The Nations League final, in which the Red Devils finished fourth and last after defeats against France and Italy, has turned out to be a frustrating adventure for Roberto Martinez and his Red Devils. There was a lot of criticism in the Belgian press, which caused frustration for Martinez, so an interview in his home country Spain was a great opportunity to discuss a number of topics in peace.
Cadena SER wanted to know whether Martinez thinks that the Red Devils are still lacking something to win prizes, something that has not been possible in the past five years. “Yes, we are aware of that and that is what our work is now focused on,” said Martinez. “There is a big psychological barrier. We need to be a lot better to win our first trophy and then things can change. Being able to manage match situations is very important. In our first half against France we saw a radical difference from our semi-final against France in 2018. I think those 45 minutes gave us an idea of the level of our football, but in the second half that aspect (competition management, ed.) much better. There has been a lot of criticism, but that is understandable if there are high expectations that are not met. A few days later, the realization comes that the Belgian national team is one of the four best in Europe and is almost qualified for the World Cup…”
Will that World Cup in the autumn of 2022 be Martinez’s last achievement with the Red Devils? “I have not yet decided whether I will continue after the World Cup in Qatar. Whenever I talk about my future, I try not to go too deep into it. We are working on a very nice and ambitious project and I am looking at it day by day. I have learned that leading a national team on an emotional level is not like working for a club. It is fantastic to be able to work towards a big appointment in this way.”
No doubt about three-man defense
Remarkably, Martinez focuses on psychological details that should enable the Red Devils to win trophies. Our analyst René Vandereycken, like other analysts, pointed out the limitations of his sacred system of three defenders. Cadena SER wanted to know why Martinez chose three defenders for Belgium.
“My first match with the Belgian national team was against Spain (friendly, 0-2 defeat, ed.) and then we played with four in the back. We analyzed that match to find solutions. The solution was to play with three in the back. The system doesn’t make you defend or attack well, it depends on the players and this generation has given us a lot of opportunities.”
In recent weeks there have been rumors that Martinez would be in the picture to succeed Ronald Koeman at FC Barcelona. While Martinez always reacted evasively, he now went deeper into it. “It’s been a tough time because it seems like you don’t want to answer questions, but the truth is they haven’t contacted me. In the meantime, I know how the rumor mill around trainers works. They are nothing more than stories that make me laugh in the morning.”
Concerned about Hazard
In a month and a half, the Ballon d’Or will be awarded to the best football player in the world. A Belgian who was once tipped as a candidate winner, Eden Hazard, was not on the long list with thirty names this year. Does Martinez think that could change in the future?
“I have a lot of appreciation for Eden as a person and for the talent he has as a footballer, without a doubt,” said Martinez. “His first half against France has given me a lot of confidence. But the truth is that Eden is currently physically unable to be one hundred percent for ninety minutes. It is important to be patient, to work hard and step by step to bring Eden to the level where he has always performed. His situation in Spain is very special and new to him. He was never injured before, but now he has had two years in which he was often injured. Everyone is concerned about him and Real Madrid for sure. Eden is a player who needs to feel the ball and be able to dribble. In order to reach his optimal physical level, he must therefore play matches. We enjoyed his first half against France, let’s hope we can give him the minutes he needs with Real Madrid. If he can perform like he did in the first half against France, he will teach the Red Devils a lot and Real Madrid even more.”