Silva out to restore reputation at Fulham

Once regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in Europe, Marco Silva’s appointment at Fulham is very much a case of the Portuguese trying to prove his doubters wrong.

The former Hull, Watford and Everton boss was announced as Scott Parker’s replacement earlier this week, signing a three-year contract, and handed the tough task of masterminding a third promotion for the Whites in five years.

Silva had been out of work since being sacked by Everton in December 2019 following a humiliating 5-2 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield just 16 months after the Toffees paid £4m in compensation to Watford for his services.

However, that bitterly disappointing finish to his Goodison Park career masked some positives from his time on Merseyside, where he is remembered by staff at the club as a deeply-focused but approachable individual, driven by a desire to make players better on the training field.

The emergence of Dominic Calvin-Lewin from a raw and rugged centre-forward prospect into an England international came under the watch of the 43-year-old, who guided Everton to a respectable eighth-place Premier League finish in his first season in charge.

Silva also signed Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Lucas Digne who have all gone on to become key men at a club that has turned over players and managers at an alarming rate since Iranian billionaire Farhad Moshiri took over in 2016.

But things turned sour midway through his second campaign.

With Everton fans demanding a more passionate sideline presence with less focus on possession stats from their manager, and after eight league defeats in 11 games with the side sitting in the bottom three, the axe was wielded.

Silva arrived at Hull in January 2017, largely unknown in this country but with a big reputation in his homeland after guiding minnows Estoril to promotion and the Europa League in successive seasons in his first managerial role, and led Sporting Lisbon to domestic cup success.

His appointment also came very much at a time when Portuguese coaches were in vogue in English football – largely because of Jose Mourinho’s achievements.

Silva’s previous job had been a two-year spell at Olympiakos, where he led the Greek giants to a 43rd league title and also a 3-2 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in a Champions League tie, before he left owing to personal reasons.

The Tigers were rooted to the foot of the Premier League when the young coach took over and looked certainties for relegation.

Although he ultimately failed to keep Hull in the top flight, under his guidance the team chalked up 21 points in their final 19 games, including a memorable 2-0 win over Liverpool, and reached the semi-finals of the League Cup.

That body of work was enough to convince Watford to appoint him as their manager in August 2017 after he walked away from Hull, claiming he had no real desire to coach in the Championship.

He got off to a flying start at Vicarage Road, guiding the Hornets to fourth in the Premier League in October after beating Arsenal.

But his relationship with the club soon turned sour and ended in acrimonious circumstances after his head was turned by an unofficial approach by Everton after the dismissal of Ronald Koeman.

With results tailing off after Christmas, Watford’s notoriously trigger-happy owners showed him the door, claiming his courting with Everton had led to uncertainty around the team.

A manager who has had three different jobs in as many years would have alarm bells ringing in many club boardrooms, but Fulham owner Shahid Khan said he was bowled over by Silva after meeting him in Portugal last week.

He becomes the seventh permanent manager Khan has appointed since he bought the club eight years ago and the new man has a huge job on his hands following the Whites’ dispiriting relegation last season.

All seven of the loan players signed by Parker last season have returned to their parent clubs but Fulham still boast a bloated squad – many of who face uncertain futures at Craven Cottage.

Stefan Johansen, Anthony Knockhaert, Maxime Le Marchand, Jean Michael Seri, Cyrus Christie, Neeskens Kebano, Aboubakar Kamara and Steven Sessignon all return after loan spells having been marginalised by Parker last season.

Silva will undoubtedly be keen to bring in his own signings, but he must also win round players who played significant roles in getting the team promoted in 2020 only to sit on the sidelines and watch highly-paid loanees brought in to replace them fail to keep the team in the top flight.

Proven Championship performers such as Michael Hector, Tim Ream, Marek Rodek, Denis Odoi and Joe Bryan played just 30 league games between them last season but will be called on again to get the team back up knowing they may not get to play if they are successful.

Silva must also decide if he wants to keep Aleksander Mitrovic – the club’s highest-paid player and a proven goalscorer at Championship level.

The Serbian looked a shadow of the red-hot striker that scored 26 goals in the promotion-winning season against Premier League defenders, finding the net just three times, and there were concerns inside the club about his fitness and attitude with his relationship with Parker deteriorating towards the latter end of the campaign.

Silva also has the task of demonstrating there is a path to the first team for some of the club’s highly-rated youngsters after the Under-18s won the 2020/21 national academy final.

His ability to improve and involve young players was another factor for his appointment and with academy graduates Tyrese Francois, Sylvester Jaspar and Fabio Carvalho all enjoying a taste of first-team involvement at the back end of last season he will be expected to try and integrate them into his squad.

In many ways, the squad Silva has at his disposal would be the envy of every other Championship club.

But as Fulham supporters well know after two tense trips to the play-offs in their last two seasons at this level, that is no guarantee of automatic promotion in one of the most demanding and competitive leagues in world football.

Teams that do have success are generally the ones that hit the ground running.

Silva will know there is little room for error with the pressure on for an instant return to the Premier League – and his reputation in this country very much on the line.