Marco Silva: On Loyalty & Hindsight

by | Jan 21, 2018

So, farewell for now then, Marco Silva, whose departure from Watford this morning following yesterday afternoon’s defeat at Stoke City brings to a close one of the more unusual of the Hornets’ recent forays into the curious world of fixed-term managership. Silva’s time in English football has overall come to be characterised by unusual twists and turns. His arrival at Hull City at the very beginning of this year saw him considered something of a footballing dead man walking. The club’s overall condition at the time put Silva into something of a no-lose situation. Nobody expected Hull to stay up before the start of last season, and Silva found himself heaped with praise for merely giving the impression that the team had something of a chance of avoiding the drop until the last couple of weeks of the season.

Expectations at Watford for this season were higher than they had been at Hull City upon his arrival at Vicarage Road in the summer, but not by a great deal. Watford finished last season one place above the Premier League relegation places (albeit six points above the drop itself), but a season that had drifted away from the club had left an air of some despond over Vicarage Road, and for anybody who doesn’t expect to finish higher than seventh place in the table the ambition for the following season is usually to seek to avoid the drop before anything else is considered. But if Watford was nowhere being the basket case that Hull City was, this was an opportunity for Silva to prove his capabilities.

The honeymoon period between Silva and the club, however, turned out to be considerable shorter than most would have anticipated. The season had started well when Everton came a-knocking. The first nine games of the season had seen the team lifted into the top half of the Premier League and it felt as though Silva had already demonstrated some of the key performance indicators for which he would be required to demonstrate capability if he were to use the club as a springboard to a bigger and better job. The pundits were full of praise. Early season results included a home draw against Liverpool and a win against Arsenal. Things were progressing well.

Since then, however, the wheels have fallen off Watford’s season. When Everton decided to dispense with the services of Ronald Koeman Silva became one of their primary targets. Silva’s move to Goodison Park didn’t come off, of course, but the seeds of discontentment which led us to where we are today were well and truly sown at that point. Watford have played thirteen matches since Everton trired to prise Silva away from the club and they’ve only won three of them, with two of those wins coming in November. Their more recent form has seen them lose seven of their last eight matches, and while those who would continue to view Silva’s time in charge of the club through rose-tinted spectacles will continue to hold onto the fact that his team remains in tenth place in the table, such is the congested nature of the bottom half of the Premier League table that what looks at first glance like mid-table security might also be considered a team just four points above the relegation places and near the bottom of the division’s form table.

There are few clubs, players or managers who emerge with any great credit when we talk of the notion of loyalty in modern football. Indeed, Watford’s carousel approach to the manager’s seat at Vicarage Road in recent years might make it seem a bit rich for the club to complain should another club approach their manager with an eye to filling a position elsewhere that might be considered more stable. However, the matter of what happened in this particular case isn’t particularly about Watford. Marco Silva had been the club’s manager for just nine Premier League matches when he found his head being turned by the Everton job.

Modern football management is a dog eat dog world, no-one would seriously dispute that, but the fact that the Watford board saw fit to note the destabilising influence that Everton’s interest had on the manager himself indicates that the club was unhappy at his lack of application after this job became available. What, exactly, is the point, they might well argue, in apapointing a manager for so long as a season if the manager is going to have his head turned after just nine matches? This, after all, is stronger wording than we are used to in an official club statement explaining a managerial sacking:

The catalyst for this decision is that unwarranted approach, something which the Board believes has seen a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford FC has been jeopardised.

For the security and success of the football club, the Board believes it has to make a change.

There will be those, of course, who will criticise Watford for not having a crystal ball. They should, it will be argued, have accepted the £15m that they were offered in November for his services. This, however, doesn’t take into account that at the time of Everton’s approach the club was coming off the back of an excellent start to the season and that Silva was at that time one of the darlings of the media’s eyes. It seems a little excessive, regardless of what one might think of their policy of appointing a new manager at the start of each season, to expect those running the club to have been able to predict the extent to which Silva would lose his focus in the job so quickly. Is it a lesson that the club’s directors will take a great deal from? Well, the replacement is Javier Gracia, a middling Spanish coach with little reputation to speak of and only a couple of Segunda División B titles to show for almost a decade and a half in the coaching game. Perhaps the Pozzos have found a diamond in the rough. Whether the club’s current predicament is the right time to be experimenting in such a way is something that we’ll know the answer to come the end of the season.

As for Silva himself, meanwhile… well, there are few managers whose stock has plummeted so quickly in recent times. Talked up as a potential successor to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal just a couple of months ago, the stinging rebuke in that club statement following his departure from Vicarage Road may even give future employers pause for thought before picking up the phone to talk to him about any forthcoming vacancies at their clubs. It might not be a situation that lasts for terribly long, of course. Football club owners are hardly known for their long-term thinking and Silva at least knows how to set up a team and has demonstrated flashes of his ability elsewhere. He did, however, allow his head to be turned too quickly by Everton and this is, we might hope, a lesson that he will take into his future. Professional football and those involved in it, however, are not best known for learning from the mistakes of the past.