Roberto Martinez will finally show whether he’s hit or myth at this World Cup, only the final is good enough for Belgium

    AS one of the inventors of coach speak, Roberto Martinez has always talked a good game.

    In one of the many seasons when Wigan were fighting to survive, he described being stuck at the bottom as a unique opportunity and a positive.

    Roberto Martinez will be leading Belgium into another international tournament

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    Roberto Martinez will be leading Belgium into another international tournamentCredit: Getty
    But World Cup success with Belgium could be make or break for him

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    But World Cup success with Belgium could be make or break for himCredit: EPA

    Quite why, no one ever fully understood, but there was no diverting him from that belief.

    Probably because it gave his players the chance to show their heart for a scrap, or suchlike.

    It certainly helped build his reputation as one of football’s most modern-thinking managers.

    So much so that while he did pull off one of THE great FA Cup shocks of all time when the Latics beat Manchester City in the 2013 final, the fact they were relegated three days later didn’t make a dent in his standing.

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    Indeed, just two weeks after they went down, Martinez was on his way back up — replacing David Moyes at Everton.

    Then, when he got the boot from Goodison three years later, he landed an even more prestigious job within three months, taking over from Marc Wilmots as Belgium boss.

    It was an appointment which stunned many in football — certainly on Merseyside and parts of Greater Manchester — but no matter. And he HAS had his moments.

    Indeed, Belgium have spent much of the time under his command as the world’s No 1-rated team. Which, without a trophy, is basically a footballing “so what”.

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    The equivalent of the highest ranked tennis player who’s never won a Grand Slam. That’s what Belgium are at the moment.

    No team has ever been the best on the planet without ever having a major trophy to their name somewhere in their history.

    Even the great Holland sides, who looked like they would draw a blank, eventually won the 1988 Euros. But Belgium? Zip. Nothing.
    Which is why the next four weeks are so vital to Martinez.

    Because while there is a lot of pressure to deliver on a lot of people in Qatar, there’s more on him than almost anyone.

    When you look at his squad, the Spaniard has got more aces than most.

    And this is his last chance to show he knows how to play them.
    It isn’t just Belgium’s golden generation for whom this is now or never, but their manager as well.

    For Martinez, Qatar 2022 is now or never. It has to be the tournament when he finally proves he is the managerial genius he thinks.

    To be fair, there have been some great results. That last-eight win over Brazil in Russia four years ago is arguably the best.

    Only to count for nothing when they lost to France in the semis. And then a round earlier in the Euros three years later.

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    Now, once again, Martinez will lead a team of all-stars into battle in the most open World Cup in living memory.

    Two of the top ten in the Ballon d’Or rankings are Belgian for a start, in Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois.

    Yet while it is not a set of players on their last legs, it is also the final chance for many of them to deliver on the biggest stage. So far they haven’t really come close.

    Third place in the last World Cup, but that means nothing. Just a massive disappointment after all the earlier promise.

    So it is boom or bust for Martinez and his boys over the next month. The minimum requirement has to be the final. Anything less will be a failure.

    Especially looking at the draw, which has hardly been unkind in pairing them with Croatia, Morocco and Canada. Not for nothing are they the shortest priced group favourites.

    If results go as expected, they would likely face a Germany side still in the development stages in the last 16 and Portugal in the quarters.

    They wouldn’t cross swords with Brazil, Argentina or — whisper it — England until the final itself.

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    So while it isn’t a simple stroll to glory, neither is it a path paved with the biggest pitfalls. It’s why this is their time to deliver.

    For Martinez even more so. Hit or myth? We’ll know the answer come December 18.

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