Everton could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
The process of appointing Marco Silva was protracted and risked legal action (the club eventually agreed to pay Watford £4milion compensation to avoid any further action), but they finally had their man.
“Marco is a young coach but also an experienced coach, and he’s worked already at the top, while also gaining experience of the Premier League which is also an important factor,” Marcel Brands said after Silva’s appointment in June 2018. “One of the most important things is that he’s a guy who wants to play attractive, attacking football and also wants to work in the structure we have at Everton.”
The initial optimism that swirled around Goodison Park has long since dissolved, however, and Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to bottom of the table Norwich City felt like the final straw. Silva’s arrival in English football was polarising. Paul Merson earned criticism for questioning why Hull City had ignored a handful of promising Championship managers in favour of Silva.
In the other camp were those familiar with Silva’s work at Estoril, where he took the club into the Europa League against the odds. His spell with the Tigers ultimately saw the club relegated, but he had at least given them a fighting chance of survival.
That enticed Watford to take a chance on him. Nicknamed the ‘Mini Mourinho’, Silva’s reputation was fast growing.
“His training was just so good,” Tony Taylor, a player of Silva’s at Estoril told Sky Sports. “He was tactically sound and very attentive to the details.”
Pajtim Kasami, was as effusive. “He is like a genius,” the Olympiakos player said.
Silva began brightly at both Hull and Watford. He won 6 of his first 13 Premier League games at Vicarage Road but won just a further five league games that season. Perhaps what has been most surprising about his time at Everton is the absence of that same honeymoon period.
Last season was littered with inconsistency, and the same is true this time around. Everton have not developed a settled way of playing under Silva. The Portuguese is quick to experiment, and when it produces a good result, he sticks true to that until it doesn’t, at which point he starts experimenting again. It has left fans feeling frustrated at what feels like a manager aimlessly jumping from idea to idea.
After beating Southampton Silva named an unchanged side for the game against Norwich on Saturday. The Canaries took the lead in the 54th minute. In response, Silva introduced Alex Iwobi for Morgan Schneiderlin and dropped Gylfi Sigurdsson into central midfield alongside Tom Davies. Ten minutes later, more changes arrived as Dominic Calvert-Lewin came on for Theo Walcott and Everton switched from a 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2.
His final change saw Seamus Coleman replace Djibril Sidibe, for which little was gained.
In defence of Silva, the responsibility for Everton’s predicament does not solely rest with him. Farhad Moshiri’s ambition has manifested in impulsive financial decisions. Silva is the club’s third permanent manager since 2016. Signings like Sigurdsson for £45 million, Theo Walcott £20 million, and Cenk Tosun £27.5 million were big-money deals that lacked forethought.
Marcel Brands arrived at the same time as Silva, and this summer he oversaw the arrival of young players like Moise Kean for €27.5 million, and Alex Iwobi for £28million. Iwobi has managed just six Premier League starts under Silva, and Kean has not played in the league since Mid-October.
Silva’s willingness to rely on older heads is a critical blind spot and highlights how much work there is still to be done on this imbalanced Everton squad. On the pitch, the season is only 13 games in, and Everton have lost seven times, including to all three promoted clubs. There is already talk of David Moyes coming back to replace him, but that hardly feels like a long-term solution.
The club have stressed that Silva will remain as manager for the game against Leicester City. The Foxes are a harsh reminder of where Everton want to be, and also how far they are from that level. A loss against Brendan Rodgers will almost certainly spell the end of the Marco Silva era, and what may follow is likely to bring a sigh, but not much relief.