Roberto Martinez faces first criticism

Roberto Martinez faces first criticism
Roberto Martinez faces first criticism

After a brilliant start to his term with Portugal, coach Roberto Martinez has been criticised for his team’s disappointing performances since the start of Euro 2024.

The state of grace, if it ever existed, is over. Before facing France in the quarter-finals of Euro 2024, Roberto Martinez sees the criticism against him growing. Not only because of the difficult qualification snatched on penalties against the modest Slovenian team. Because since the start of the competition, the Seleção has hardly convinced: it has only signed one truly satisfactory performance, against Turkey (3-0), and recorded a stinging defeat in the wake, against Georgia (0-2). If Cristiano Ronaldo is often pinned, the coach is no longer spared. Especially since his very positive communication irritates.

“The minimum threshold has been reached, but the way Portugal qualified for the quarter-finals combines insecurity and enthusiasm. The team is looking for an identity, and when you look at Bruno Fernandes or Bernardo Silva, you get the impression that the problem comes from the team as a whole and not from the performance of one or the other,” observes the newspaper A Bola, for example.

“Roberto Martinez’s press conferences are starting to be dishonest,” says journalist Mariana Fernandes. “It is impossible for a national coach and a top manager like him to arrive at the end of this match (against Slovenia) and say that the team played very well. They did not play badly, of course, but much more is expected of players of this quality.”

Surprising coaching, Ronaldo’s management that irritates

The mediocre performance against Slovenia provides all the keys to understanding the criticism. In terms of play, Portugal’s droning style is hardly an advertisement for football. Which, as with Les Bleus, would not be seen as a problem with more encouraging results and better realism. According to Opta’s figures, the Portuguese selection is the second least effective team in the quarter-finals behind… France.

Roberto Martinez’s coaching also arouses incomprehension, although he has some rich problems, as illustrated by Vitinha’s exit in the 60th minute, when the Parisian midfielder was one of the best on the pitch. This change has given rise to a tactical shift, with a move from a 4-2-3-1 to a system with three central defenders to better exploit the very offensive full-backs Nuno Mendes and João Cancelo. An interesting adjustment for some, proof for others of a loss of direction that has been silently going on for a year and a half. “Changes are not made according to the team, but according to the players,” lamented former striker Nuno Gomes.

And of course, there is the case of Cristiano Ronaldo’s management, a subject that ultimately brings together all of the issues raised. “Where I am a little angry with Martinez is that he forces us to scratch the legend,” deplores for example Kévin Diaz, RMC Sport consultant. “The question is whether he should play every match and every minute. It is not really about pointing the finger at Cristiano Ronaldo but rather at the person who manages him. Namely Roberto Martinez,” analyzes Nicolas Vilas, RMC Sport journalist and specialist in Portuguese football.

100% win rate in the playoffs

However, everything had started well for the coach, appointed in January 2023 after a difficult end to his reign for Fernando Santos in Qatar (elimination in the quarter-finals against Morocco with the tears of Cristiano Ronaldo). The accounting record of his first 10 matches, counting for the qualifiers, is excellent: 10 victories, 36 goals scored, 2 conceded.

Even though there were already arguments to put things into perspective, between the low level of the opponents (Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iceland, Slovakia) and the difficulty in which some victories were obtained despite everything (1-0 at the Icelanders and the Slovaks), the lights were green for the observers, as Nicolas Vilas explains: “He broke the goal record of Portugal and had the best defense in the history of Portugal in a qualifying phase. Everything was going well for him. He did not really know the criticism. There was sometimes a debate that arose, sometimes on the somewhat boring game of his team. But his team was protagonist and there was not really any criticism”.

Repeated twice?

Then warning signs went off this year, with a defeat in March against Slovenia in a friendly (0-2), then another just before the Euro against Croatia (1-2). And now the machine seems to be jamming in the middle of the tournament. Which raises a question: is Roberto Martinez capable of making his teams win when it counts? This doubt also haunted (and then convinced) the Belgian supporters, who had to deal with him from 2016 to 2022.

“It’s exactly the same configuration that he had with Belgium, confirms Nicolas Vilas. With Belgium he had perfect qualifiers, and when the moment came when we really expected him and with an exceptional generation – which is also the case with Portugal today – that’s when we expected results”. The fact remains that Roberto Martinez is not far from the goal of reaching the final. And finally, the criticism he faces is not comparable to that suffered by his predecessor at Euro 2016.

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