On Saturday, the Sky Sports Gillette Soccer Special panel was given the chance to discuss Marco Silva’s arrival into English football at the Premier League’s bottom club, Hull City.
We can assume that presenter Jeff Stelling was aware that Paul Merson and Phil Thompson both held strong views on the appointment by the way he phrased his initial question, but what then followed was a truly astonishing rant. Astonishing enough to provoke Mediawatch into sleepy weekend action anyway.
Initially, Stelling tells Merson that Silva has good pedigree as the ex-Olympiakos and Sporting Lisbon manager. We’ll let the pair take over from there:
Merson: “I could win the league with Olympiakos. They’ve won it 107 times and it’s only been going 106 years.”
Paul Merson’s managerial career to date consists of a 94-game spell in charge of Walsall. He was appointed with the club in the Championship and he left them 19th in League One and with supporters protesting against his continued employment. No comment on Silva’s successful Sporting tenure or getting Estoril into the top flight and becoming the first manager in over five years to win a league game at Porto, you understand.
Merson: “The thing is, why does it always have to be a foreign manager? I’ve got nothing against foreign managers, but…”
But what? You just don’t want them at English football clubs? You don’t like them? Them getting jobs at English clubs makes you so angry you have to wipe spittle from your mouth?
Merson: “These ex-footballers are spending four or five years getting their badges, and what for? None of them are getting a chance.”
Ex-footballers like Mike Phelan, you mean? Who was given a chance by a little-known club called Hull City, completely failed and was quickly replaced?
Merson: “This is a good job. Hull are a good team, great stadium, some very good players.”
Clever this, from Merson. So now Silva is in charge Hull are a good team with very good players, and therefore if he fails, it is his fault.
Weird then that Merson’s last ten Premier League predictions for Hull have seen them draw one game, lose nine and concede 25 goals. Not so good after all.
Merson: “What’s he know about the Premier League? What’s he know?”
Given that Merson readily admits to not knowing much about Silva himself, we can reasonably estimate that he also doesn’t know much about how much Silva knows about the Premier League, if you’ll forgive the horribly extended sentence. You may detect a slight insinuation that Silva knows nothing.
Silva himself addressed this issue in his first press conference, of course: “In Greece I was already thinking about the next step – learning English was part of that. The Premier League is the biggest league. Now my biggest ambition is this miracle.”
So we can assume that having learned the language, Silva might also have done plenty of research on the league. ‘Three points for a win is it? Any extra points for scoring with your head? No? Grand.’
Thompson: “It’s totally astonishing that they have plumped for someone like this. It’s baffling. When there are a lot of people out there who know about the Premier League, about what’s required to dig in. He’s not got a clue.”
And there we have it, the motherlode: The assumption that foreigners can’t know about the Premier League? Check. The grouping together of all foreign coaches under the umbrella of ‘people like this’? Check. The accusation that foreigners are unable to ‘dig in’? Check. They’re all too busy drinking their strong coffee, kissing each other on the cheeks and shrugging to learn about pashun, after all.
Thompson: “It’s manna from heaven for him, with this CV, to be given a job like this.”
From a fine job at Estoril to Sporting to Olympiakos, where he managed in the Champions League. And Hull City is supposed to be improving Silva’s CV? That City of Culture tag really did wonders for the place.
Merse (when asked if Gary Rowett would even have taken the job): “Any manager of the world, unless you’re at Barcelona, Real Madrid and probably Atletico Madrid, every manager out there wants to manager in the Premier League. It is the ultimate.”
Sure, but the job on offer here wasn’t just a generic ‘managing in the Premier League’, was it; it was ‘Hull City manager’. And that’s slightly different.
But this really is golden. Can anyone truly be so obsessed with the Premier League that they believe managing Hull City is more attractive than Bayern Munich, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, Paris St Germain and a list of about 200 other sodding clubs? If so, we have a real problem on our hands.
Still, “probably” not Atletico, eh?
Merson: “This guy’s name will be known all round the world in two weeks. It’s a worldwide league.”
Presumably Merson has not spotted the irony in his own words. He thinks the Premier League is great because it’s a worldwide league and known around the world, but doesn’t want managers from around the world to come here unless they are in the top five in the world.
At this point, Matt Le Tissier (very much the hero of the hour) then points out that Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t that well-known to Merson or Thompson when he joined the Premier League, something that causes something of a silence amid our Brit devotees. That silence is broken by both squawking “Six months! Six months!” in reference to the length of Silva’s contract.
So is that the real problem here? If so, it’s not that weird to think that a short-term contract makes sense given that relegation is the likely end result for the worst team in the Premier League. Presumably if Silva had been given a four-year deal, Merson and Thompson would have been happy?
Thompson: “It’s just another slap in the face to British coaches and managers, and what they have done to make this appointment for six months is just embarrassing.”
It’s at this point that Stelling asks Thompson for a name other than Rowett; no answer is forthcoming. Instead, Thompson says any manager in the Championship or below, because ‘they know the league’. Mediawatch isn’t quite sure why all of them would know the league more than Silva if they’d never managed or played in it, but that doesn’t matter does it? As long as it’s British jobs for British clubs, all is well.
So let’s look at the top of the Championship, and the ones who ‘should be given a chance’: Rafa Benitez (foreign), Chris Hughton (had a chance in the Premier League), Jaap Stam (foreign), David Wagner (foreign), Garry Monk (had a chance in the Premier League), Carlos Carvalhal (foreign), Steve McClaren (had a chance in the Premier League), Paul Heckingbottom (Barnsley’s youth team coach a year ago and would be twice the gamble Silva is), Alex Neil (had a chance in the Premier League) and Slavisa Jokanovic (foreign)…
That’s the truly embarrassing aspect of all this. Hull City are a club whose owners have treated the fans appallingly, of that there is no doubt. But to use this appointment to champion the downtrodden British managers and dismiss a coach on the basis of his nationality is ludicrous. Since taking over in 2010, Hull’s owners have employed Nigel Pearson (young British manager), Nicky Barmby (young British manager), Steve Bruce (British manager) and Mike Phelan (British manager). It’s hardly astonishing that they might want to try something different. When you’re left siding with Assem Allam on football matters, the alternative argument must be truly rotten.
To end, Mediawatch will simply remind you of the quote from Lawrie McMenemy, when Pochettino was appointed at Southampton. You might spot a pattern: “With due respect to Pochettino, what does he know about our game? What does he know about the Premier League? Does he speak English?”
Silva may well not succeed in the Premier League; that is not the point being made. The point is that dismissing title-winning coaches with Champions League experience, after they are appointed at a club as relatively modest as Hull City, based solely on their nationality is unhelpfully xenophobic.
Perhaps if British coaches would consider moving abroad, they too could win titles and domestic cups. Until then, it’s probably easier to just to moan about Johnny Foreigner taking our jobs.
Mediawatch makes no apology for wishing Marco Silva all the very best.