Marco Silva stormed into coaching as an impatient 34-year-old with no time to waste. Six jobs and 11 years later, the Lisbon native has evolved from a youngster with a point to prove into a measured leader shrewdly wrapping up Fulham’s surprise-package Premier League status.
Tipped for the drop in the summer, Fulham sit seventh in the table – and have already equalled the 28-point tally that saw them finish 18th and relegated in 2021. From relegation favourites to European contenders, Silva’s increasingly calm coaching alchemy is striking gold for the Whites.
A journeyman right-back across Portugal’s lower leagues, Silva eked out 15 years before retiring in 2011. The savvy defender jumped straight from the pitch to the dugout at Estoril, attacking his first steps in management like a wonderkid itching to boss the biggest stages.
Silva’s rage against the machine of time has eased up though, and all to Fulham’s Premier League advantage, so far this term at least. Silva’s prodigious early management days could never be sustained indefinitely, and across each coaching scar he has smoothed his approach.
The 45-year-old will now boast increasing hopes to turn the failures at Hull, Watford and Everton into false starts to precede a Fulham success story. Where once the callow managerial rookie in Silva would coax and cajole his players that bit too far, now a more measured leadership style has developed.
Fulham’s players have greatly appreciated Silva’s balanced attitude, notably amid a sequence of near-miss results where good performances were left without reward. The fruit of refusing to panic by changing smart ideas and good habits can be seen in three straight league wins since the post-World Cup restart.
Consecutive 2-1 defeats by Manchester City and Manchester United closed the pre-World Cup chapter, but Silva refused to let Fulham head into the break in anything other than buoyant mood. The confident Whites boss told his players that should they stick to the standards and processes that had punctuated the first section of the season, then results would follow.
The immediate dividend shows exactly what Silva’s men can deliver. But amid all the south west London delight, no one at Craven Cottage has the run of themselves. Fulham’s last two Premier League campaigns finished in relegation, recrimination and inquest.
Scott Parker could only muster five wins for those 28 points and an 18th-place finish in 2020/21. Slavisa Jokanovic, Claudio Ranieri and Parker all had the helm in the 2018/29 relegation campaign, where 26 points constituted a 19th-place finish.
Where Jokanovic, Ranieri and Parker all flopped, Silva finally appears to be thriving. The Whites’ previous Premier League recruitment was bloated, costly and ill-conceived.
Silva has helped the club pare down its targets, and in Joao Palhinha, Andreas Pereira and Bernd Leno, Fulham boast three of the division’s current form operators. Palhinha’s midfield steel and class makes a mockery of the £17million fee, with Pereira’s £8m recruitment from Manchester United similarly shrewd.
Two players comfortable in their own skin having matured into their mid-twenties, and both boasting poise and presence. Former Arsenal stopper Leno has thrived between the sticks too, finally finding his niche across London from the Emirates.
Fulham and Marco Silva might just turn a possible European push into a genuine continental qualification quest
The 30-year-old has relished the extra responsibility of regular first-team action after a staccato four years with the Gunners. And then there’s Tim Ream, the veteran USA centre-back who felt the full force of one of Pep Guardiola’s unorthodox compliments back in November.
Guardiola told Ream that if he were 24, he would be playing for the Manchester City boss. No one at Fulham quite knew where to place that one, but then no one at Craven Cottage had demanded the rich vein of form that Ream has delivered at the age of 35.
All that shape and stability can count for little without end product though, and in Aleksandar Mitrovic Fulham boast a deadly finisher stalking the Premier League seemingly still with a few axes to grind. Mitrovic has struck 11 goals in 15 league appearances this term – the final tally he reached in 37 matches en route to the 2019 relegation.
If the 28-year-old can keep that mean streak alive, then Fulham and Silva might just turn a possible European push into a genuine continental qualification quest.