MARCO SILVA HAS MADE A BIG IMPRESSION in his short time in English football. Arriving with a burgeoning reputation, the improvement in results and style of football he’s managed to produce with two lesser Premier League teams has only increased the hype.
Becoming the third Portuguese manager in Premier League history when he was appointed by Hull in 2017 brought with it obvious and lazy comparisons to José Mourinho. Like André Villas-Boas before him, the weight of being likened to one the most successful managers ever, based purely on nationality, seems an unnecessary added pressure.
Yet the similarities between Silva and Mourinho make the connection somewhat justified. Both had relatively meagre playing careers, with Silva spending his entire time in Portugal, alternating between the second and third tiers. Both started with managerial roles in Portugal, achieving success before moving to England, although Silva went via Greece and a trophy-filled time with Olympiacos.
That’s about where the comparisons end, though, between the two. Mourinho is a loud, confident individual who wants everyone’s attention to be on his antics, taking the pressure off his players. In contrast, Silva is a quiet, respectful character, very much in the Mauricio Pochettino mould.
The most remarkable aspect of Silva’s rise to the top is the lack of apprenticeship he endured. Villas-Boas worked under Mourinho for a number of years before he became the main man. Mourinho himself learnt from Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal. Silva’s career was born out of desperation rather than education.
After retiring in 2011, he was immediately appointed as director of football at second tier Portuguese side Estoril. He had spent six years at the club as a player, amassing over 100 games. Silva’s first job was to convince his former unpaid teammates to stay on board. New investors and money did arrive, but without Silva’s intervention, it’s likely that the club would not have survived. He had the respect of the players from his time in the dressing room and took it upon himself to be the bridge between them and the new owners.
After just a few months of the season, manager Vinicius Eutrópio was sacked and Silva was drafted into his first touchline job at the age of 34. Estoril went on to win the league that season, only losing three of the 24 games following his arrival. A star had been born.
Read | André Villas-Boas and the long con
What followed was even more impressive. Silva led his side to a best-ever finish in the top flight, qualifying for the Europa League in the process. The following season he showed that his rise was not just a flash in the pan as Estoril went one step better, finishing fourth. During that campaign, he famously won away at Porto, ending their undefeated home record that had stood for over five years. If the bigger teams hadn’t taken notice before, they certainly had now.
Sure enough, that summer, Sporting came knocking and, after nearly 10 years at Estoril, Silva moved on. His success continued, guiding the club to their first piece of silverware since 2008, winning the Taça de Portugal. However, just four days after lifting the trophy, Silva was out of a job. The bizarre reasoning given by the club was that he had failed to wear the club’s official suit in a cup match earlier on in the season. This was disputed by the several members of the Portuguese media at the time, who claimed that the recent availability of Benfica manager Jorge Jesus had prompted the decision by Sporting.
Silva would not have to wait long for another offer, signing a contract with Greek side Olympiacos just over a month later. He only spent a season at the club, winning the league at a canter with six games to spare. Silva won his first 17 domestic games in Greece, a 21st-century record start to a season for any European side.
It was during this campaign that English football fans would have their first glimpse of the Portuguese manager as Olympiacos won 3-2 at the Emirates against Arsenal in the group stages of the Champions League. Given that they’ve lost 12 out of 13 games away at English opposition in the history of the competition, it was a major achievement. At the end of the season, Silva resigned from his role at the Greek side and remained out of work until he was approached by Hull the following January.
The general disdain and obvious xenophobia when Silva was hired by Hull by some pundits left a bitter taste. Paul Merson, now infamously, said at the time: “it’s astonishing that they have plumped for someone like this when there are a lot of people out there who know the Premier League. He’s not got a clue.”
It seems like a bare minimum requirement, but it would be nice if paid pundits did their research on managers’ careers before commenting on their ability to do a job. Presumably they should have gone for a Proper Football Man™, someone who knows the league inside out, like Mike Phelan perhaps? Oh, Silva replaced him. Never mind. Merson wasn’t done there, though, stating: “I could win the league with Olympiacos. They’ve won it 107 times and it’s only been going 106 years.” Given Merson’s 34 percent win record in his only managerial role at Walsall over 10 years ago, where he was sacked after guiding them to 19th, I’m not so sure.
Everyone is allowed their opinion, of course, but doubting a manager because of the country he comes from, rather than his managerial credentials, seems unfair. Picture the outrage if it was the other way around. Obviously, those involved with English football would prefer to see more homegrown managers given chances, but chances must be earnt. You can’t expect one manager to get the job over another simply because he happened to be born in England.
Read | José Mourinho: the early years
Although his short time with Hull ended in relegation, Silva undoubtedly improved the side. Many players spoke fondly about what he brought to the club, including Tom Huddlestone, who said: “It’s been nice to be reintroduced to technical game plans. There have been managers who ask you to run for the sake of it but this has been tactically intense.”
At the end of the season, Silva decided that he would not stay in the Championship with Hull – and there were many offers on the table. It looked as if he would return to Portugal,to take over at Porto, before Watford made their move.
The season started brilliantly for the Hornets, although it has petered off somewhat. This seemed to coincide with Everton reportedly offering £10 million to tempt Silva to Merseyside.
Silva has shown in his relatively short time as a manager that he is tactically impressive and meticulous in his planning of games. His formation of choice is a 4-2-3-1, transitioning from sitting deep without the ball,to fast counter-attacks when it’s won back. He’s shown, in just his time in England alone, that he’s not afraid to switch to a backt three or back five if needed. The work he’s doing on the training ground must be tremendously thorough.
One particular game from earlier on this season highlighted Silva’s flexibility. Watford were winning 1-0 at half-time away at Swansea, when Silva decided to change from a back four to a back five. They held on and scored in stoppage time to win 2-0. “We changed at half-time as we know they will do this change to three up front,” Silva explained. “They started to react in the last minutes of the first half. They changed in the second half to two strikers with Ayew in behind – three strong players to challenge in duels. We changed things in half-time as well, to prepare for this situation.”
It will be interesting to see how Silva responds to downturns in form, something he hasn’t experienced too often in his career. Throughout his career – including at the Hornets – Silva has started well and the success has continued. One suspects it will only improve him in the long run. You get the feeling with Silva that he’s a manager on the up, destined for greater things.
It’s not often a manager’s reputation continues to grow off the back of a relegation campaign, but Silva has bucked the trend. The Premier League’s youngest manager is arguably its most exciting