Hull City: Missing The Point, Again
In the high octane, fast moving world of football manager replacement, it can often feel as though there isn’t a great deal of sympathy for those that have been cast aside. This doesn’t seem to have been the situation in the case of Mike Phelan and Hull City, though. Phelan, according to the majority consensus, walked into an impossible job at The KCom Stadium. Hull City were promoted into the Premier League via the play-offs in May of last year, an end of season denouement totally at odds with the level of discord behind the scenes at the club of late. The extraordinary inertia on the part of the club’s owners to put any of the soon to follow wealth accrued as a result of this promotion was enough to convince Steve Bruce – who had, during an earlier chapter in the story of strife between supporters and owners that takes up so much of the club’s recent history, perhaps wrong-headedly sided emphatically with the owners – that this season would be unmanageable, a state of affairs that led to Phelan taking over, first as caretaker and then on a more permanent basis.
Four months on, Phelan has now also departed, with Hull City’s season having thus far played out much as most would have expected. Indeed, the couple of wins at the start of the season, which proved instrumental in him being offered the position on a “full-time” – a phrase that is now increasingly required to be placed in inverted commas for all managerial appointments, these days – basis might even now be considered to have been wildly over-achieving. With a squad of players barely big enough to coat the club’s substitutes bench, Phelan has turned out not to be the alchemist that the Allams might have hoped for. Over the course of the season, the club has drifted slowly towards the bottom end of the table like the wreckage of an air crash sinking to the bottom of the ocean, but Phelan can at least depart from the club with the satisfaction of having taken it to a League Cup semi-final, even if this aforementioned satisfaction is tempered somewhat by the disappointment at the fact that he won’t get to duel over two legs against Manchester United, the club with which he spent five years as a player and fourteen as a member of the coaching staff, in various capacities.
On paper, there seemed to be a perfect candidate for the job. The former Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett was relieved of his duties at St Andrews just before Christmas. He has experience of working with one hand tied his back and with club owners who err towards the crazy end of that particular spectrum. He remains highly regarded despite his dismissal from that job, it would be a step up – even if only a temporary one – and he’s available. All of this, however, is reckoning without the position of the Allams on that aforementioned spectrum of football club craziness, and so it was that within hours of Phelan’s departure – it is striking that the owners of Hull City seem more prepared to pay several millions of pounds in compensation to manager that they’ve recently fired during a transfer window than they would spend any money on players that might help to keep the club with its nose in the Premier League trough for at least another year – attention had already started to turn to Marco Silva, a coach with… no experience whatsoever of the vagaries of the game in this country.
So who is this Marco Alexandre Saraiva da Silva, with whom Hull City are being so closely associated at the moment? Well, all bar one year of his career in the game was spent in Portugal. His playing career ended with six years as a player with Estoril, whom he went on to manage with a degree of distinction for a further three years, taking the club into Portugal’s Primera Division for the first time in seven years, before departing to Lisbon’s legendary Sporting in 2014. His one season at that club ended in the sack, with a third placed league finish and a cup win not being deemed to meet the lofty expectation of a club of that stature. He wasn’t out of work for long, though, spending last season in Greece with Olympiacos, where he lifted the league title before departing last summer, citing personal reasons. He’s young, at thirty-nine years old, but his managerial career hasn’t been without success. Perhaps he could be the surprise choice to rescue a dismal season for the club. Stranger things have most definitely happened.
On the other hand, however, perhaps he won’t. There has been a growing perception in recent years that the sacking of managers has increasingly become a deflection technique that owners use to employ to focus attention elsewhere during (in)convenient times. Hull City supporters are due to be boycotting the club’s forthcoming FA Cup Third Round match against Swansea City this weekend, and sacking a manager will most likely deflect media attention away from this. It is, of course, pure conjecture to comment upon this potential link, but it can’t be completely ruled out. It doesn’t seem to make sense that, if the owners of the club just wish to hang on, running it on the cheap, banking a sizeable Premier League TV rights cheque at the end of the season and then several more years’ worth of parachute payments, they should spend so much money on ushering the manager out of the door at this time of year.
Hull City have, of course, been up for sale for some considerable time, and optimists within the club’s support may well be hoping that this replacement at this time could be the precursor to a far bigger announcement, that of the club coming under new ownership while the January transfer window is still open. It’s conjecture, of course, but at least it makes some form of logical sense. Well, more logical sense than changing the club’s name to Hull City Tigers might ever have, at least. At a club at which common sense seemed to go flying out of the window quite a long time ago, looking for logical answers to anything might feel a little like chasing up blind alleyways. It is, however, completely understandable that they would do so. After all, the next most likely rationale for much of what has been going on at Hull City in recent years, that the Allams have little coherent plan of what they’re doing and that they’re chasing the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that may not even exist, doesn’t seem very appealing at all.
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