Was Marco Silva's head turned by Everton?
While all Premier League eyes were glued to Alexis Sanchez’s arduous journey to Manchester for the medical that could seal his long, drawn out transfer, Watford sacked Marco Silva. If ever there was, it was the opportune moment to dismiss the manager quietly, respectfully, and without fuss. Instead, the team claimed their summer hire had his head turned by “another Premier League club,” adversely affecting his performance and by extension the team’s.
In what has been a bizarre Premier League season in which one club, Manchester City, had run away with the title by the holidays; Sanchez’s attempt to leave Arsenal had failed, been revived, then hijacked; Liverpool lost its best player then immediately ended Manchester City’s undefeated run; and no less than seven other managers had been replaced in mid-season, the announcement was probably par for the course. The important question is whether it’s true. Was Silva’s head turned? Did he lose focus? Did his resentment affect the team?
Based on the assumption the team which turned his head was Everton, the answer has to be no.
It is documented Everton approached Watford to speak with the Portuguese and was denied. Silva was allegedly the Toffee’s first choice when Koeman was sacked on 23 October. Presuming Everton would act quickly in mid-season to acquire an already identified target, Watford’s results immediately after Koeman’s dismissal don’t support the theory Silva went into a pout.
The Hornets did lose five days later to Stoke on home ground. That was followed by a raucous 3-2 defeat to the David Unsworth caretakered Toffees at Goodison Park. The two setbacks were succeeded by a resounding 3-0 win at St James Park against Newcastle, a valiant but vain 2-4 reversal against Manchester United at Vicarage Road, and a hard-fought one-goal draw against Tottenham. United’s win was powered by former Hornet Ashley Young’s inspired return to his former stomping ground.
One can look at numbers on paper (or monitor), see only four points from five matches, and conclude a slide had commenced. Or one can look deeper. Distracted, uninterested teams don’t score multiple goals in three of five games played, especially when attacking is what they typically do. They don’t score two against the joint-best defence in the Premier League. They don’t score three and keep a clean sheet away against a La Liga and Champions League-winning manager, even if his side is in a funk. And they don’t hold their own against a top-six side in the process of winning its Champions League group over that competition’s holder, Real Madrid.
Watford under Silva had largely been creative and adventurous. More recently than the denied meeting with Everton, it has lost its way. What it has never been is defensively sound. The Hornets had played nine games before the Toffees sacked Koeman. They sat sixth. Such position always flattered to deceive. Silva’s team was conceding nearly two goals per game (17), more damage than they were inflicting upon opponents. Their place was an anomaly. They simply didn’t belong.
For that matter Everton should never have come calling. A team threatened by relegation almost always prioritises defending. Consolidate at the back then build from there. It’s why Big Sam was the right choice and had enjoyed success performing the same task elsewhere. Silva might have found a few more goals Merseyside. Results? Not so much.
As already mentioned Silva is the eighth manager relieved of duties this campaign. Watford’s slide truly began in December. The Spurs draw was followed by a 1-0 defeat at Turf Moor, where attacking clubs go to die. Next, though, came a string of poor results against bottom-half teams.
On Boxing Day, the club produced its last league victory, 2-1 over Leicester. Then the rot resumed.
It's during this stretch Watford lost it's scoring touch. Only once, in the draw against So'ton, did they score twice.
Towards November’s end both Swansea and West Brom sacked their bosses. Neither represents Everton’s prestigious upgrade but both might have been interested in Silva. Tony Pulis’ squad was capable of defending but needed goals. Paul Clement’s Swans were not realising their scoring potential. Was Silva refused permission to speak with either or both?
More importantly, if that was the case, why would he be interested? Moving from Hull to Watford made sense. There was less ambition at the KCom Stadium than at a weekend retreat for sloths. Watford were interested in competing. The side encouraged Silva’s youth and homegrown recruiting policy. Neither West Brom nor Swansea appear to have a definitive strategy. Relocating would be starting from scratch. Realistically, a manager would only seek such an avenue if he felt there was no way forward with his current club.
When at Hull, Silva went about his business quietly. He was not another Antonio Conte, washing the club’s dirty laundry in the press. Although Silva raised no public protest, Watford had barely moved in the transfer window. Mauro Zarate and Brice Dja Djedje were sent on loan. That is all.
Was the club simply not willing to finance a manager it wanted to release? If so, it would have acted in late December rather than January, with a new man poised and waiting to step in. That man would then have the entire window to restructure the squad. Watford didn't sack Silva until less than a fortnight remained in the window. It is now said to be negotiating with a candidate who has been out of work for six months. This was a sudden decision rather than a planned action. Whatever disagreement existed was not due to Marco Silva's pre-existing attitude.
More often than not the simplest conclusion is the correct one. There’s no proof save circumstantial evidence. Yet the timing of Silva’s dismissal suggests there was conflict over available funding for new investment. Watford’s surprising announcement smacks of a board attempting to shift blame onto a dignified target who won’t attack them in the press. It’s a story that’s been reenacted countless times in football. The smart money says it’s happened again.