When a new era began
Swansea City travel to Rotherham United this weekend for the first time since a notable day in their history.
It was February 27, 2007, and Roberto Martinez was taking charge of the first game of his managerial career.
Two players who were part of the first team Martinez picked are now club ambassadors for the Swans.
Lee Trundle and Leon Britton both have fond memories of the Spaniard’s managerial debut.
“I remember that game well,” Trundle says.
“We won 2-1 and I got a goal myself, which was nice. You always knew Roberto was going to be a manager someday, so he wasn’t coming in as just a former team-mate because he always commanded that respect anyway.
“We were all impressed with him that day and we all know how well he went on to do for the club.”
Britton made more than 100 appearances for the Swans under Martinez.
He remembers how his former partner in midfield began changing the Swans’ approach right from the outset.
“I think it was a Tuesday night and it was freezing up at Millmoor,” he says.
“It was a memorable night with Roberto coming in as manager, changing the way we played and starting what we call the Swansea Way.”
Martinez was named Swans manager following the departure of Kenny Jackett.
His transition from player to manager was sudden, but none of his former Swans colleagues was surprised.
“When he was a player Roberto had those managerial qualities,” Trundle adds.
“The way he’d speak to you, the way he’d speak to the squad – you knew his life was football.
“Even on our end-of-season trips, when we were going out with the boys, Roberto was watching games!
“You always knew that he was going to be a manager and, with the work he put in, you always knew he was going to be a success as well.”
As well as his work on the pitch, Martinez is acclaimed for his man-management.
Trundle continues: “You knew he was going to do good things just from the way he is both as a person and as a manager.
“There were lads who had been left out of the side who would go into Roberto’s office to have it out with him and they’d come back out feeling 10-foot-tall, as though they were the best player in the world.”
Heralded for his side’s stylish football, Martinez almost led the Swans from mid-table to the play-off places in his first few months at the helm.
“For me it was a good change because Roberto wanted to play a bit more football than Kenny, who was a bit more direct,” Trundle says.
“Roberto coming in suited me a lot more because we had the ball further up the field and we had more possession, which meant I could get the ball into my feet a lot more.”
Britton was a big success story under Martinez.
He had played out wide for a spell under Jackett, but Britton thrived having been installed as a central figure in Martinez’s team.
“Roberto moved me back into the middle which came naturally to me because that’s where I had played all my career,” Britton says.
“It was a big change when Roberto asked us to play out from the back, from the goalkeeper to the centre-backs and through the midfield.
“We made mistakes along the way. Maybe there were times in games where we needed a goal and we would’ve liked to have played a bit more direct, but we were patient and got our rewards in the long run.”
After leaving Wales for Premier League Wigan in 2009, Martinez went on to win the FA Cup at the DW Stadium before switching to Everton.
He is now manager of the Belgian national side, who he led to an impressive third-placed finish at this year’s World Cup.
“I think Roberto is one of those managers who, if you give him better players to work with, he can really get the best out of them,” Trundle says.
“The football knowledge he’s got is second-to-none and I think he’ll go onto even bigger things.”
It says a lot of his managerial credentials that Martinez is currently being linked with one of the biggest jobs of all, at Real Madrid.
“That’s no surprise to me,” adds Trundle. “If he ends up there, I think he’ll be a massive success.”
The Swans head back to Rotherham having shown signs this season that the stylish football which began under Martinez is on the way back.
And Britton says there are similarities between the current Swans side and the one Martinez built.
“You can see it with the way that we’re playing,” he says. “Some of the goals we’ve scored in recent weeks, the number of passes we’ve completed and the way we’ve kept possession.
“You’ve got to give credit to Graham (Potter) and his staff because it’s been a huge turnaround with the number of players that have left the club and the number of younger players who have come through.”
Potter will be hoping his team’s eye-catching approach brings more rewards this weekend – and Trundle has high hopes.
“With the way the squad have been playing and the way the gaffer has been working, I don’t see why we can’t go there and get a win,” he says.
“The type of football that we’re playing excites the fans and we all look forward to going down and supporting the boys.
“The feelgood factor is back at the club and a lot of that goes down to the gaffer and his staff.”