This interview originally appeared in UCFB’s Future Sport magazine, which can be read in full here.

After arriving at Wigan Athletic – then in the fourth-tier of English football - in July 1995, Roberto Martinez has gone on to establish himself as one of the leading lights in the game, guiding the club to a famous FA Cup final win in 2013 and taking Belgium to a World Cup semi-final in Russia. During a recent visit to UCFB, Future Sport sat down with Martinez to talk values, commitment and advice for the next generation of sports industry professionals...  

From Motherwell to Moscow, Roberto Martinez’s journey to the top has taken him to some of the more unconventional footballing hotspots around Europe. So while the Spaniard was leading Belgium to their best ever finish in a World Cup in Russia, a rugby-mad town in North West England could be forgiven for taking some of the credit for their adopted son’s meteoric rise.

Wigan is best known for its famous rugby league team, the Warriors, but now, thanks to Martinez, their once lowly football team is etched into the fabric of the national game. When the man from Balaguer first came to Wigan in the 1990s, little did he or anyone know the impact he’d have on the small Lancashire town. First as player, then later as manager, Martinez’s relationship with owner and former player Dave Whelan would go on to shape his career in the game.

In an era when it’s said managers and boardrooms have different agendas, the bond between Martinez and Whelan was as unexpected as it was vital. “For me it is always important to know that the chairman or the owner knows why we are doing things,” Martinez told us. “You could have lost a game but if you know why you lost it and in the manner that you lost it I think you can become better as a football club at the end of it.”

During his four years in the dugout at the DW Stadium, Whelan never shied away from the reality of a bigger club coming in for his friend and star man, adding that he wouldn’t stand in his way. That the Spaniard left the club in 2013 for Everton after just beating Manchester City in the FA Cup final was a fitting end to a wonderful partnership.

Martinez added: “The relationship between the manager and the chairman needs to be good so that you can be honest and help each other. You don’t have to agree all of the time, but you are setting the common goals of the football club and a way of working that helps every employee and every fan of the club.”

For a purist whose belief in the beautiful game is steadfast, it’s sometimes hard to believe how the former Swansea boss survived his playing career in the lower leagues of English football and the Scottish Premier League. But it’s also the different leagues, players and experiences that have helped shape Martinez into the manager he is today. In every experience there is education, and according to the Spaniard, “education is everything”. 

Belgium were 20 minutes away from an embarrassing last-16 defeat to Japan during the World Cup. This was when Martinez had to dig deep into his past experience as a player and manager. “The more prepared you are the easier it will be to come up with a decision,” he explained during a visit to UCFB. “Those decisions can’t be gambles or hopes or emotions, so I think that’s where the more information you get, the more preparation you have to help you towards making the right call.”

In the 94th minute, Nacer Chadli won the game for Belgium and a place in the quarter finals was confirmed.

“You hear a lot that football is always the same but that is probably the biggest error,” Martinez adds. “Everything is always changing so you always have to educate yourself to try and be on top of those changes and see how you can use them in the best possible way. If you don’t carry on educating yourself, you’re going to miss out.”

Martinez’s visit to UCFB was an inspiring one for its students. Here in front of them was a man who has spent his life determined to make the most of his ability and the opportunities given to him, a key message presented to every student on a regular basis. While inspiring the students, his key message was one of defiance and individuality: “Find out what you’re good at and what your passion is, then work at making it exceptional.”

He tells us: “Throughout my early years in the British game, everybody spoke to me about weaknesses and how to become better at my weaknesses, but now I realise that that doesn’t take you anywhere.”

Then what does? “When you’re working within sport, a business that revolves around winning and losing, you need to be very good at something. If you’re good at something, then you need to work at it to make it even better.”

At first he was Wigan’s secret, then Britain’s. Now at 45, Martinez is a leading manager on the world stage, demonstrating that talent mixed with a thirst for knowledge and mental strength is a powerful combination.