Spanish influence working wonders at Swansea

Swansea City manager Roberto Martinez has had a special affinity with the FA Cup since becoming the first Spaniard to score in the competition. On Saturday he can write another chapter in the annals of the cup as his Championship side aim for their third Premier League scalp of the season when they host Fulham for a place in the quarter-finals. The gleaming new Liberty Stadium, tucked in between the South Glamorgan hills and Swansea Bay, will be full to bursting point with the club's long-suffering fans revelling in the wave of optimism that Martinez has instilled. With a squad containing six Spaniards, an Argentine and Jason Scotland, a Trinidadian goal machine, Swansea have become one of the stories of the season and talk of possible promotion to the Premier League is rife in a city that last saw top-flight football under John Toshack in 1983. With last year's FA Cup finalists Cardiff City, Swansea's fierce rivals, in action at Arsenal on Monday in a fourth-round replay and Wales's beloved rugby team hosting England in the Six Nations it will be an exciting few days for Welsh sport. "Wales as a nation is very passionate about its sport and it's always one of the vehicles it has to fight against anything," Martinez, a naturalised Welshman, told Reuters on Thursday. "We want to one day fulfil the dream of playing Premier League football, that would be a unique achievement. "I'm not surprised that the Spanish players have done so well. It has been a slow transition but they have settled in and they are now part of the Welsh group if you like. "They now know what this club means to the city. The supporters down the years have had the golden times at the top level and we need to go back to that level. It's a dream but there is still a long, long way to go. But at least we can dream with the results we have had this season." BETTER SHAPE Martinez, who moved to England as a young midfielder, spent six years at Wigan, becoming the first Spaniard to score in the FA Cup when the side beat Runcorn in 1995. He also had spells at Motherwell and Walsall before joining Swansea in 2003. That coincided with one of the worst chapters in the club's history when they needed to win their final game of the season against Hull City to retain their professional status. Martinez, a regular face on Sky Sports' Spanish football coverage, returned to Swansea as coach in 2007 with the club in far better shape and has set about creating a team to fit the stadium they share with the Ospreys Rugby Club. "Rugby and football have always been part of the folklore of Wales, it's passionate. Maybe a bit more for the rugby because it's been more successful," said Martinez whose father was also a coach in Spain after finishing his playing career. Swansea have been a revelation since winning League One (the third division) last season and far from just consolidating their position they have blossomed, winning plaudits for their cultured football. They are seventh in the table, two points outside the playoff places and have not lost in any competition since November. In the fourth round of the FA Cup they outplayed holders Portsmouth 2-0 at Fratton Park. One of the key factors has been the form of Scotland and Spaniard Jordi Gomez, on loan from Espanyol, who have scored 27 goals between them. "Jason is a goalscorer, a finisher, somebody who relies on his natural talent," Martinez said of the former Dundee United and St Johnstone player. "He is a magician with the ball and finishes with his right and left...we are delighted he is with us at Swansea City." BIGGEST TEST Many are tipping Swansea to beat Fulham, but Martinez is quick to offer a dose of reality. "We have to be a bit realistic," he said. "We are playing against a Premier League side, a very good Premier League side who are enjoying a great season with fantastic players. "Our aim this season is to get 51 points and have another season in this division and anything else is a bonus. Every game has been a cup final for us this season. "The biggest test on Saturday is for us to be ourselves...if we can do that against a Premier League side it will be evidence of how far we've come." Victory would further enhance Martinez's reputation as one of the brightest young managers in English football and no doubt alert chairmen of bigger clubs. However, Martinez is happy to continue learning his trade at Swansea and repay them for their faith. "In football, as a manager you don't look at the longer picture because you can lose focus and you get punished, this game punishes you quickly," he said. "I'm not somebody who is looking for the next step before I finish the first one. It was a very brave decision to offer me the job as a 33-year-old and I am full of respect for Swansea."