At the tender age of 41 Marco Silva stands at the very crossroads of his managerial career, as his latest struggles with Everton threaten to derail the Portuguese’s time in the Premier League for already the third time.
Both previous stints showed early promise and whilst set amid completely contrasting environments, Silva’s stock initially rose sharply before depreciating almost as dramatically. A valiant but ultimately doomed attempt at keeping Hull City buoyant within the Premier League was perhaps something of a free hit, with few expectations that the Humberside club could avoid the trap door to the Championship. And so it transpired, but with more a bang than a whimper. Silva looked like a man for the future and would surely be reemployed in England before long.
Pitching up next at Watford might with hindsight have been a mistake, with the restless and demanding Pozzo family seemingly never far from pulling the metaphorical trigger. Silva did though set a high standard too quickly at Vicarage Road with form that could not realistically be sustained, and again, so it transpired. Barely halfway through the season the former Estoril player was relieved of his duties, his employers alleging interest from Everton had taken their manager’s eye off the ball.
Goodison was indeed the next stop on what was becoming a quick-fire tour of the mid to lower reaches of the Premier League, albeit after the culmination of the 2017/2018 season. Initially brought to England by the much-maligned owners of Hull City the Allam family, Silva was sourced on the strength of his outstanding record at first Sporting Lisbon, then with Greek-giants Olympiacos. There was therefore more to him than tenures at Watford and Hull themselves which to this day are hard to categorize, and obviously what Bill Kenwright and Farhad Moshiri saw, they liked. Relieved to see the back of Sam Allardyce’s attritional, pragmatic brand of ‘entertainment’ the Gwladys Street faithfully cautiously warmed to the appointment of his antithesis.
Results during the current season have been disappointing, with F A Cup defeat at Millwall, one of the Championship’s lesser lights, just the latest setback for the Toffeemen. Silva’s penchant for zonal marking seems inflexible, allowing players of varying standards to get a run on defenders more physically blessed to deal with marking a designated forward. Tottenham’s evisceration of Everton, 6-2, at Goodison, only served to show the futility of standing off players whose natural game is to run from deep, such as Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen.
The amount of money spent on both players inherited and acquired by Silva highlight Kenwright’s and Moshiri’s intent, who have in a sense been let down by the judgment of a succession of managers. The age-old question will though inevitably posit: is it the players or the manager? A regular turnover of head coaches demands of the next one out of the revolving door to work with players not of his choosing but often bought for big money and locked into lengthy contracts. With little choice but to work with the tools of others, managers have always been and forever will be hindered by the mistakes of predecessors, and those who sign the cheques. One is tempted to wince at the combined transfer outlay of a barely believable £132 million spent to bring Jordan Pickford, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Cenk Tosun, and Michael Keane to the blue half of Merseyside.
The latest round of Premier League fixtures tonight pits Silva’s spluttering Everton against an all at sea Huddersfield Town, in what will be the first match overseen by new Terriers’ boss Jan Siewert. In a sense defeat is unthinkable for both sides, with Huddersfield hoping a new manager bounce can take effect under the lights at the John Smith’s Stadium, against opponents seemingly there for the taking. Defeat will all but confirm Huddersfield’s relegation, but a failure to put the division’s whipping boys to the sword will cement Everton’s place in no man’s land; neither in danger of relegation, nor threatening to lay a glove on the established top six. This surely is not what the club’s power brokers envisaged when appointing Silva, although success in Greece and Portugal never automatically translates to a similar outcome in the toughest top flight in world football.
It is moot what would constitute success and failure at Everton for Silva, although there seems to be little evidence to suggest the club are progressing on an upward trajectory towards resuming ‘big 5’ status of yesteryear, made up in the 80’s by Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham. There is now also the small matter of Manchester City and Chelsea to contend with, and those jostling to be the next team from the pack to punch above their weight, a la Leicester City. With this in mind 7th place would look to be where should Everton be aiming and the best it can for now hope for, but as we enter the final third of the current campaign the runes fail to suggest that this bare minimum for Silva is likely to be realized.
Silva will perhaps be justified in refusing to take the rap for what is now starting to look like an underachieving, over paid, and extortionately assembled squad, but a manager’s lot is never as straightforward as being absolved from blame when his players fail to perform. It therefore seems harsh but in keeping with the general unforgiving nature of football management that should an upturn in Everton’s fortunes be conspicuous by its absence, Marco Silva’s top-flight managerial bolt could very well already be shot.