Marco Silva recently signed a new three-year deal to stay at Fulham until 2026; the Portuguese is now targeting a first domestic trophy; watch Fulham vs Arsenal live on Super Sunday from 1pm on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event; kick-off 2pm
“The first day I arrived here, the mood and everything at the club was really down, I have to be honest,” says Marco Silva about his first day in charge of Fulham back in July 2021.
The club had just been relegated from the Premier League having won only five league games all season under Scott Parker’s stewardship and everyone at Craven Cottage needed a lift.
Fast forward two years and not only did Silva bring Fulham straight back up after a goal-laden Championship title win, but he also managed to guide them to 10th place on their return to the Premier League, their first top-half finish since 2012.
The 52 points Fulham amassed last season has only ever been bettered once in their history, when they managed 53 points in 2008/09.
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“It was a process and the main thing was the players understood what we wanted, they bought into the idea and it was magnificent the way we did it the first season, and the second one was a great one for us,” he explained.
“Again, we changed so many things on the pitch, but off the pitch as well, the way we are trying to always improve the club as more professional as you can.
“It has been great, but the business is not finished yet, there a lot of things still to fight for, we have to keep improving, to demand from ourselves, I’m the first one to demand from everyone around me and the players as well.
“We are a strong group of players, we have a good core around, but we want more, we want to keep improving and the main thing for us is to get more consistent in everything that we are doing because we have had some fantastic spells, others not so good.
“And we are trying to look for more consistency and the concentration and focus is also important in all the moments of the season because some moments, we play so, so well we match teams, but the little details are making the difference.”
Improving on such a strong campaign was never going to be easy, especially when newly promoted sides often find it harder in their second season back in the Premier League.
However, when you also lose your top scorer in four of the previous five campaigns, as Silva did when Aleksandar Mitrovic left for the riches on offer at Saudi Pro League club Al Hilal, then things become even harder, even more so when you cannot replace the striker with the move taking place too late in the summer window.
“We are going to try to improve, even if you lost an important player for us, and a player who has scored so many goals that helped the teams in many ways,” Silva said.
“He was a player who was not in his best moment when we arrived and we made him so important for us, we took the best from him as well.
“But OK, football is like that, we lost him and the club sold him for a very, very good amount. When you sell a player like him, you are not going to be stronger, everyone has to realise that, what we did was stick together, and we tried to improve the three strikers in our squad.
“And it is my job to do it. About the season, if it is possible to be better or not, it is up to us to work hard and in the end we are going to see. But our aim is to try to do the things better, to improve and get the club in a better position if we can.”
At the halfway point of the league season, Fulham sit 13th in the table, four points adrift of Chelsea in 10th, but having lost their last three top-flight games without scoring ahead of Sunday’s home game with Arsenal, live on Sky Sports.
That losing run, though, came on the back of successive 5-0 romps at the Cottage, so why such a stark contrast in results?
“The results have changed, different games, different stories,” Silva explained. “Our aims and approach to the games did not change. Three different games, the Newcastle one we played 75 minutes with 10 men, which is always really difficult.
“And against Burnley in the first half with the chances we created, it was a game for us to score goals and we had enough chances to score more than one and we have not scored. And we lost the game because in the second half we made some mistakes.
“I have to say that the last game, we did not play to the standard we should, and of course in the next one, we want to improve from the last game because the Bournemouth game was not good enough.”
One obvious difference between those winning and losing runs was the absence in two of their defeats of the injured Willian and the suspended Raul Jimenez, sent off after just 22 minutes in their 3-0 loss at Newcastle United.
But Silva will definitely welcome back the Mexico striker from suspension on Sunday and is hopeful the Brazil forward will also be fit to feature.
“It is not a coincidence that they missed those games, but we cannot go in the simple direction or excuse that they did not play, so the team did not score,” he said. “I do not like this, you cannot put your faith in just two players. But I have to say we missed both.”
As for the challenge of taking on an Arsenal side that is once again challenging for the title, Silva is expectant, but also wary after the north London team’s surprise home loss to West Ham United on Thursday night.
We know what we are going to face, what they are capable to do and things that we can exploit.
“We know what we are going to face, what they are capable to do and things that we can exploit,” he said.
“If you ask me, it is going to be harder because they will want to bounce back, top, top sides do not normally have two results in a row that are not positive, so probably because of that it is going to be harder because they’ll want to bounce back.
“But at the same time, we want to bounce back and get back to winning ways again, we want this, it is our aim and goal.”
One important reference point for him and his players is August’s 2-2 draw at the Emirates, when the visitors, down to 10 men after Calvin Bassey’s red card, came back to score a 97th-minute equaliser through Joao Palhinha, the only time until West Ham’s win that a team had taken points from Arsenal at home in the league this season.
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“We showed last August playing against them away from home in difficult circumstances, we played 25 minutes [sic] with 10 men,” he said. “And even so we were able to match them, to go, to play, losing 2-1 then equalising at the end. And we did it really well and the players showed the desire and quality to achieve it at the Emirates in difficult circumstances.
“We want to do the same and it is going to be a great feeling to play the last game of the year at Cottage under the lights against one of the best sides in the country, a team that before last [Thursday] night everyone was saying was in the best form in this competition.
“But it will be good to share the last day of the year with our fans at the Cottage after a great, great year for this football club.”
Victory on Sunday would cap off a memorable 12 months for Silva, who showed his commitment to Fulham last summer when rejecting a reportedly two-year €40m (£34.7m) deal to manage Saudi Arabian club Al Ahli, before in October agreeing a new contract to stay in west London until 2026.
In that time the ambitious Portuguese, 46, not only wants to establish Fulham as a Premier League regular, as they were between 2001-14, but also to win a first domestic trophy, something that could even happen as soon as this season with the club facing Liverpool in next month’s Carabao Cup semi-finals.
“The reality will not take ambition from me, after if it is going to be possible to reach a final, to fight for a trophy, to reach certain positions in the table, we will see at the end,” said Silva.
“But in terms of ambition, it is not going to ever take from myself and from my players and after you have to prove inside the pitch if you are able to do it or not. That is the team.
“What are the aims when I renewed my contract for the next three years? The first thing is for everyone to recognise this club as a Premier League club and for me to be a Premier League club means a lot.
“It is not just to remain in the Premier League, it is the way you do it, the way you are improving, the way everyone can see you have a project behind, this is really important for me and what I ask and demand from everybody around me not just to put on paper, but to put into action.
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“And all the other things after are going to be a consequence of the way we prepare ourselves, the way we work behind the scenes to be stronger after on the pitch and on the matchday.”
Watch Fulham vs Arsenal live on Super Sunday from 1pm on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event; kick-off 2pm