Just over two years ago, I made the case that Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino could one day emulate Diego Simeone and win a top-flight title, as Simeone did with Atletico in 2014. Two years on, there is a possibility that this might come true, as Spurs find themselves in the thick of a title shake-up with London rivals Chelsea.
Now though, Pochettino has an apprentice of his own in the shape of Hull City’s Portuguese boss Marco Silva, aged just 39.
Pochettino is currently one of the hottest prospects in Europe, but let’s not forget where it started out for the Argentine in English football. When Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins as Southampton manager in January 2013, he was virtually unknown in the English game.
The former-Espanyol coach took over with Saints sat just above the drop zone on 22 points, and Adkins’ sacking came just two days after an impressive 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a hard-fought comeback by Southampton.
It was a questionable decision at the time, but it proved the right one as Southampton finished the season on 42 points and secured top flight status for another season.
Southampton, now managed by Frenchman Claude Puel, on Saturday secured their 41st point of this campaign at home to Hull City – leaving them just one point short of their 2012/13 points tally with five games left to play.
Hull had a share of the spoils, but if Silva had been at the helm since the beginning of the season, there is a strong possibility that they would be close to Southampton in the table – Saints currently sit ninth.
The dismissal of Mike Phelan in January this year coincided with Silva’s appointment, and it had parallels to the situation on the South Coast four years ago.
A further similarity between the two clubs’ situation is that Adkins’ results at Southampton in 2012/13 perhaps didn’t merit what their performances deserved, as was the case with Hull this term under Phelan.
Unlike Southampton, though, Hull have by far the weakest squad in the Premier League as well as having the lowest budget and wage bill of the 20 teams in England’s top flight.
Even worse, the Tigers had just 13 points when Silva took on the challenging managerial reigns in Humberside – nine points less than Southampton had in 2012/13 when Pochettino took the job at the opposite end of the country.
When Silva came in, his side were rock bottom and six points adrift of safety. They looked down and out, almost certain to take the plunge back into the Championship. Silva, though, has changed the mindset of the whole club — Hull now sit two points above the relegation zone with three games left to play.
Silva has picked up 21 points in 15 Premier League games since he became the Hull manager, and it has sent the Tigers roaring up the table – this represents more points than Pochettino achieved in his first half season with Southampton having played one less game than the Argentine.
The main reason is the Tigers’ home form. Only Spurs, ironically managed by Pochettino, and Everton under the guidance of another former-Saint Ronald Koeman (Pochettino’s successor), have picked up more points at home than Silva’s men in 2017.
Hull have earned 19 points from seven games at the KCOM Stadium since Silva took over, having only registered eight points in 10 home games under Phelan.
Home victories over AFC Bournemouth, Liverpool, Swansea City, West Ham United, Middlesbrough and Watford have seen Hull steer clear of the drop zone and in with a genuine chance of retaining top-flight status next season against all the odds.
Defying the odds has been no problem for Silva in the past either, as he transformed Estoril from second division minnows to the fourth best team in Portugal between 2011 and 2014 — behind only SL Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting Club de Portugal — widely regarded as Portugal’s big three consistently.
The Tigers have also earned two home wins in cup competitions under Silva, against Swansea and Manchester United in January. Silva’s side pushed United all the way in the EFL Cup semi-final, losing 3-2 on aggregate over two legs.
Just as Pochettino guided Spurs to the League Cup final in 2015, Silva could have achieved the same feat. If he was in charge for Hull’s 2-0 first leg defeat at Old Trafford instead of Phelan, the game and tie could have had a different outcome.
Hull’s fine performance against United at the KCOM Stadium demonstrated Silva’s hunger for medals, and he is no stranger to silverware. He won the Segunda Liga (Portuguese second tier) in 2012 with Estoril, as well as the Taca de Portugal (Portuguese Cup) in 2015 with Sporting Lisbon before moving onto Olympiacos where he won the Greek league title in 2016.
The man from Portugal has now become hot property on Humberside, he could go a very long way in the game just as Pochettino has done and will continue to do.
In contrast to their home form, Hull’s away form has not been so impressive. The point at the St. Mary’s Stadium, where Pochettino used to manage, was only Hull’s seventh point away from home this season, and just their second under Silva. It’s been tough on the road, but the home form of Hull has been key in their bid for survival.
When Silva took over at the KCOM Stadium, he made seven January signings. Alfred N’Diaye, Andrea Ranoccia, Lazar Markovic, Omar Elabdelloui, Evandro Goebel, Oumar Niasse and particularly Kamil Grosicki have all played their part in Hull’s excellent second half of the season. Despite losing top scorer and talisman Robert Snodgrass to West Ham in late January, as well as losing Ryan Mason to long-term injury just a week later, Silva has coped well with injuries and has developed a fresher look to the Hull squad.
With Sunderland up next at home, followed by a trip to fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, the amber and black army will fancy their chances to further boost their chances of staying up.
Silva will then come face-to-face with Pochettino on the final day of the season — two men who share so many similarities in the way they think about the game of football.
Just as Pochettino guided Southampton to safety four years ago, Silva, under much more difficult circumstances, has instilled belief and fight into Hull City. The Portuguese boss has turned the KCOM Stadium into the Tigers’ pit, and Hull are looking like potentially pulling off one of the greatest escapes of the Premier League era.