Friday 23 February 2018

Unifying leader Silva is worth his weight in gold

Hull City manager Marco Silva. Photo: Sportsfile
Hull City manager Marco Silva. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

This year Hull is the UK's City of Culture and that is bringing the work of worldwide artists and artistes to its many museums and public buildings. Hull City are, at the moment, a Premier League team. Their fate is in the hands of one of the hottest properties among European coaches - Marco Silva.

Hull City fans are already begging for Silva to stay but with turmoil behind the scenes and a squad to rebuild, it seems unlikely the 39-year-old Portuguese coach will be in charge at the KCom Stadium next season whether he saves the club from relegation or not. He has already been linked with potential vacancies at Southampton and Watford and his representatives have the influence to alert Inter Milan's owner after their recent sacking of Stefano Pioli.

When he arrived in East Yorkshire in January, Silva was not made welcome, by the fans of Hull City, or many in the English media. Sky pundits Paul Merson and Phil Thompson in particular ridiculed his appointment, claiming he knew nothing about the Premier League and had deprived a British coach of an opportunity. They look daft now but they were far from being alone.

Unlike Silva, they had not done their homework. After he had been approached about the possibility of replacing Mike Phelan, Silva and his coaching team spent a week forensically assessing Hull the team, the club, the city, the fans and, most importantly, their chances of success.

By the time assistant head coach Joao Pedro Sousa, first team coach Goncalo Pedro and goalkeeping coach Hugo Oliveira had taken residence with their boss at Hull's training ground in leafy Cottingham village five miles from the city, the January transfer window was wide open and Silva had a list of loan signings to bolster a squad which was the smallest and youngest in the Premier League. In came Everton striker Oumar Niasse, midfielders Alfred N'Diaye from Villarreal and Lazar Markovic from Liverpool, plus defenders Omar Elabdellaoui of Olympiakos and Inter Milan's Andrea Ranocchia.

Initially it looked like Silva would be hampered by the immediate sale for £20m of goalscoring midfielder Robert Snodgrass to West Ham and the influential Jake Livermore to West Brom. He signed the wonderful Polish winger Kamil Grosicki in a £9m deal from Rennes and paid £2m for Porto's Brazilian midfielder Evandro. All the signings have made a significant impact and their arrival has coincided with an injury for Ireland's David Meyler which has ruled him out until next season.

Persuading vice-chairman Ehab Allam to spend that money may have been Silva's shrewdest move but without the controversial ruling family owner's backing, Silva would have walked. His growing reputation and ambitions are at stake here, and he will have made no secret to Allam that he is using the banks of the Humber as a stepping stone to bigger things.

On the day he took over, Silva said he needed 'a miracle' to keep Hull City in the Premier League and he would not have contemplated continuing without the tools, and players, to give him a chance. Allam's relationship with the fans may be irreparable but his decision to back Silva has given Hull a fighting chance of survival, enhancing a quicker, and more lucrative, sale of the club for his family.

Silva's first game, an FA Cup win over Swansea City, was played in front of just 6,608, as thousands more fans protested outside the ground against the owners, who lost their core support over their insistence, despite repeated opposition, to change the club name to Hull Tigers. The refusal since to provide Premier League standard finances to Steve Bruce, who walked out, and then Phelan, has been of no benefit to anyone, including Silva.

But against that disruptive backdrop, Silva has prevailed and reignited belief among supporters. Hull won six of their seven home games under Silva, including a 2-0 victory over Liverpool, preserving his astonishing unbeaten home record which stretched back three years. Away from home they have been less successful, earning just two points from eight games.

And then last week, Sunderland, already relegated, turned up at the KCOM, belied their status, and won 2-0. It was a demoralising defeat for Hull who slipped back into the bottom three.

The fans have returned to back Silva too and asked how much influence they have had on Hull's revival, he said: "I know from the feedback after the Sunderland defeat that they still believe in our team and that is important to us. They have been fantastic in every game. Well maybe not so much for the first game, but we know the reasons why. Since then they have supported the team, we know they will be there every week and we have been together. I repeat, they have been fantastic. Do I feel a personal bond with them? Yes, but they support the players and all the staff but I know they support me."

Meticulous research and preparation are the key to Silva's emergence as a coach who intends to get to the very top of the game, and stay there. As a player he was an average right-back who played just two Portuguese Primeira Liga games in his career but more than 100 games for Estoril. He retired five years ago, at the age of 34, and Estoril offered him the manager's job in 2012. He led the struggling side from second division obscurity to fifth and fourth in the Primeira Liga, and Europe.

Sporting Lisbon then came calling and after signing a four-year contract, in his first season he finished third and won the Portuguese Cup; the club's first trophy in seven years. He was sacked four days later, apparently for not wearing his club suit in an earlier cup match against FC Vizela.

Silva replaced Vitor Pereira at Olympiakos a month later and on the way to winning the club's record 43rd league title, his team won a European record 17 consecutive league games and beat Arsenal at the Emirates in the Champions League group stages. But he quit after a year, citing personal reasons.

He now has two games to save Hull City and only successive victories will give them any chance of retaining their top flight status following Swansea's 2-0 win at Sunderland yesterday. Hull's unlikely escapology attempt begins with an away day at Crystal Palace today. Despite their wins over Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in recent weeks, Sam Allardyce's side remain within touching distance of their visitors and the drop. Allardyce is the expert in Premier League survival and a meeting with him under these circumstances is as tough as it gets. As ever, Silva is well prepared in words and actions.

"They are a strong team. We have analysed their matches at home and the results are not the best but they are a very attacking team with two wingers and a striker and they are always tough for the opposition. It will be an interesting match. All the set-pieces, all those moments when a team is really strong in the transition, they will decide the game.

"We try to play well in every game, but this is not the moment when playing well matters, it is about the result and winning the game. It is a big fight for both teams and it is easy to say there is more pressure on their team, but we feel it as well.

"There are some specific things which are different in England to other leagues but this is football. There are always pressures on managers in every league to fight against relegation or for titles. It is important the players play this game like a final. We are committed, we believe we can win the game and it is important we keep our focus and we deliver in the key moments in the game."

On the site of Boothferry Park, the famous old stadium, training ground and supermarket frontage of Hull City AFC there is now a vast housing estate. Where once Tigers played 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 there are luxury three-storey apartments and two, three and four-bed homes.

The street names across the area give little away to the not-so-famous names who failed, in Boothferry Park's 56 years, to take the ground and Hull City into English football's top division. That didn't happen until it had finally been demolished in 2008 and Dean Windass, once sold to keep the club afloat as the stadium crumbled, scored a £60m Premier League play-off Wembley winner. This is now their third stint in the division.

Even Hull-born Windass didn't make the cut when the planners started putting names to the streets and avenues, although bizarrely Viggo Jensen, a Danish player from the 1950s who made more than 300 appearances for the club, has his solitary tribute down Jensen Way. The rest are Tigers Way; Black and Amber Way; Legends Way; Bunkers Hill Road, a reference to an old section of terracing; and Boothferry Park Halt, the name of the ground's dedicated rail station, shut down in the 1980s. There is no Ken Wagstaff Way, Chris Chilton Close, Alan Fettis Road or Raich Carter Avenue. And there is no Marco Silva Street. Yet.

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