With his side continually steering themselves out of trouble in the Premier League, Saturday's historic achievement provides the feather in the cap for Wigan's charismatic managerCOMMENT
By Tim Poole
As a first ever FA Cup final beckons for Wigan Athletic, it feels almost inevitable that success will follow for the man who led them there. For Roberto Martinez, you sense it is just the start.
"Roberto is a one-off manager," Latics chairman Dave Whelan said before yesterday’s FA Cup semi-final against Millwall. "He's so cool under pressure and nothing gets him down, he's always upbeat.
"He's just a remarkable man, a remarkable manager."
Indeed, where Martinez is concerned, "remarkable" perhaps does not even tell half the story.
Four seasons on from taking over as Wigan boss and the Spaniard has moved mountains. That clubs like QPR – whose astronomic transfer outlay dwarfs Martinez’s shoestring budget – are set for the plunge while the 39-year-old’s side repeatedly steer themselves out of trouble year after year is testament to a wise head on a young manager’s shoulders.
But yesterday’s historic achievement is the feather in Martinez's cap. After all these years, a cup final awaits.
The occasion may have been marred by ugly scenes in the stands from a select group of deplorable Millwall fans but Martinez’s men were in no danger of tarnishing the reputation of the beautiful game on the pitch.
And it was three of the Spaniard’s bargain buys – Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Arouna Kone – who were at the heart of a display brimming with poise and fluidity.
Wigan’s second goal, slotted away by McManaman after rounding the keeper, typified everything that is good about the Spaniard’s management philosophy. It was one for the highlight reels.
In the talented youngster, the former Swansea boss insists the Latics have one of the “diamonds of English football.” But that is in no small part down to Martinez himself.
Indeed, when the 21-year-old lunged in with a vile challenge on Massadio Haidara against Newcastle several weeks ago, football supporters nationwide called for the youngster’s head.
Instead, Martinez stuck by his man – and just look what rewards he is reaping now.
Of course, detractors may claim that this was only a hollow victory against an abject Millwall side, along with the other lower league opposition Wigan have knocked out in this season's competition: Macclesfield, Huddersfield and Bournemouth.
But if giant-killing is what the fans are after, they need not look any further than the Latics’ clash at Goodison Park in the quarter-final.
Going into the tie, Wigan had no right to even dream of a Wembley appearance. Yet now they are on course for their second in a row – and all thanks to an initial 3-0 win in which they played David Moyes' Everton side off their own park. It was the ultimate underdog’s performance - masterminded by the ultimate man-manager.
Indeed, what Martinez has achieved under such financial constraints at the DW Stadium is nothing short of miraculous. And though the Latics currently lie in 18th place, only a brave man would back them to go down. Precedent shows that their manager just does not know when he is beaten.
In the end, it is perhaps Martinez’s own reaction to yesterday's triumph that best typifies the man: "It’s a big, big achievement for the players and they deserved it. So do the fans," he said.
That is the Spaniard in a nutshell: loyal, selfless and understated. Whatever happens from here - in the relegation dogfight or indeed the final in May - Martinez looks destined for the top. Clubs all over Europe will be taking note.