To Hull and back sums it up, with the Tigers having been through more than your average promoted team this season. As far as starts to life back in the big time go, the Humbersiders had a difficult one. Steve Bruce vacated the hot-seat at the KCOM Stadium on the eve of the season’s kick-off and off-field issues prevented Mike Phelan, who stepped in to lead the team, from adding the quality many were adamant he needed in the transfer market to have even a chance of fighting against the drop, while captain Michael Dawson remained on the sidelines through injury and Mohamed Diame moved on.
Nobody gave Hull a chance, yet now with Marco Silva at the helm after his winter arrival, there’s a glimmer of hope and the Tigers’ claws are stretching through a crack in the door that many thought simply would not exist for them back in August.
Back-to-back wins, including the slaying of reigning champions Leicester on the opening weekend, proved somewhat a false dawn as the losses began to rain in, yet with five games left to play 17th position is theirs, with a demoralised Swansea two points back on them ahead of Middlesbrough and Sunderland, who appear to have accepted the trapdoor opening beneath their feet.
Silva’s introduction was the pivotal moment of the campaign for Hull and may be looked back on as one of the finest decisions in the club’s history. Of course, relegation may be their ultimate fate, but should he keep them up, there’s a convincing argument for the Portuguese tactician being named the Premier League’s Manager of the Season ahead of even Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
To some that may seem laughable, but a glance at his squad and the players lost in January – Robert Snodgrass remains their top scorer and assist-maker in league action despite moving on – really puts his achievements into perspective. Oumar Niasse is scoring goals, Lazar Markovic is contributing, Andrea Ranocchia has not been exposed as the slow, cumbersome centre-back he was billed and Hull are getting victories, seven in 17 games, to be precise.
As far as putting himself in the shop window goes, Silva has done a sterling job thus far, taking a spot at the centre of a display that West Ham are certainly looking at. With Simone Inzaghi having been “offered” a contract to replace Slaven Bilic, it seems that the Croatian’s days at the London Stadium are numbered, despite the Hammers board’s public stance that he remains their man.
In some ways the Irons boss has been a victim of circumstance. The botched move to Stratford has magnified the attention placed on the club while Dimitri Payet’s exit was far from acrimonious, yet Bilic has to take his portion of the blame, too. Losing a Europa League qualification double-header to Astra Giurgiu rather set the tone for the campaign thus far and there have been far too many weaknesses exposed for the ex-Besiktas man to get away with it.
There seems to be a ‘big name’ phenomenon at West Ham now, but Silva might well be the ideal manager to come in. Understated in his approach and appearance, the ex-Olympiakos chief – who has courted controversy during his career, particularly at Sporting CP when he was sacked as a result of not wearing an official suit for a cup game – may not grab the headlines to the extent of some of the other names being talked about in relation to the role, yet he boasts the nous and experience to suggest he’s just what the club need.
Silverware in Greece may be written off as a given due to the team he was in charge of while Portuguese football is also seen as a closed shop at the top – albeit Sporting, Porto and Benfica are very competitive – however his work at Estoril is particularly intriguing. Picking up the reigns in the second tier, Silva took the Canaries up at the first time of asking, which he followed with a fifth-placed finish in the Primeira Liga in 2012/13 and Europa League qualification. During this time, he developed a reputation for being a savvy tactician, which shone through his subsequent appointments and has been on show, arguably to its greatest extent, on the banks of the River Humber.
Only signing a short-term deal to get through to the end of the season, it seems that the 39-year-old has ambitions beyond Hull within England and West Ham might well be the most appealing option available to him. For all the deriding of the Hammers this term, they’re a club with a high ceiling and are entering a key period in their plans to progress, which is the sort of project Silva might well be on board with. The players that would be available to him are also of a greater standard in general, so there is real potential there for the Lisbon-born coach.
Marquee announcements and headlines appear to be what West Ham want now to kick off their new chapter, but Silva might be the unsung hero to save the day the day.