool manager
Roberto Martinez has always signed off his Wigan Athletic programme notes with the words sin miedo ("without fear"): he will need every ounce of that creed if he emerges from his encounter with Liverpool's American owners as the man to take over at Anfield.
In so many ways, he fits the criteria which Fenway Sports Group has laid out for a manager, and the name of his club happens to be quoted regularly by one of the sportsmen to whom John W Henry ascribes great value – the "Moneyball" king Billy Beane, whom he tried and failed to sign at the Boston Red Sox. Wigan are to the Premier League what Beane's Oakland As are to baseball, Beane is fond of saying. It is not just Martinez's net spend of –£3.5m over three years which will catch the Americans' eye but the way he has introduced a style of play and a philosophy which runs right through the club.
This is enshrined on various inspirational signs which litter Wigan's training ground. "Courage, Possession and Arrogance," is his favourite. A consistent playing ethos, running from youth ranks to first team, is precisely what the Americans want and they will also learn from the Spaniard next week about how he has effectively imbued Wigan with a corporate philosophy. His judgment on strikers (Franco di Santo, Conor Sammon, end of story) isn't all it might be. But he has fashioned a youth system, drawing from his observations of Villarreal and Espanyol, as clubs whose creed – as he told me a year ago – is "developing young players, giving them the right football education and human locations to give them the chance to get into the first team".
It was hard to put the mental image of 38-year-old Martinez out of mind yesterday as managing director Ian Ayre detailed the qualities Liverpool are looking for. "Experience and ability, methodology, style of play, character traits..."
It is easy to imagine that the Americans see something of Theo Epstein in this Spaniard with the lucky brown shoes. Epstein, remember, is the 28-year-old they appointed to be the general manager of the Boston Red Sox in November 2002 and who within two years had taken that side to a World Championship. But the Red Sox side Epstein took over was strong and settled back then, at the time when Henry was settling in as owner. They had names like Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, a batting champion in Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra, a very productive shortstop. Epstein did not have to build a great side because the Sox already had one. He instead used his intelligence, applied the "Moneyball" strategies of Beane, of whom he was a devotee – and delivered two championships.
Contrast that scene to today's Liverpool where a playing resource which looks what it is – the product of two appointments made in acts of crisis management – is just the start of the task. The bigger picture is the one etched out by Ayre yesterday: of a club desperately seeking to keep up with Manchester City, Chelsea and the other monied classes. FSG have had to hollow out the management and impose a new, top-down structure.
The extraordinary aspect is that Liverpool remain right up there, with only Manchester United, as the global commercial powerhouses of British football, despite the paucity of recent success. Look at their Warrior kit contract – at £25m a year more than double the deal City have just struck with Umbro. But Liverpool, still desperately bereft of their 60,000-seater stadium, feel vulnerable. "Liverpool and Manchester United dominate the landscape but that doesn't last forever," Ayre said yesterday. "That is why it is so critical and so important and it is why progress is so important. Nobody is looking for average, mediocre progress. We are looking for progress that will get the football club back where it needs to be."
Such is the toughest job spec in British football. It seems too much for a manager who has only known about holding on to Premier League status – even if he knows no fear.
Martinez the man
Born 13 July 1973, Balaguer, Spain
2006-07 Chester City
Honours 1997 Third Division; 1999, 2006 Football League Trophy
2007-09 Swansea City
2009- Wigan Athletic
Honours 2007-08 League One