I’M NOT surprised that Marco Silva is proving to be a huge success at Fulham — as he is one of the most infectious personalities I’ve ever met.
Normally when you use that phrase you mean that someone is a bubbly character, the life and soul of the party. But I don’t mean that about Silva.
At Watford, it was his relentless desire for success, to win at all costs and improve players individually which rubbed off on everybody.
As club captain, you’re involved in internal club discipline — setting down rules and issuing fines for lateness and the like.
But when Silva was my boss at Vicarage Road for six months or so, standards were so high that I barely even remember anyone getting fined.
That is rare and it says a lot about what an excellent manager he was.
He certainly wasn’t backwards in b******ing players.
And if you were a 17-year-old kid or a seasoned veteran, he would treat you exactly the same.
But Silva had an incredible attention to detail.
After every match, your own individual stats would be left at your spot in the training ground dressing room on the next working day, which is very unusual.
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He wouldn’t often challenge you about them. But when any professional footballer sees a stat saying he’d only won 30 per cent of their heading duels, he makes damned sure that doesn’t happen again the next week.
Silva was an extremely demanding boss but in a good way, you wanted to go and work for him. He was interesting and challenging.
And I am not saying this because he was good news for my own career — if anything the opposite was true.
I was injured in pre-season when he came in and I didn’t start many matches.
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He told me that I wasn’t his type of striker, that he preferred Andre Gray and Richarlison.
But that sort of honesty is rare and I respected it. Most managers are nowhere near as honest. As it happened, I played a decent part in a few wins for him.
The problem with Silva then, and this was five years ago, was that his drive for success was perhaps too powerful.
We made a flying start to that Premier League season and, very soon, news got out that Everton were after him.
That whole situation could have been handled better by Marco and by the owners and results tailed off because of it. Eventually he was sacked but ended up at Everton anyway.
The Everton saga was the one thing he wasn’t honest about publicly or internally at the club.
So when he took the Fulham job at the start of last season, I wasn’t convinced that he was well suited temperamentally to managing in the Championship. I wasn’t sure how long he would stick around.
I think he has learned and matured since his Watford days in that respect, though.
His Fulham side won the second tier in style, playing some great attacking football and now they are making a genuine challenge for Europe, and have reached the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Fulham recruited really well last summer — Marco’s excellent knowledge of the Portuguese game helped them get Joao Palhinha for just £17million and he is outstanding in midfield.
Then there’s Willian, who everyone thought looked out of shape and past it at Arsenal a couple of years ago but has a new lease of life at Fulham.
I’m sure Silva’s fitness coach, Goncalo Pedro, one of the very best in the business, has had a great impact on Willian.
A lot of fitness coaches are like drill sergeants and they treat everyone the same in terms of the work they do.
Not Goncalo. He would listen, he would treat you like an adult and he would tailor individual fitness programmes for each player. These details matter in professional football.
I’m sure Goncalo is playing a huge part in their success.
It’s not just the new signings who are going well for Fulham, though. Players like Tim Ream and Bobby Decordova-Reid, who haven’t truly cracked the Premier League before, have improved immeasurably.
That doesn’t surprise me because that is what Silva and his team do. They challenge people and make them better.
Etienne Capoue had been Watford’s best player the previous season and we were all shocked when Silva dropped him and demanded improvement but Etienne responded brilliantly.
I hope Silva stays at Fulham for four or five years and gets them into Europe because I believe he is capable of that, especially as the club are giving him what he wants in terms of investment.
Beyond that, I think he will end up as an elite Champions League boss, he really is that good.
And just imagine how complimentary I would be about him if he had actually selected me to start very often!