With Marco Silva seemingly uncommitted to The Cottagers, every loss felt like a step closer to catastrophe. Now with the Portuguese tied down to a new deal until 2026 there can be more optimism for the future, even if the current season has a stuttering feel to it.
As Saudi Arabia circled Fulham’s stars this summer, the unanimous verdict was that the most damaging departure would be that of the head coach. He ultimately stayed, but with no promise that his stay would extend beyond this season.
Big questions centred on whether the club were able to adequately recruit with a manager in the final year of his contract. Would players be willing to join, not knowing if the man who signed them would be there beyond their first year in South West London? Did the pull of Silva, so instrumental in the arrival of Joao Palhinha and Andreas Pereira, hold as much weight with his deal winding down? Did Silva have as much influence on transfer targets, having failed to demonstrate he saw his future in SW6?
These questions are no longer an issue as we head toward what could be an important January transfer window and fans can take comfort from the fact that Silva has long tied his own future to the ambitions of his employers. He has made it apparent that if he does not believe his own goals are matched, he would not stay and endeavour for less. When questioned on if the clubs ambitions would influence his contract situation, in May, Silva replied “Definitely”. When he didn’t immediately sign, and following a less than inspiring summer window, fans could be forgiven for thinking that his ambitions were not matched.
That window came home to roost as The Whites visited the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Goals have been hard to come by all season, and as Aleksandar Mitrovic scored a hat-trick in the Asian Champions League, Carlos Vinicius and Raul Jimenez continued to toil in front of goal. Not replacing the Serb with a quality goalscorer, difficult as that may be, continues to prove problematic. Only four teams have scored less than Fulham after nine matches. Three of those are in the relegation zone. Mitrovic’s departure was not planned, but there was also plenty of time to prepare for it, and while reports suggested Silva was content with his options, it’s hard to believe a man of his ambition did not want proven quality to lead his line.
Another area of the team that wasn’t reinforced was the position of right-sided centre-back. Tosin Adarabioyo was widely tipped to depart Craven Cottage this summer, but ended deadline day still with Fulham. Unfortunately, he was also injured. With this knowledge, the club decided against bringing in anyone in addition to the left-footed Calvin Bassey. Much has been said about not necessarily needing both a left and right-footer at the heart of the defence, after all the Thames Barrier of Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland both favoured their right peg. But this is a different era, where players at the back are required to start attacks in their own third, often under pressure from charging forwards in this age of the press. It means you either have to be ambidextrous or play on your strongest side to avoid the pitfalls that caught out Bassey in North London.
Before the news of Silva’s contract, the performance at Spurs, while not spelling disaster, continued a pattern of Fulham not providing the same test for opposition as last season. Three wins from nine and 11 points is a solid and safe return, but inspiration has been lacking in the displays. With Silva potentially leaving, the worry was that a new manager would not be coming into a club on the upward trajectory The Cottagers appeared to be on this time last year. But with Silva now committed, one would have to assume that the club is set to travel in the right direction again, even if this season proves to be little more than a year of stabilisation. It could also mean that there will be a more fruitful January window, with Silva’s ability to appeal to players of quality back in play, with the news he is sticking around for a while.
In the announcement of his new deal Silva mentioned both the support and trust of the owners as being “really important in this decision”. He also spoke of wanting to “continue together on this long journey” further quelling fears this contract is simply to ensure compensation for any impending departure. Silva clearly feels that his future is with Fulham, and that he can achieve something satisfying by The Thames. Perhaps not this season; while the Carabao Cup is still up for grabs, a league finish in the top half might not be within reach for a second season in a row without investment at the next opportunity. The new contract could lead to that, but even if it doesn’t, second season safety would have been more than acceptable at the start of last season.
Silva has consistently brought the best out of players. Almost all of those he works with at Fulham improve, or at least provide a level of productivity within his team. That’s why he is so important to the club. The side doesn’t look as threatening as it has in previous seasons under his leadership, but the faith is there that while he is at the helm, he will find a way to get the best from his squad. That will be enough to avoid relegation, and if he is backed he has already shown he can go beyond that.
It may be that we have to wait until 24/25 for the next instalment of Marco’s miracles, but a new contract means that is at least a possibility. The future can now be viewed with some anticipation, not uncertainty.
Midtable mediocrity doesn’t sound particularly ambitious right now, but with financial fair play still a factor, a season of frugality before taking more adventurous steps might be an intelligent strategy. Whether that is the plan or not remains to be seen, but after an unsettled summer, this news, even more so than that of Palhinha’s extension, can breed optimism at Craven Cottage. More years of Marco is a meaningful step into the club’s immediate future.