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Roberto Martínez belongs to the world and we must protect him

Is he a great coach? Probably not. Is he great for fans? Undoubtedly.

Belgium v Tunisia: Group G - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The pyramids of Egypt. The rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia. Mont-Saint-Michel. The fortifications of Old Havana. Machu Picchu. Mosi-oa-Tunya. The Temple of Heaven. Timbuktu.

These, along with hundreds of others, are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Some are natural, the sublime and the beautiful; others are human-made, ingenuity given form in worked stone, brick, and metal. Taken all together they represent the grand treasury of this planet, what it has given us and what we have given one another. It is time to add Roberto Martínez to the list.

Belgium’s manager is not, strictly speaking, a landmark. He’s not a waterfall. Nor is he a big old church or a really nice bridge. But beyond these mere technicalities, he exceeds the requirements. He is certainly a “masterpiece of ... cultural significance,” and there is no doubt he exhibits “an important interchange of human values.” Nobody could doubt that he bears “exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition.” And as for being “directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions,” well, he was managing in the World Cup just earlier today.

Belgium beat Tunisia 5-2. This performance, taken along with Belgium’s 3-0 win against Panama, means that Martínez has delivered 10 goals in two games. His Belgium side scored 43 goals in 10 qualifying games, and have only been involved in one 0-0 (and that was against Portugal, who like that sort of thing). If it’s goals you want, he delivers.

But that’s not what elevates him alongside Mbanza Kongo and the Forth Bridge. The goals are the symptom; the cause is hope. Martínez isn’t the only manager committed to attacking football, but his version is a incredibly fragile thing, forever trembling on the cusp of total collapse. There’s a reason Wahbi Khazri grabbed the ball out of the net after scoring Tunisia’s late consolation: he knew that when Martínez is on the bench, nothing is impossible. Even three goals in 20 seconds.

This commitment to the soft underbelly has been true all through Martínez’s managerial career, from his time with Swansea and Wigan through that very strange spell at Everton, and on to Belgium. But it’s at the World Cup that it makes the most sense. Because this is how the strong teams should be: thrilling yet vulnerable; at once powerful and wobbly.

At heart, there is a commitment to the Corinthian ideals that once defined the game. If Martínez is going to have a squad this exceptional, with players this good, then it only seems right that he should arrange them in strange lop-sided shapes, with holes all along the back. That way, everybody gets to play: Belgium, Belgium’s opponents, and the neutrals. Especially the neutrals.

As such, Martínez sits in the same relationship to the World Cup as Stonehenge does to ... well, to whatever the druids were up to. He is the pinnacle of the idea of a World Cup manager; his sides bring chaos and joy and light and hope, precious hope, to everybody they encounter. Through the group stage they rampage, into the knockouts, and then — oops — they’ve just clattered out by the odd goal in seven.

This is why he must be taken from the merry-go-round of footballing recruitment and taken over by the people. He gets given the likeliest squad before every tournament, and he does his thing, and the games belong to us all. Forever.