Can Marco Silva pull off the unlikeliest of survivals at Hull?

Words By Conor Kelly
February 1, 2017
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When Marco Silva took the position of Hull City manager, it would be fair to say that the reaction was mixed amongst the ‘proper football man’ brigade. On Soccer Saturday, a hyperventilating Paul Merson ranted on behalf of young English coaches such as Gary Rowett and, erm, Gary Rowett. The segment went viral and has been discussed ad nauseam since.

The skepticism of foreign coaches is nothing new, what with their laptops and disdain for battered food presenting a threat to the values that English football holds dear. What would he know about the Premier League that Mike Phelan doesn’t?

Now, for the layman who may not have known Silva’s background/weren’t paid to research it, his appointment was understandably a confusing one. In all seriousness though, a more thorough look at his track record would give you the impression that Silva might just be the right guy to steer Hull to safety. The club’s vice-chairman Ehab Allam was certainly confident when announcing the news. “Marco has a great track record and we feel this is a bold and exciting appointment in our aim to retain the club’s Premier League status.”

Hull’s hierarchy must have unwavering belief in Silva’s abilities to do just that, bearing in mind that they’ve used the winter transfer window to sell a number of key players. First it was Jake Livermore, then it was Robert Snodgrass. Now Andrew Robertson could be Burnley bound. The trio combined look set to earn the club around £30 million, but with eight first team players already sidelined though injury, it would appear to be a strange time to cash in on prized assets.

Of all the January departures, Snodgrass’ will undoubtedly be the one most keenly felt. The Scottish international was their outstanding attacking player, scoring nine times this season as well as assisting another three. His devilish set piece delivery would often extricate Hull from trouble and he was a major difference maker that others at the foot of the table didn’t possess.

Stripped of his best player only weeks into the job, Silva could be forgiven for bemoaning the hand dealt to him. The sickening head clash which has ruled Ryan Mason out for an indefinite period only added to the litany of problems. A difficult task just became even more insurmountable, but the Portuguese has survived and thrived in comparable scenarios before.

Towards the end of his indistinguishable playing career, Silva was captain of Estoril, who were not only plummeting to Portugal’s third division but perhaps into oblivion. Players weren’t getting paid and money was needed, but it was Silva who persuaded many of them to stay. When Brazilian investment arrived, he negotiated on behalf of his teammates.

As his body started to fail, Silva remained at the club as a link between the new owners and the playing staff, before becoming sporting director. When Brazilian manager Vinicius Eutropio was sacked, Estoril turned to the then 34 year-old. Despite having no coaching experience, his effect was transformative, winning promotion from the second division in his first year. The following season, Silva guided the tiny tourist town club to a fifth placed finish, thus earning a place in the Europa League. Estoril lost key players to Portugal’s big three of Benfica, Porto and Sporting, yet Silva went one better and led them to fourth in 2013/14.

Sometimes, it takes a new coach awhile to understand his players and implement new ideas, but Silva has immediately made an impression. “He’s a lot more into watching games back,” Sam Clucas said in an interview with Sky Sports recently. “We watch the games, watch our next opponents. Maybe the previous manager was out on the training ground a bit more.”

Already, Hull are reaping some benefits of Silva’s fresh approach. They beat Bournemouth convincingly in his first league game and impressed in away matches against leaders Chelsea and in the EFL Cup at Manchester United. Despite Jose Mourinho’s childish denial, they were worthy victors in the second leg at the KCOM Stadium, pressing vigorously and largely controlling the game.

When Phelan departed, the Tigers were at the foot of the table, and despite climbing out of the relegation zone, they’ll be battling for survival right to the end. While the weekend’s FA Cup exit at the hands of Fulham might prove beneficial in the long run, it reinforced Hull’s lack of squad depth. Additions are needed and Silva has suggested that the club are tracking “three or four” potential targets.

The new signings City have made need to hit the ground running. Former Porto midfielder Evandro Goebel is an experienced campaigner who worked alongside Silva at Estoril. The jury is still out on Oumar Niasse, although he notched his first goal against United last week. On loan Liverpool winger Lazar Markovic has already attracted the ire of supporters for his disinterested performance at Craven Cottage. The Serbian is undeniably gifted, but the club requires him to fulfil some of that untapped potential.

We’ll likely have more of a gauge of where Hull stand at the end of the transfer window. After looking beyond hapless for much of the season, there is suddenly a modicum of hope. Silva is a smart and astute coach capable of extracting an extra 10% from the players at his disposal and galvanising the entire squad. There are already some marginal improvements, and you get the sense that he could achieve the improbable. Silva’s pulled off one miracle at Estoril; it would be another if he keeps a selling club afloat in the world’s richest league.

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