There has not been enough clear thinking at Everton in recent years but when Marco Silva finally took over as manager this summer , seven months after the club first tried to appoint him, he knew what he wanted from his new signings that summer.
More than anything else, Silva wanted experience. Players who had played for big clubs and in high-pressure situations. Who knew what it meant to work for a demanding crowd and a demanding coach. Players who were willing to take responsibility on the pitch when others would shirk it.
Silva knew that there were not enough players like that at Everton. And he knew that now was not the time, with the club trying to kick-start something, to sign talented young prospects who had just had one promising season. Everton had invested enough in players like that in recent years without much to show for it.
Silva arrived soon after Marcel Brands, the new director of football who joined from PSV Eindhoven last summer . While his predecessor Steve Walsh was allowed to pick the new signings, the model changed last summer. Silva and Brands quickly struck up a good relationship in which Brands delivered on the players that Silva picked, and did not sign players the manager did not want.
That might not sound especially remarkable but for Silva himself it was a very welcome contrast from his time at Watford. When Silva arrived at Vicarage Road in May 2017 he hoped for a managerial role with a traditionally British set of powers, including buying players. But at Watford they see things differently. There the head coach is only in charge of training, tactics and selection, with recruitment largely overseen by Filippo Giraldi and Gino Pozzo. It is the club’s insurance policy against the disruption of managerial turnover.
But when Silva arrived at Watford he had a list of players he wanted to sign, including Shakhtar left-back Ismaily and Benfica centre-back Jardel. But the only player Silva wanted who Watford signed was Richarlison. These political disagreements marked the start of Silva’s time at Watford, and three months into last season Everton’s approach proved a disruption from which that relationship could not recover.
Even after Watford sacked Silva, Everton owner Farhad Moshiri always knew that he wanted to appoint him. When the pair met at the end of last season he talked through his work at Estoril, Sporting CP, Olympiakos and Hull City , and how he wanted the opportunity and time to build something at Everton that would last. There were plenty of other clubs that wanted him last year, West Ham United, Southampton and Benfica , but he felt that Everton would be the perfect place to lay down some roots.
That is why Silva enjoyed the summer he did, able to recruit the players he wanted working with the club, rather than feeling as if they had different ideas. And this is why, going into Sunday’s Merseyside derby, Everton are on their best run in years, and playing the best football since the first season of Roberto Martinez. Silva’s decision to go for experienced players who could handle the pressure has been vindicated, especially in their decision to sign players on the fringe of the first team at Barcelona.
Andre Gomes proved what a good player he was at Benfica and Valencia and he has done so again instantly at Everton, providing much-needed quality in the middle of the pitch. He is already being spoken of as the club’s best midfielder since Mikel Arteta. Lucas Digne, another Barcelona signing, has adapted quickly at left-back, and now Yerry Mina is offering a new dimension at centre-back, helping Everton to play the aggressive high-up-the-pitch game that Silva prefers. The three of them have instantly shown the benefit of signing experience, and vindicated Silva’s decision of where to shop.
On top of that there is Bernard, the diminutive Brazilian international signed from Shakhtar Donetsk, a player that Silva had been keen on for years. He has provided some of that creative quality that previously only Gylfi Sigurdsson could deliver. And then of course Richarlison, who played for Silva at Watford and has proven himself again at Everton, providing some pace and directness that had fallen out of their game in recent years.
Take the signings together and they point to the value of having a manager who knows what he wants and helping him to get it. They are certainly an improvement on the last few years of Everton’s transfers, when they overburdened the team with slow No. 10s and tried to replace Romelu Lukaku with Sandro Ramirez. They have won five of their last seven in the league now, and whatever happens at Anfield on Sunday, they look like a team that has finally rediscovered its direction.
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