Perhaps Marco Silva was masking his true feelings.
“We’re late. I’m not hiding.”
It was August 1, and the Fulham manager was in a hurry to get to work.
“We’ve already had four weeks and only two new players,” he told Portuguese publication Record. “Six to seven players left. Now we have, as they say in Portuguese, to fight back to be competitive.”
Despite romping to the Championship title – Silva portrayed an anxious figure, still looking for solutions to help Fulham’s latest crack at making the leap to the Premier League.
Over the next 10 days, Bernd Leno joined from Arsenal on a three-year contract in a deal worth up to £8m while Issa Diop also made the short trip across London from West Ham.
Then on deadline day, four new faces; Dan James and Layvin Kurzawa on loan from Leeds and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, while free agent Willian and Carlos Vinicius from Benfica were signed on short-term deals.
Judging by his side’s encouraging start, those solutions have been identified and added to a robust core embattled by previous experiences.
Aleksandar Mitrovic shattered the 46-game Championship season goal record with 14 matches to play, and the Serb has made a mockery of suggestions he is a flat-track bully who gets found out at this level.
Only Harry Kane and Erling Haaland have scored more than him. Mitrovic has scored nine Premier League goals and it is only October. Fulham sit in seventh place following their best start to a top-flight campaign since 2003.
Mitrovic’s tale of redemption resonates with Silva, who prepares to face his former club Everton this weekend, live on Sky Sports.
Silva secured an eighth-place finish during his one and only full season in 2018/19 with Everton before the wheels came off midway through the following campaign.
The 45-year-old described it as a “calculated risk” to take the step backwards in his coaching career by reintegrating into management in England’s second tier.
His dream has always been to manage – and be successful – in the Premier League, but as his time at Everton came to a chastening end after a 5-2 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in December 2019, perhaps even he may have wondered if another chance among England’s elite would fall his way.
On the darkest of nights, his Everton players were arguing among themselves, unsure of their roles. Everton found themselves in the relegation zone after playing at least 15 Premier League matches for the first time since April 1999.
The writing had been on the wall for Silva following a desperate 2-0 home defeat to Norwich. Up to that point, he could claim bad luck and injuries had to some degree contributed to his demise.
But in losing to the league’s bottom side, Silva lost the fans, and what he said next probably meant he also lost the dressing room.
“You cannot play football and take the right decisions if you’re afraid to play,” Silva said from the bowels of Goodison Park. “You cannot win if you don’t have courage.
“The crowd wasn’t happy with our performance and the players began to feel uncomfortable with our performance as well but we have to solve the problems inside the pitch as we have the quality. I’m here to find solutions, not excuses.
“Everyone in football wants time, but time is results. In the end, it’s always like that.”
The manner of the subsequent defeats to Leicester and Liverpool meant Silva was out of time. He left Everton in 18th position, but Carlo Ancelotti would steady the ship and get the best out of those whose careers were stuck in reverse under Silva.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin truly excelled under Ancelotti’s tenure, while Jordan Pickford has emerged as England undisputed No 1 after a spate of individual errors during the previous regime.
Silva would not make an immediate return to management, but was about to board a flight to Turkey 18 months later when he received a phone call from the Fulham owner that would take his career down a different path.
In the same way Frank Lampard has really bought into Everton’s history and connected with supporters, Silva has not only carried out a period of self-reflection but studied where Fulham struggled under Scott Parker during their ill-fated 2020/21 season.
Too often, young managers are written off after unsuccessful spells, but there is a likeness to Lampard and Silva.
Both have previously failed in Premier League jobs but both are now showing they can thrive in a different environment. Silva was named Championship Manger of the Year last season as Fulham achieved promotion with four games remaining.
How Silva turned doubters into believers
- Fulham have won last their last two Premier League games – their first successive wins since a run of three wins in April 2019
- With 18 points, Fulham are 10 points better off than after 12 games in their previous Premier League season in 2020/21
- Eighteen points is Fulham’s joint-most points after 12 games of any Premier League season – also 18 points from first 12 games in 2003/04
- Fulham recorded their fifth Premier League win this season last Sunday – they only had five wins in the whole of the 2020/21 relegation season
In his case, Fulham have adapted their way of playing this term to accompany the change in personnel. It was poor recruitment which ultimately played a significant role in his dismissal at Goodison Park but Silva has bought wisely and built a team around those free from the mental scars of previous failures.
Joao Palhinha has provided this Fulham side with international class as a defensive linchpin. Only Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Mohamed Salah have created more chances than Andreas Pereira’s 27.
Back at Everton, Silva had sought to make Kurt Zouma’s loan signing permanent in the summer of 2019, but he and then director of football Marcel Brands failed to land their first-choice centre-back option.
It was just one episode in a helter-skelter summer which culminated with the arrival of Alex Iwobi for £35m from Arsenal with just hours of the window remaining.
Rather farcically, it has emerged majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri was responsible for forcing through the signing, against Brands’ wishes, turning to the Arsenal player only after all hope was lost of signing Wilfried Zaha. Only this year has Iwobi resurrected his career as a reinvented midfielder under Frank Lampard.
Maybe this was what was meant by long-term planning. Silva will be reunited with Iwobi, his final buy as an Everton boss, and perhaps the pair will share a cursory smile at having come out the other end of the Everton vortex.
Saturday marks Silva’s first managerial meeting against Everton since leaving the club and first meeting against Lampard, who scored six away Premier League goals against Fulham during his playing career.
The incumbent Toffees manager admits he has not leaned too much on those still at the club from Silva’s time for advise before making the trip south, but expects a difficult assignment in familiar surroundings.
When asked for his views on Fulham’s previous struggles at acclimatising back in the Premier League, Lampard said: “They’re in good form so I don’t think the issue for them in the past has necessarily been the level of player.
“Previously when they came up, they invested a lot and it didn’t work out. They’ve changed coaches and sometimes you have things come together in a good way.
“Some of their players have been there a while now and have experienced that up-and-down and back up so maybe they’re more robust to it but they’ve got a good way of playing and have brought in some good players who have improved them in different areas.
“The maturity of the teams is perhaps more stable than it has been for a few years. We’ll respect them for that but also focus majorly on ourselves.”
In the same way this is a very different Fulham side to the one which beat Everton during their last meeting on Valentine’s Day in 2021 – when two Josh Maja goals secured a 2-0 away win – Silva will encounter a transformed Everton.
Alongside Iwobi, Yerry Mina is the only other player Silva bought who remains at the club. A terrible record at defending set-pieces and lack of leadership also derailed his reign, but Lampard – alongside a new director of football in Kevin Thelwell – has revolutionised the dressing room.
The biggest shift visible in Lampard’s public stance is that he has always remained level-headed about Everton’s future prospects.
Supporters have not been sold false promises, and his realism is reflected by the club’s core following.
The same cannot be said of Silva’s time alongside Brands and Moshiri, in spite of their best intentions.
“We wouldn’t win titles, because Everton weren’t prepared for that to be in the top six,” he said in that same interview with Record. “It was said from outside, but internally we knew it was almost impossible and that brought a lot of pressure from outside.
“It’s good to have ambition and expectations, but there can’t be too many expectations for what you want to create.”
Silva has learned from those mistakes and perhaps was looking to manage Fulham’s expectations when he revealed he was “late” back in August.
But he was not getting his excuses in early. He certainly would have scanned the fixture list immediately for this chance to settle an old score.
Fulham’s rise, fall and revival will not be going under the radar for much longer, however, if Silva masterminds his most satisfying of victories to date.
Watch Fulham vs Everton live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm.