Marco Silva was under no illusions about the challenge facing him at Hull City.
“They say we need a miracle to remain in the Premier League,” Silva remarked after his appointment in January. “It is normal they say this but sometimes they happen, the miracles.”
Sounding optimistic, Silva had reason to do so. The 39 year old began his coaching career at Portuguese minnows Estoril after first arriving at the club as a player in 2005. The final stop of an uneventful playing career, it turned out to be the making of him as a manager. The Canaries were mired in the second tier and struggling financially. As both Silva and teammates went unpaid the latter threatened to leave, until the veteran defender persuaded them to stay on.
Silva knew salvation was near in the form of a takeover by Brazilian agency Traffic Sports. In 2011, he retired from playing and made the obvious move upstairs as the club’s director of football. His time in that role would be brief though, as three games into the 2011-2012 season the club’s Brazilian coach Vinicius Eutropio was sacked.
In need of a quick — and cheap — solution, the owners chose Silva. Granted, he had no coaching experience, but he was hard-working, detail oriented, and already held the respect of the players, (of whom most were Traffic clients imported from Brazil). Silva united the squad and Estoril finished top and earned promoted from the second division that season.
Once in the top flight Silva did not seek to consolidate the club’s position, rather he attacked it with courage and confidence. Operating with one of the smallest budgets in the league, he oversaw an expansive style of play set out in a 4-3-3 formation and guided Estoril to 5th in the Primeira Liga, earning qualification to the Europa League Group Stages.
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Unfortunately, their achievement came at a cost. Estoril’s performances alerted Portugal’s big three — Porto, Sporting and Benfica — to the team’s best talents and Silva lost several of his players.
Undeterred, he soldiered on and in the club’s second season they went one step further and finished fourth, (matching their best ever placing achieved in 1948). By now, clubs were no longer just looking at Silva’s players, but also him. Handed the reigns at Sporting his time there was brief, but successful. He helped the club earn a Taça de Portugal, but that wasn’t enough for the club’s hierarchy.
Sporting were eager to hire Jorge Jesus, and so produced a 400 page document outlining Silva’s supposed disciplinary breaches, (including failing to wear a team suit on the sidelines).
A setback, Silva refused to let it faze him. He moved to Olympiacos and romped away with the Greek title, winning it by 30 points after being victorious in 28 out of 30 games.
It was also in Athens that he prepared for a job in England by learning the language. The Premier League always seemed like a good fit for Silva (despite the opinions of Paul Merson). Nicknamed ‘the mini Mourinho’, his stellar home league record now stretches to 40 games unbeaten across three different clubs.
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Not yet ‘The Special One’, it’s fair to say Mourinho is a fan. “Arsenal are in a group where a kid friend of mine is the manager of Olympiakos,” he said in November 2015. “It would be fantastic for the kid’s career to go through. So I have to be honest and say that I would like the kid and Olympiakos to go on.”
Arsenal won that day, and a little over 12 months later Silva was signing a contract to become Hull’s manager. The Tigers were sinking fast, but found the ideal captain in Silva. The club needed direction and detail, both of which Silva provides. He is devoted to sports science, data analysis and micro-managed training sessions, as well as being pragmatic and adaptable.
“The new manager’s been on the training pitch every day, putting a lot of tactical information into us,” Tom Huddlestone said in February.
“Wherever the ball is on the pitch and whatever system we play we know exactly what is and what isn’t required of us, with and without the ball. With the amount of information he’s put into us there are no excuses.
“If you don’t do well now it’s down to a loss of concentration because we know exactly where he wants us to be and when. The lads have bought into that and it’s showing on the pitch. He’s also quite offensive in the way he likes us to play and his game-plans are very good.”
Just as at Estoril, Silva lost key players early on. Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass were dealt out for a combined £17million, but in their place arrived a series of misfits including Lazar Markovic, Oumar Niasse and even one of his former stars at Estoril — Evandro.
"You've got Marco Silva managing Hull, and Tony Adams at Granola. Swap em round, it doesn't add up Jeff. Adams can't speak foreign." pic.twitter.com/iWOHzFmKBj
— GeorgeWeahsCousin (@WeahsCousin) April 10, 2017
“He told us we’d have no days off and he’s not been wrong but the boys are happy going in every day because we’re all learning a lot under him,” Andrew Robertson said. “All the new boys are hungry and have points to prove and we’re fighting for our lives now. I’m really glad I’m still here and working with this manager.”
Now in a position of strength heading into the final furlongs of the Premier League season, Silva is edging ever closer to his desired miracle. A relative unknown when he was hired, it is in evaluating Silva’s foundations as a manager you see not just why Hull chose him, but why he seemed so perfect for his current job.
An exciting coach, with potential to go far higher than a relegation dog fight, Marco Silva looks set to be a Premier League coach next season regardless, and that should be no surprise at all.