Everton's defensive frailties make the Portuguese the 'anti-Mourinho'
Marco Silva failing to live up to 'mini Mourinho' tag at Everton
“I’m not the Special One. I’m Marco Silva.” It was January 2017 and Hull City’s new manager had generated comparisons with his fellow Portuguese.
Twenty-one months and two jobs later, the similarities between the new Everton manager and his Manchester United counterpart look superficial and based on nationality and friendship. Precocious, ambitious, stylish, sharp-suited characters who generated paeans of praise may tick some of the same boxes, yet the manager dubbed the “mini Mourinho” instead looks the anti-Mourinho.
It is not just because, while they share an impatience that has meant each appears to be eyeing his next project even while employed elsewhere, Jose Mourinho has the concrete achievements his younger compatriot largely lacks. Brief spells at Hull and Watford, featuring bright beginnings but culminating in relegation and the sack respectively, lend themselves to different conclusions.
Silva’s start at Everton is increasingly unMourinholike. He has made the Merseysiders far more watchable than they were under Sam Allardyce. They have been much better between the two penalty boxes. They are yet to convince inside them.
There are mitigating factors for the newcomer. Everton’s main striker Cenk Tosun was dropped for Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal, but his goal drought has spanned the season. Injuries and suspension are a reason why Silva has fielded five back fours already, while he is yet to be able to call upon Yerry Mina, Everton’s most expensive ever centre-back.
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Yet it reflects badly that only Fulham and the bottom two have conceded more goals. It is a recurring theme. In 48 Premier League matches, Silva’s sides have been breached 91 times. The image of a technocrat suggests organisational prowess but, if Mourinho cherishes control, Silva’s Everton have offered more anarchy. Everton wanted someone who would be the opposite of Allardyce, but Silva has sacrificed some of his sacked predecessor’s strengths. Thus far, Everton have veered from one extreme to another.
Even if Mina’s eventual debut and the integration of Lucas Digne and Kurt Zouma offers the promise of defensive improvement, it is notable how few of the supposed “new Mourinhos” resemble the original. If it is a lazy label, bestowed on grounds of nationality or a history of working with the United manager, none seem to have the whole package.
Aitor Karanka lacks his mentor’s charisma. His emphasis on defence became draining at Middlesbrough and came at a cost to attacking endeavours. Andre Villas-Boas has offered the unintelligible intensity of a prodigy but lacked the human touch whereas Mourinho’s sides have been at their most formidable when his bond with his players has been at its strongest. Jose Morais, sacked and relegated at Barnsley, has the initials but not the results. Perhaps, if and when Rui Faria becomes a manager, he will be the closest thing to a carbon copy.
Nuno Espirito Santo certainly is not. But while an alumnus of Mourinho’s Porto held his former employer on Saturday, it was notable how little his Wolves owed to any of the older man’s teams. Playing 3-4-3, pairing two playmakers in the midfield? It has scarcely been Mourinho’s way.
Nuno feels more in touch with the times than his old employer. His greatest selling point may not be his education but his agent, the formidably well-connected Jorge Mendes, who also represents Mourinho. But it also raises the question if – unlike when Chelsea plumped for Villas-Boas in 2011 – clubs are still searching for the new Mourinho.
Perhaps his brand of cautious counter-attacking is deemed out of fashion. Certainly managers with twin emphases on passing and pressing seem more up to date in the quest to find the next Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. Marcelo Bielsa’s influence is becoming more prominent than Mourinho’s.
Perhaps clubs have simply concluded the Portuguese is inimitable. And while these are early days, Silva, beyond a progressive, bright sheen that the younger Mourinho possessed, has less in common with his compatriot than with Roberto Martinez, another sharp young Everton manager whose positive intent was undermined by a lack of defensive solidity.