It seemed Marco Silva had taken on a near-impossible job when he was hired as manager of Hull at the start of January.
The promoted club from northern England was up for sale, in last place in the Premier League and planning to sell some of its best players. Money was tight, fans were disgruntled and a squad short on big names had been struck by injuries in key areas.
Silva, a 39-year-old Portuguese coach labeled “Mini-Mourinho” by some after his illustrious coaching compatriot, was new to the English game and was facing a tough and grueling immediate run of matches across three competitions.
At his presentation as Hull’s third permanent coach in a six-month span, Silva said survival in the Premier League would be a “miracle” but urged fans to believe in him. Somehow, though, he’s turning things around, just like he did in his first coaching job at Portuguese team Estoril, which he transformed from a second-tier club on the brink of financial ruin to a Europa League qualifier in two seasons.
Silva has worked wonders in the transfer market and on the field.
Operating under financial constraints, he saw key midfielders Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore sold from under his feet and reacted by making seven signings – predominantly players on loan and rejects from bigger clubs. Striker Oumar Niasse, for example, arrived from Everton, where he had made five appearances and not scored a single goal in the past year; winger Lazar Markovic (from Liverpool) and Omar Elabdellaoui (from Olympiakos) were among others looking to relaunch their careers.
On the training ground, Silva worked hard on team shape and organization, with defender Curtis Davies saying the coach literally dragged players into the positions he desired. Days off were canceled. Silva was hard, but fair.
His impact was been astonishing.
Hull has won all four of its home matches under Silva, having failed to win any of its previous five at KCOM Stadium. Among the defeated teams were some stellar names, Manchester United in the League Cup and Liverpool in the league last weekend. Hull also ground out a 0-0 draw at United in the league and was regarded as unlucky to lose 2-0 at runaway leader Chelsea, when midfielder Ryan Mason fractured his skull.
Hull – a team with an eclectic mix of youngsters, misfits and journeymen – has climbed to 18th place and within a point of safety. A trip to Arsenal on Saturday suddenly holds no fear for Silva’s team, and why should it? The last time Silva was in the dug-out at Emirates Stadium, he was in charge of Olympiakos and the Greek side stunned Arsenal 3-2 in the Champions League in September 2015.
“I am not a miracle worker,” Silva said. “But that is not important. I am a worker, I want to work and keep our goal in our minds always, but my feet always stay on the ground.”
It’s a good time to be playing Arsenal, too. Almost inevitably, Arsene Wenger’s side is starting to implode at a key stage of the season, with back-to-back losses to Watford and Swansea dropping Arsenal to fourth place and virtually ruling it out of the Premier League title race. The annual debate over whether Wenger should stay or go at the end of the season has resumed and the atmosphere inside the Emirates could be toxic if Hull continues where it left off against Liverpool last week.
With Silva at the helm, it could easily happen.
“I believe,” he said, “and I want all the players and supporters and everyone else who works at the club to believe as well.”
Is there some hope for the chasing pack?
Holding a nine-point lead with 14 games left, Chelsea heads to a team that has won nine of its last 10 homes games in all competitions.
Burnley’s only loss at Turf Moor since early October was against Manchester City.
Leicester, the struggling defending champion, has slumped to within one point of the relegation zone after a run of four straight losses.
Only four teams stand between the champions and last place, and they play one of them on Sunday.