ROBERTO Martinez’s imminent departure from Wigan Athletic will be felt by everyone connected to Wigan Athletic.
Neill Rimmer knows the Spaniard better than most, having been a team-mate during the Springfield Park years before rejoining Latics as expert summariser for local radio and the club website.
And Rimmer – who like Martinez is a Latics living legend – spoke for every player and supporter in his immediate assessment of the situation.
“I’m gutted, to be honest,” Rimmer told the Evening Post last night. “Just gutted.
“He’s a fantastic manager, but he’s also a good friend and someone I think a lot of.
“I spoke to him straight after the Arsenal game, when relegation had been confirmed, and he was absolutely devastated.
“He was convinced that we would do what we’ve done in the last few years and get out of it, and then push on next year.
“Relegation hit us all hard, and none more so than Roberto.”
It’s not uncommon for managers of relegated sides to find themselves out of work at the end of the season.
But it’s a sign of Martinez’s standing in the game that high-flying Everton appears to be his next destination.
Martinez told Dave Whelan yesterday that he wanted to move on, with the chairman granting his wish subject to suitable compensation being agreed with his new club.
And Rimmer believes the decision to leave Latics would have been the hardest Martinez has ever made.
“He won’t have taken this decision lightly, because he loves Wigan Athletic,” recognised Rimmer.
“He’s been involved with the club for the best part of 20 years, both as a player and as a manager, and he is a true Wiganer.
“He’s also a very ambitious man, and has proved with the FA Cup that he can deliver the big prizes.
“He was obviously highly-thought of by everyone at the club, and it will have been a horrible decision for him to make. But he’s left us all with some very special memories.
“People will look at the FA Cup, but there have been so many others over the years.
“You look at the game at Stoke two years ago, when we won 1-0 to stay up on the last day, and the way we finished the season so superbly last year.
“Ultimately, though, he’ll be most remembered for the FA Cup win at Wembley, which none of us will ever forget.
“I’ll also remember the cup run, going to places like Bournemouth and Macclesfield, the fantastic win at Everton in the quarter-finals.
“I personally will never forget the FA Cup final. I’ve got some fantastic photographs of the day that I’ll cherish – many of which were with Roberto.”
Martinez’s potential move to Everton will have extra meaning for Rimmer, who started his own playing career at Goodison Park.
“It’s a great opportunity for him at Everton, who have obviously put a lot of faith in him as the man to take them on,” he recognised.
“They’ve got a fantastic set-up there, and are still a massive draw – there are not many bigger clubs around than Everton.”
While cherishing the memories of Martinez’s reign forever, Rimmer also recognised the importance of staying focused on the future.
“Definitely – that’s what football’s all about, moving on straight away,” he added.
“It’s natural to be disappointed, but things move fast in this game and you have to move with them.
“As the chairman has said, it’s a big job to get this club back in the Premier League, and I’m sure there will be a long list of people who will want the opportunity to follow on from Roberto.
“We’re all disappointed, but we’re all looking forward to next season.
“And one thing’s for sure – life’s never dull atWigan Athletic.”