Remember when we all got a good kick out of Paul Merson saying Paul Merson things again? Sure, the delivery may have been served with a side-order of xenophobia, but maybe, in hindsight, we were fools to disregard his hectoring of “this geezer” Marco Silva, following his appointment as Hull manager, as just another faux pas from football’s own bumbling Boris.
If you need reminding of what exactly went down that Saturday afternoon in January 2017, it began by Merson - a man who has not returned to management since being sacked as League One Walsall boss in 2006 - scoffing at the idea of Silva’s league title triumph with Olympiakos being some sort of achievement. “I could win the league with Olympiakos. They’ve won it 107 times and it’s only been going 106 years,” he sneered. His Soccer Saturday colleague Phil Thompson then jumped on the Brexit bandwagon: “What does he know about Hull?” he protested. A damn sight less than Gary Rowett or any other up-and-coming members of the ‘One Of Our Own’ brigade, apparently.
Fast-forward nearly three years later and perhaps Merson is owed a collective apology; at least from supporters of Hull, Watford, and now, Everton. The Tigers certainly showed more bite under Silva than with Mike Phelan, but were ultimately relegated nonetheless, finishing further adrift of safety than when the Portuguese arrived and without an away win on his watch. Despite building up an early head of steam at Vicarage Road, the Hornets soon levelled out under Silva, and he was sacked after the trigger-happy Pozzos tired of him making eyes at the once-vacant Everton job and a run of one victory in 11 league games. Now, he has spent more than £150 million to lead the Blues to take yet another retrograde step.
Silva’s is a demise that has slowly, incrementally crept up on him - Goodison had largely grown apathetic and resigned to this fate since newly-promoted Sheffield United outsmarted his own pathetic side in their own back yard in September. Only his ability to stave off the wolves at the door for a while, with such results as the cup victory over Watford and the long-overdue first away win of the campaign at Southampton, have prolonged what is now an inevitability. But Saturday’s latest nadir, a 2-0 home defeat to Norwich City, saw a man go back to the well one time too many and on this occasion come up short.
In many ways, it encapsulated each of the factors that together will surely consign Silva to losing his job. Another show of faith in a one-paced, sluggish and frankly useless spine in Morgan Schneiderlin, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Cenk Tosun. Another round of bingo with his substitutions - this time, bizarrely replacing like-for-like at right-back with Seamus Coleman for Djibril Sidibé, as well as throwing attacking players on for the sake of it as the game began to ebb away from Everton. Another rejection of the potential of Moise Kean, an unused substitute despite the striker scoring twice for Italy’s under-21s last week, and despite Silva labelling him the club’s ‘present and future’ on Friday.
The natives had long been restless, with yet another false dawn chorus soundtracking Everton’s abject start to the campaign, but this was when things really came to a head. Norwich came to Goodison bottom of the table, with one point from their previous seven games, a solitary away goal all season and a goalless draw at Bournemouth their only return on the road thus far. Yet few could argue they fully deserved their victory, nullifying a passive, slumberous Everton and taking their opportunities with the sort of potency starkly absent among their hosts. Many of the home faithful joined in with the away end’s rendition of ‘sacked in the morning’, just one of the less explicit chants aimed Silva’s way. One supporter even dared to confront Bill Kenwright at full-time. The mood had been simmering for a few weeks, but for the first time really since Sam Allardyce’s reign, toxicity ruled over Goodison.
As one of football’s great truisms tell us, when you lose the fans, you lose the fans for good. A manager who can earn salvation from such mutiny is something of a collector’s item, and Silva has been in the dugout long enough now to know this himself. He spoke after the Norwich debacle about it not being the moment to talk about his own position, much in the same way that Ronald Koeman and Roberto Martínez did at Everton immediately before receiving their P45. Defeated during the match, defeatist after the match and heckled by his own supporters somewhere in-between, these are the calling cards of a man who, finally, has fallen beyond the point of no return, and knows it.
Even Silva’s own appointment itself seems a mistake everyone told Everton they were making at the time, only for this to fall on deaf ears. Laud his achievements abroad by all means; taking Estoril from the verge of the Portuguese third tier to fourth in the top-flight was a superb feat, as was - despite Merson’s objections - winning 28 of his 30 league games at Olympiakos, annihilating all that lay before them on their way to winning the title by a mammoth 30 points. But there is precious little else that should have recommended him for a job of this magnitude; certainly, from his two failed stints in the Premier League previously, anyway.
It was a move that rather embodies the sort of whimsical, impulsive thinking during Farhad Moshiri’s tenure that has, if anything, seen the promised land become even less tangible for Everton. Just like shelling out £30 million for Yannick Bolasie, £23.6 million for Davy Klaassen or hiring Allardyce to save Everton, then 13th, from the increasingly distant threat of relegation in 2017-18, Silva’s appointment will likely be etched into history as another slapdash decision hastily made by a club intoxicated on the mere allure of the upper echelons of the Premier League.
What keeps him around for a little while yet? Perhaps Moshiri’s unwillingness to accept that yet a third appointment of his has been an unmitigated failure. Perhaps, given the gruelling December fixture list, comprising three of the top four as well as Manchester United and Arsenal all before Christmas, the notion that no interim could fare any better in the forthcoming matches. Perhaps, aside from the usual suspects, a lack of viable, available alternatives for Everton to brazenly plead with and hurl money at. But when a manager has plunged to depths as low as Silva now has, it may prove even more detrimental, even more pointless, to persist with a boss performing as poorly as he is.
In Silva’s first competitive game as Everton manager, a 2-2 draw at Wolves in August 2018, he picked the same starting front four - Richarlison, Sigurðsson, Theo Walcott and Tosun - as he did in Saturday’s wretched defeat. Which, rather aptly, epitomises the stagnant, or even retreating nature of his Goodison tenure. For a club infatuated with change and transition, he has not overseen enough of it on the pitch. Other than a smattering of anomalous results, Everton have been just as supine, dull and insipid under Silva as before he arrived, as Norwich brutally accentuated.
Another flawed appointment has delivered another flawed era at Goodison. And while a parting of ways between Everton and Silva would not address the multitude of other issues besetting the club’s progress, Moshiri could do far worse now than swallowing his pride, admitting to another expensive mistake and starting another reboot. 15th in the table and just four points clear of relegation with a nightmare run ahead, Everton may otherwise deteriorate further before they improve.