Marco Silva | The New Special One

Silva | FI

The change in fortunes for Watford this season has been remarkable. From being a club languishing at the bottom and fighting the relegation battle to currently playing with a swagger, comfortably in the top half of the premier league, picking up one prized scalp after another. This change in fortunes has no doubt coincided with Watford appointing Marco Silva, their new head coach at the start of the season. Such has been the influence of Marco, that just after 16 wins (at the time of writing) in Premier League in two seasons with two different clubs, he is the most sought after manager in Premier League right now. Coming from Portugal, comparisons are inevitable with his Portuguese counterparts in Mourinho and Villas-Boas. Like Mourinho and Villas-Boas, there is an aura of exhilaration around him. He would want to emulate Mourinho and while that is no doubt a tall order for any manager, he already is starting to build on his way there. With the likes of Eddie Howe and Marco Silva in the Premier League, the rise of new young managers seems to

He was born in Lisbon in 1977 and he finished his youth career with C.F. Os Belenenses, for whom he also went to make one of his only two appearances in Primeira Liga. He played in the right-back position and he had a 15-year long playing career where he alternated between second and third divisions. In 2005, he made a switch to G.D. Estoril Praia for whom he played for the next 6 years which was his longest stint with any club and he made 109 appearances from them, scoring 2 goals taking his total appearances to 240 and 4 goals that he scored throughout his professional playing career.

He retired at the age of 34 but he stayed a part of Estoril, immediately being appointed as Director of Football. This acknowledged his interest in management, his hard-working nature, the respect he commanded from the players and staff and it was fuelled by the fact that he always wanted to be part of the training sessions in the latter part of his playing career. But soon after becoming Director of Football, it was a new role for him, the club had a poor start and the then manager Vinicius Eutropio was sacked and Marco was appointed the coach for the rest of the season. At that point of time, Estroli was languishing at 10th position in the second division. Not much was expected from Marco except that he would steady the ship for some time, he started with a defeat, but after that he only lost the next 3 out of the 24 matches the team played, incredibly finishing first by a margin of 5 points. Next season when the expectation was to not get relegated, he achieved the club’s second-highest position of 5th, one above Sporting, which is one of the big 3 clubs of Portugal. In the subsequent season, he improved the position by finishing 4th, with all the major clubs in Portugal found themselves scrambling around to get their hands on the most exciting Portuguese talent of recent times.

He moved to Sporting on a 4-year deal and started developing a reputation to build a side which would play attractive football on a tight budget. Sporting had seen a bit of a slowdown at that time, they had only won the League twice in the last 32 seasons. They went on to become a solid team but were not able to win the league. However they went on to win their first silverware in 7 years when they won Taca de Portugal. The whole club was ecstatic, especially considering the retaliation they showed when they were trailing 2-0, down to 10 men, with 5 minutes remaining when scored twice and went on to win on penalties.

Days after this victory, he was sacked by the Sporting board for disciplinary reasons which had accumulated for the whole season, including not wearing a club suit to a game.  However his good performances were being noticed and he moved to Olympiacos next. There he went on to lead them to win in 28 of their 30 matches, winning the 43rd Greek Championship and defeating their nearest rival by a staggering 30 points. They won a record 17 consecutive domestic matches and claimed a 3-2 Champions League victory over Arsenal at the Emirates which was their first in 50 years on English soil.  Here too, Silva left the club citing personal reasons this time around.

A brief hiatus later, he was again looking for opportunities, and when Hull sacked their manager Mike Phelan, they were sure to go down and no manager was ready to take the vacant position, except Marco Silva. He took over Hull when the club was in a precarious position and after his appointment, immediately their performances improved. Despite the precarious position the club was in, they played an attacking brand of football. However, even though Silva has built a reputation for over-achievement in his every objective till date, he fell short of his most unlikeliest achievement till now- improving Hull’s position from bottom to just one short of safety.  In the end Hull went down, but not Marco Silva, as he got offered his latest job, Watford.

Marco Silva and his tactics

Marco Silva unlike the present trends in football plays neither the possession-based tiki-taka football or intense gegenpressing football which dominate football right now. The main philosophy of Marco Silva is

  1. Structured Defence: – The first priority of Marco Silva, which he has always shared with his mentor Mourinho, is that his defence needs to be tight. At everywhere that he has gone, be it Estroli where his team only conceded 20 goals in 30 games before winning promotion or Olympiakos, where there is always a pressure to play attractive dominating football, his first priority was to sort out his defence, and then look forward to attack. His main goal was to keep a clean sheet, and then break the opponent’s attack and then counter. Marco lives by the golden philosophy that goals win you matches but defence wins you titles. Even with Sporting, when his team lost the title to Benfica, Sporting lost fewer games than Benfica, it was just the draws at home that cost his team the title. His teams are always tough to break in defence.
  1. Pressing: – His teams do not go gung-ho when pressing, they wait for their chances, a moment of weakness so that they can detect movements of their opponent and then they swarm the opponent to break forward and cause all sorts of problems from their attack. This is not to be confused with no pressing at all as Silva insists on an intense mid-block which press somewhat passively. The goal is to push the opponent back while trying to win the ball, stifling the opposition in moving forward.
  1. Pace and Width:- After breaking the team’s attack with their defence and pressing, Marco plays with players who can offer pace at the wide areas, Richarlison has been the perfect example of the philosophy that Marco is trying to implement, the ball is swiftly passed in the wide areas, and then carried forward at pace. They understand that it is not always possible to go direct, hence the whole team moves forward, with all the attacking players taking up dangerous positions to provide options, one of the holding midfielders joins forward in the attack, with providing an option to recycle the ball if the counter is broken.

