Roberto Martinez describes Scotland as one of his “adopted countries”. His personal connection to the nation is a powerful one, even though he spent just 10 months plying his trade on Scottish soil.
That brief spell as a Motherwell player in 2001-02 ended abruptly when he was one of the casualties as the club plunged into administration.
But it was a period which shaped Martinez’s life both on and off the pitch as he met a Scottish girlfriend, Beth, who became his wife.
As he returns to her homeland as manager of Belgium for tonight’s friendly at Hampden, Martinez will be joined in the visitors’ technical area by a new Scottish addition to his football family.
Shaun Maloney, who played under Martinez at Wigan where they won the 2013 FA Cup together, has joined the Red Devils’ coaching staff as they look to build on their third-place finish at this summer’s World Cup Finals.
“I know Shaun the person, the footballer and the potential coach,” says Martinez of former Scotland international Maloney.
“Every coach has to start somewhere and the big advantage I have with Shaun is that I know his career inside out. I tried to sign him a few times until I got him to Wigan from Celtic.
“I knew the type of player that he was and you get to know the person behind it and you know the way he thinks about the game, the way he thinks about players and he will become a great coach one day.
“For now it’s an opportunity and one that, after a few days, I already feel that will be very influential for us. Shaun can be a great asset for Belgian football in general.
“I had no doubt about what he could bring. It’s a role he knows well in that he knows how I work having experienced that as a player and he can bring his own touch to the role.
“When he left Scotland he had to go through a difficult period to adapt to another country and the style and that is something that is very significant for a coach.
“To have that experience and to have played almost 50 games at international level means Shaun is ready to start his coaching career.
“We all know that Shaun is a very proud Scotsman, but in this case nationality doesn’t play a part. We will never take away Shaun’s feelings and what he has for Scotland.
“But he’s a professional and while he’s developing as a coach, this will help him grow into his career path.
“From a professional level, I gained an understanding of the Scottish game which I used a lot as a manager. I have been able to sign really good players from the Scottish game.
“At Motherwell the club went into administration and that was a different side of the game again for me to cope with. It helped me to understand players’ feelings in those situations. I learned a lot about that as a player myself.
“I am attached to Scotland now because I met the woman of my life and half of my family are now in Scotland. The attachment is very clear and strong and I’m very proud of it.”
Martinez almost had an even higher profile involvement in Scottish football back in 2009 when, while Swansea City manager, he was in contention to replace Gordon Strachan as Celtic boss. He opted instead to take charge of Wigan, where he had spent six years as a player.
“I had conversations (with Celtic) and I was always very impressed with the need to bring silverware,” he recalls. “There was also the prospect of getting to the Champions League through the qualifying rounds and it was always a club that people are attracted to because of the intensity of the fans and what it means.
“But at that time I had to go back to where I started my career in the UK and where I started my coaching career at Wigan. In life there has to be the right timing for moves and at that time I wasn’t prepared to go away from my beginnings in the UK.
“It was a chance to go and work again with Dave Whelan – the man who had brought me to Britain – and it was a case of unfinished business.”
After a difficult spell as Everton manager, Martinez was a surprise choice as Belgium’s head coach but he has flourished, losing just two of his 27 games in charge so far. Tonight’s Hampden fixture is preparation for Belgium’s Nations League opener in Iceland next Tuesday.
“Scotland is like one of my adopted countries and I’m looking forward to it,” said the 45-year-old Spaniard.
“Games at Hampden have an extra feeling and for us it’s a really good game to look forward to. To face a team being developed by Alex McLeish will be the perfect preparation for us to be strong against Iceland.”
l Tickets for Scotland’s friendly against Belgium tonight and the Uefa Nations League match against Albania on Monday are available now. Visit tickets.scottishfa.co.uk to purchase.