Who is Marco Silva?

The new Hull manager was greeted with skepticism when he began working in England at the start of January. Not much was said about his tactical history and management abilities. So, who is Marco Silva?

Contrary, to certain loud, geographically-challenged pundits Silva has actually been immensely successful in his managerial career so far. He began management at Estoril and gained promotion from the second division to the first,  on to Sporting where he won the Taça de Portugal and finally steered Olympiacos to 17 straight wins and a league title. All before his 40th birthday and after a 15 year playing career. Not bad for someone who isn’t even English.


Silva begin his managerial career in inauspicious style after being named the director of football at Estoril where he had spent the last 6 years of his career. Things quickly changed however and he became the manager of the club after a poor start to the season and only 2 months gone. This lead to a run of unbelievable results for the 34 year old coach who was responsible for many of the summer signings which would go on to become successful. Estoril won the 11/12 league by 5 points and Silva won manager of the year. He would go on to take Estoril to some of their highest all time finishes with a 4th and 5th place and entry into the Europa league. Standout features were his ability to nurture young talent and his commitment to building a team around a strong, sound defensive structure. Comparisons have sprung up between him and Jose Mourinho although Silva himself has disputed this.

Whilst at Estoril Silva tended towards a midfield three most accurately represented by a 4231 formation:

Silva’s 4231 at Estoril allowed a lot of midfield flexibility.

Silva was able to make the most of his strong wing players. Right sided midfielder Lica finished the season with the most goals in the league in the season Estorial won the Segunda Divisão. Plus, multiple players brought in whilst Silva was the Director of Football became very successful. For example, goalkeeper Vagner won goalkeeper of the season in the promotion season of 11/12.

One of the things Silva did very similarly to Mourinho, and which prompted the comparisons, was the defensive shape of the team. A 4231 is a very useful defensive formation because teams can drop deep and quickly be difficult to break down:

Estoril in later seasons were able to defend well against much bigger opponents.

Generally, Silva’s time at Estoril was thought to be an enormous success and he would go on to become manager of Sporting, one of the biggest teams in Portugal’s top division.


Silva’s time at Sporting was eventful to say the least. He won the clubs first trophy since 2008 with the 14/15 Taca de Portugal victory against Braga. The team was well thought of and difficult to beat. In fact, in the same season they won the Taca they lost less games than league leaders Benfica, 2 in 34 games.

Unfortunately, there was more than just football going on at Sporting and a disagreement with the owners saw Silva leave the club immediately after their first trophy. A number of reasons were given including Silva not wearing the clubs official suit in a cup game.

4141 Silva played during his time at Sporting.

During his time at the club Silva played a 4141 formation with William Carvalho as a central defensive player and performing the role of a pivot. The formation was structurally solid and allowed continued attacks down the flanks, but often Sporting didn’t have enough quality in their finishing. However, the central midfield 3 were fluid and Carvalho’s excellent physical abilities allowed Sporting to break counter attacks up well. The similarities with Mourinho continued in this period and Silva cemented his philosophy as an intelligent and shrewd tactician.


This philosophy was developed at Olympiacos where Silva was able to apply a much more dominant attacking style to the team. This would lead them to their 43rd Greek title, winning 28 of 30 games and beating second place Panathinaikos by 30 points. This season also allowed Silva to continue developing players. Something which was central to his methods at Estoril. Players such as Konastantinos Fortounis and Brown Ideye were allowed a lot of attacking freedom in front of two holding midfielder pivots in Luka Milivojevic and the experienced Esteban Cambiasso.

The formation went back to 4231 but the emphasis moved away from solidity and towards controlling games through irresistible attacking movement and  quality possession in the centre of the pitch.

Fortounis was particularly good in attacking midfield scoring 18 goals

Highlights of this season came with a 3-2 victory against Arsenal at the Emirates and a record 15 wins out of 15 in home at the league. However, after getting knocked out of the champions league in the second leg against Arsenal and then having a poor Europa League showing left Olympiacos just short of their high expectations for the season.

Marco Silva would leave the club in the summer citing personal issues and has been out of work since. His appearance at Hull is an interesting addition to the Premier League. However, with his upcoming fixtures against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in a row it will be a baptism of fire for the young Portuguese manager.

Seamus McDonnell

Twitter: @JustSeamus




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