One of the usual formations used by Marco Silva for Watford this season, 4-3-3 with Cleverly playing in the right of the midfield, going up in the area behind the striker, when the team is moving fast to counter and plays an important part in helping the ball move from one side to another.

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Made using TacticalPad

While defending, the players fall back to help the defence, plugging the gaps to make it more compact. Trying to reduce the opportunity to score.

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Made using TacticalPad

The primary formation that is used by Marco Silva for this season has been 4-2-3-1

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Made using TacticalPad

In this formation, the main focus is on their midfield axis, who help in transitioning from attack to defence, when attacking they would move forward to provide numbers, usually one of the deep-lying playmaker moves forward and the other holds the position. Dourcoure is a prime example of a player that has been thriving in this role. This has been a mainstay in Silva’s plans always, the use of the 4-2-3-1. He depends on players who can counter quickly while also retaining proper positional focus when trying to defend. Putting in the hard steps in field is vital in Silva’s plans, as he advocates intense pressing within the mid-block.

Playing this way, their main goals comes from making runs into the penalty box, or from shots from the edges, they use their speed to shuffle the ball from one side to another and use the opponent’s mistakes to punish them. However defensively, this means that they are sometimes left unprepared to prevent the opposition from breaking and starting a counterattack of their own. This counter-attack at speed against Watford has been effective. Also, Manchester City showed another way in which  Watford can be exploited and that is by crowding one side of the pitch, which they did, thus taking one side of the pitch out of the game, and as players would go over to the crowded side, removing the most potent weapon of Watford: width. Then again, a defeat to Man City need not be taken as a sign of weakness, considering how strong they have been this season.

All of this doesn’t mean that Marco Silva is tactically narrow-minded with fixed systems in place. The victory against Swansea City as the case in point. Watford were 1-0 up at halftime and in response, Swansea were preparing changes. Silva anticipated those changes and changed from a 4 man defence, which they have played for every minute of the season till now, to shift to a 3 man defence. He sent a player for his debut in that 3-man defence and initially the home side found it very difficult to make transition from defence to attack and their pressing reduced as well. In this period Swansea equalized as well. However slowly they got the grips of formation and they started dominating Swansea even more, which eventually led to the goal. All credit goes to Silva for getting it right. He may or may not have won with the change, but unlike most, he does not wait to make changes, he anticipates them. He is not a wait and see type of manager. “Every time the wind changes, you react again,” Silva says.

Silva has been known as a manager who is very close to his squad. He is known as the player’s manager and in his own words he says We need to build something inside the club, a commitment between us. One good dressing room.’ And until now what is my feeling? In some moments in matches, in some moments during the week, I think we were together. And in some matches this makes a difference.

This approach has helped him develop players and also resurrect a lot of players’ careers. He has developed a reputation for getting players who are among the best among the rest. In this year, the case in point is Cleverley, which has become a fulcrum for his team, and Richarlison, who arguably is the find of the year. Not only them, there have been players who have resurrected their career under him, namely Evandro, Omar Elabdellaoui, Sam Clucas, also he identifies talent and players like Joao Mario, who he inherited from his predecessor in Sporting continued to develop further under his tutelage.

With such man-management, he is not afraid of taking bold decisions with players. For example, this year at Watford, he has benched the team captain and their record goalscorer Deeney for Gray. Deeney is a man well respected at Watford, and this was a very big decision for the manager to take. Still Silva handled it well, and has managed to keep the Watford atmosphere positive and both Deeney and supporters happy.


The rate at which Marco Silva is going, it won’t be long when a bigger club will come knocking at the door for him. He has already been heavily linked with Everton’s job. So much so that the newly appointed Everton manager has to resort to saying that he has a much better track record than Marco Silva.

If he keeps at this current rate, there is no lack of suitors for him in the Premier League. Now the big question is, whether he can convert teams into serial winners and deliver results day in and day out the way it is done at the big clubs right now. Also can he handle the egos of superstar players and make them perform according to his plan? When he came to Premier League, a lot of things were said about him.

Phil Thomson went on to say “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.” Paul Merson said about his record with Olympiakos  “I could win the league with Olympiakos. They’ve won it 107 times and it’s only been going 106 years.” He has gone on to defy all his critics with his approach at Hull, and now at Watford.

His record with Olympiakos proves that he can win trophies with a capable team, but his failure to convert success from the Greek league to Champions League puts the question on his ability as a top-notch manager. Responding to Sam Allardyce, the new Everton manager criticism about his record. He said, “Judge me when I am 67”. And it’s true, only time can tell how much Marco can achieve as a manager.

From the modest Estadio Antonio Coimbra da Mota to the Vicarage Road, via the Jose Alvalade, the Karaiskakis Stadium and KCOM, the young coach is treading one of European football’s most unlikely paths.

Can Marco Silva be the new Special one? Let’s wait and see.