Another excellent and well attended Business Breakfast at Wigan Youth Zone with the return of Roberto Martinez, former Wigan Athletic Football Club manager who is now, via a couple of years at Everton, the manager of Belgium’s national side. Belgium were the first side to qualify for next year’s world cup in Russia and are many people’s ‘dark horse’ favourites because, despite having never won anything, they have something of a golden generation of players with the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Kompany, Courtois and De Bruyne amongst many other talents.
The event featured a Q&A with Roberto who reminisced about his time at Wigan and his unique relationship with owner Dave Whelan, who was also a driving force behind the Youth Zone. Roberto was one of three Spanish players brought to Wigan by Whelan back in the 90’s when it was a struggling Division Three club playing in front of a couple of thousand die hards on a muddy pitch at Springfield Park. With a dream of Premiership football, which few believed would come to fruition, Whelan’s single mindedness and huge personal investment eventually saw the club achieve that nirvana. Martinez returned to Latics as Manager in 2009 lured from a successful spell at Swansea by his mentor Whelan.
Wigan were, by then, an established Premier league team, albeit the constant relegation favourites. The club survived an amazing 8 years in the top flight despite being the league’s smallest club in every respect. This period was topped off with silverware when Martinez’s Wigan side amazingly defeated the multi-millionaires of Manchester City on a truly memorable day in 2013 to lift the FA Cup. He was asked how he managed to motivate and instill confidence in his team – the ten to one underdogs in a two horse race! He explained how, the night before he’d asked each player to write a sentence on what he valued in each of his team mates. These were placed in envelopes and given to each player to read before they went to bed.
TV coverage the following day criticised the laughing and joking attitudes of the Wigan players when they arrived at Wembley, claiming that they weren’t taking it seriously and Man City would thrash them. Martinez explained that this wasn’t a blasé attitude at all, rather it was a confidence and happiness within the squad which contrasted markedly with the miserable faces of the City players under a Mancini regime that was showing cracks and was shortly to come to an end.
Speaking as a Wigan fan in the stands, who went with no expectations whatsoever, that confidence became clearer and clearer as the match progressed. From an initial simple hope that we wouldn’t get thrashed, to making it to nil-nil at half time and then a growing realisation that we were, in fact, the better team on the day and that we could, might, just maybe, win it. And then, with just a few minutes to go, Ben Watson rose to meet a corner and headed us onto a famous victory.
Wigan were sadly relegated soon after the final, as fixtures conspired against us, but as the interviewer at the WYZ pointed out, he has yet to meet a Latics fan who’d swap the FA Cup for Premiership survival. And thanks for this has to go, in no small part to the manager Martinez, his relentless optimism and incredible motivational skills.