Watford, Marco Silva and his unprecedented ambition

Date published: Thursday 16th November 2017 10:07

Poor old Watford. A generation ago, a club performing above expectations would not be picked off until after they had peaked and were heading back to relative obscurity. That soon changed when rampant commercialisation came, but even then a club could enjoy a full season of joy before those at the top of the food chain began to circle.

Now, with clubs as the epitome of needy consumerism, you get three months. Brazilian Richarlison has started 11 matches in English football, and yet a host of clubs are reportedly considering making a move in January or next summer. The reward for effective scouting might be a profit of £20m-£30m.

The more immediate concern for Watford is the interest in manager Marco Silva from Everton. The Independent’s Jack Pitt-Brooke first reported Watford rejecting Everton’s request to speak to their manager, and a reported £8.5m sweetener will apparently not be enough to persuade them otherwise. But Everton will persist.

That £8.5m figure, dwarfed by most top-flight transfer fees, emphasises just how much managers are undervalued in comparison to players; that will surely change soon. Should Everton want Watford’s best player it would cost them £40m – why not the manager?

You can see why Everton are prepared to pay for Silva. It is 24 days since they sacked Ronald Koeman, and are no closer to finding a permanent replacement. If they have decided that they do not want Sean Dyche, Sam Allardyce or David Unsworth, Silva is the best-fit option. He has experience of the Premier League and has a CV without a significant black mark. Time is ticking at Goodison.

More intriguing is that Silva is seemingly happy to entertain Everton’s offer and keen to make the move, having managed Watford for only 12 matches. It rails against our expectations of managers, who rarely leave clubs after brief tenures of their own accord. A short stay indicates disaster, not the opposite.

The regular accusation is that the Premier League has embraced a sacking culture in which owners are unrealistically impatient, so it’s perhaps surprising that only five times in the last 13 years have managers moved between Premier League clubs mid-season: Alan Pardew, Owen Coyle, Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce and Graeme Souness. Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis, those great Premier League ‘firefighters’ (a term that hints at averting disaster before immediately moving on), actually tend to stick around long after the dying embers have been extinguished.

In fact, if Silva did leave for Everton he would become a unique case: the first foreign manager to leave one Premier League club for another in mid-season.

If Silva’s ambition is surprising, he can hardly be blamed for displaying it, even if it jars against our expectation of normal managerial conduct. He got his break in the Premier League at the club ensconced at the bottom of the table. Here was a manager who had taken a second-tier team up to fourth place in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, won Sporting’s first silverware for seven years and recorded a European record for consecutive domestic wins at Olympiakos. The prize? Hull City, and some still argued that he had been promoted beyond his merit.

Having jumped ship to Watford, who finished 17th last season, Silva has transformed the team’s playing style and fortunes. Watford took 38% of their total points from last season in their first nine matches, despite significant injuries to Younes Kaboul, Nathaniel Chalobah, Roberto Pereyra and Sebastian Prodl.

If Watford supporters might understandably feel a little short-changed by their still-new coach, they should remember that loyalty is a two-way street. Watford have had 11 different managers since anybody reached 100 matches in charge – Aidy Boothroyd in 2008. None of the last six have managed more than 44 games before departing, and none of those have reached the first anniversary of their appointments. Under the Pozzo family ownership, Watford have been a club addicted to short-termism.

Under those circumstances, you can’t really complain when a manager, aware that they will be quickly tossed aside if things go awry, looks after No. 1. Every other stakeholder in football is guilty of impatience, so why shouldn’t ambitious coaches be the same?

Silva is a feelgood manager with a thriving reputation. After almost a year in England, his reputation is only now as high as it is in his homeland. That says plenty about the insularity of our domestic game.

The key to forging a successful managerial career is not just winning matches, but knowing when is the best time to make your move up the ladder; that’s generally when your stock is highest. Marco Silva’s worth is no greater than his ambitions.

Daniel Storey – His Portrait of an Icon book is the perfect Christmas present. All the proceeds go to a cancer charity.

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