When Marco Silva was appointed Hull City manager on January 5th 2017, the appointment left many scratching their heads, none more so than former Arsenal player turned pundit Paul Merson.
Merson was not hesitant in unleashing a derogatory rant in front of the Sky television cameras shortly after Silva came to England. His insistence that he himself could win the league with Olympiacos, and that it was easy to win 17 games in a row in Greece, made the quips even more bizarre. Phil Thompson, a colleague of Merson’s at Sky, stated it was a “slap in the face” of British managers. The former Liverpool player and coach also asked the question of Silva “what does he know about Hull?”
As it turns out Marco Silva could have known very little about Hull City but the one thing he does know a lot about is football. And how to manage football teams.
On his arrival at the helm of Hull City, the Tigers were in trouble. The club was bottom of the Premier League and Silva would be tasked with ensuring survival over the remaining 18 league fixtures. Despite this feat not being achieved, he had given Hull City a fighting chance, he had given them hope. His impressive home record of being unbeaten in 7 consecutive games in the league before suffering defeat in his last two was not enough to ensure the Tigers survival, though.
Following Hull City’s relegation to the second tier Marco Silva decided against taking up the option of an extra year. Instead becoming somewhat of a free agent, and there would be no shortage of clubs vying for the signature of the Portuguese coach.
There were talks with Porto, which would have given him a move back home and also a chance to manage in the Champions League. It was rumoured strongly that Crystal Palace would be the club to appoint Silva before opting for Frank De Boer. In the end it was Watford who secured his services, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, on May 27 2017.
Marco Silva replaced Italian coach Walter Mazzarri. Watford suffered under Mazzarri. The Hornets had slumped to a 17th place finish after a dismal run of six consecutive defeats to end the season. Once Marco Silva arrived at Vicarage Road he immediately got to work. Explaining to the squad the rewards for being disciplined both on the field of play and off it. The Portuguese wasted no time in implementing his philosophy and the way he thinks the game of football ought to be played to his new squad.
Keen to see Silva's Hornets in action this campaign? Football trip Watford.
There were summer signings following Silva into Vicarage Road. It is unfortunate that due to injuries Silva has been robbed of some of the talents at his disposal. Highly rated midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah was picked up from Chelsea for a fee thought to be around £5.6m but after featuring in the opening five game of the season, he succumbed to a knee injury picked up in training and is expected to be out until the middle of November at least.
Still, this has not stopped Marco Silva from guiding Watford to their best ever start to a top flight season. The club currently sit aloft in 4th position in the Premier League - an impressive start. They have lost only once in the league, albeit a 0-6 annihilation at home to Manchester City, and are currently unbeaten away from home. Victories on the road at Bournemouth, Southampton, and Swansea, plus a draw at Tony Pulis’ West Brom, have ensured Watford have gone four games unbeaten away from Vicarage Road for the first time since the 2014/15 season, when the club won promotion from the Championship into the Premier League.
Players have spoken of Silva’s preparation of opponents already this season and it was the fixture at the Liberty Stadium in September where we caught a glimpse of the true capabilities of Marco Silva. A proper look into his reading of a game, and of the opposition, more specifically. Watford were a goal to the good at half time and looking comfortable. Silva had seen that Swansea had been pushing forward towards the end of the first half, trying to adopt a three-man attack. The Portuguese could have been forgiven for keeping things as they were, but he had anticipated the changes Paul Clement was about to make. Indeed the Swans did come out with two strikers and Ayew playing just off them. Silva had also sent his Watford side out with a change of plan. He switched from a back four – used throughout the campaign until this moment – to a back three to combat Swansea’s changes. It took time for his side to adjust and before long Swansea had equalised, but instead of seeing this as an opportune moment to revert to what was successful in the opening 45 minutes, he stuck with the plan and got his reward. With Watford pressing into the last minutes, they found a way through and Richarlison, the 20-year-old summer recruit from Fluminense, and one of the buys of the summer so far, crashed home the winner.
Sterner tests had come at home for Marco Silva and Watford with an opening day draw with Liverpool displaying the character we have seen throughout the season thus far. The defeat to City - they were not the first, and they certainly are not the last team to be - was a big one, but many will be put to the sword by Pep Guardiola’s array of attackers this campaign. Arsenal were the third big test to arrive at Vicarage Road. A fixture in season’s past, perhaps even the present season, would be classed as a so-called “bonus game”. A game in which Watford were not expected to be victorious therefore any points gained would be a bonus. Arsenal had read the script. With six minutes of the first half remaining Per Mertesacker put them ahead on this, his first outing of the league season. Ironically it was Mertesacker who was singled out by Watford captain Troy Deeney when he questioned the Gunners lack of “cojones” in his post match interview. He said: “Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think ‘let me whack the first one and see who wants it.’ Deeney goes on, “I came on today and jumped with Mertesacker, I didn’t have to jump, actually. I nodded it down and the crowd got up – ‘yeah! we have got somebody who can win it.’ And they all just backed off.”
Deeney had arrived off the bench as a substitute for Andre Gray and in less than 10 minutes had equalised from the spot. With the home crowd growing ever more vociferous in the final stages, up popped Tom Cleverly to fire the ball into the roof of the net for the Hornets' third 90th minute winner in a row.
Next up for Watford and Silva is a huge test for their impressive away from. A trip to Stamford Bridge, a visit to Antonio Conte’s Premier League champions Chelsea. With defeats in their last two games, Conte’s constant bemoaning of a lack of depth to his squad, and the never-ending saga of a return to Italy for the former Azzurri boss - who would write Marco Silva’s side off here?
It will not quite be dizzying heights that the late Graham Taylor’s Watford side reached, finishing 2nd in the top flight in the 1982/83 season, but Silva may just be on for guaranteeing Watford’s best ever finish to a Premier League season. If he achieves this, will the big boys come calling? Merson’s old side Arsenal could do worse than look towards Marco Silva as a replacement for Arsene Wenger.
Read more from Lee Holdsworth on his blog, here.