With Fluminense forward Richarlison on the verge of signing for Dutch giants and Europa League runners-up Ajax, the new Watford boss rang the Brazilian in the hope of persuading him to move to Vicarage Road instead.
On the face of it signing for the four-time European Cup winners and 33-time Eredivisie champions over Watford, in just their third season as a top-flight club, would have been a fairly straightforward decision.
But whatever Silva said resonated with the player on the other end of the line and Richarlison turned down the overtures of de Godenzonen to join one of the Premier League‘s less-fancied clubs.
“We had to act very fast,” Silva told the Daily Express. “We made contact with him and when I knew the player was ready to travel to sign with Ajax I had to stop everything and call him.
“It was a Sunday and he was due to travel to Ajax on the Monday. I explained everything and what I expected from him. I told him I believed in him and I wanted him to come here and help us.
“I told him that Ajax was a big club – they are in the Champions League – but I told him how the challenge in the Premier League would be different to Ajax.
So far, it’s looking like a shrewd decision for the player and an almighty stroke of luck for the club.
That was just the start.
The £11.5million Watford paid to prise Richarlison – who was, reportedly, a Chelsea transfer target over the summer – out of Ajax’s grasp already looks to be loose change.
And with five goals and four assists to his name, the forward is subject of Tottenham Hotspur transfer rumours.
But this is what the club’s owners, the Pozzo family, do after all. Their South American scouting network has turned up rough diamonds for fun during their 32-year tenure at Udinese. The poster boy for that model is Alexis Sánchez who joined the Zebrette from Cobreloa in 2006 before being sold to Barcelona for €26million five years later.
If Richarlison or his representatives have done their research they will know all about the family’s penchant for turning unheard of players into household names worth millions of pounds. On his showings so far, Richarlison could be the new player held up as the shining example of the Pozzo model for years to come.
What makes Richarlison so good?
The expectation when signing a youngster – Richarlison is still only 20 – from another continent is they will take time to bed in, learn about the demands of the Premier League and generally settle into life in England.
But Richarlison has shown scant regard for that script in the first few months of his stay in Hertfordshire. Introduced from the bench in that topsy-turvy draw against Liverpool, he injected pace and directness into Watford’s attack and was not scared to run at full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“He’s still brushing up on his English, but he’s fitted into the group straightaway. I’m not teaching him English – but he’s working on it and he’s always smiling. He’s got character about him and his age doesn’t seem to matter.
“He’s only 20 but he plays with a lot of personality and the boys really love him. He’s had a great start, especially for a young lad, and he puts a great shift in for the team.
“He’s got a great attitude for a young kid. He showed great composure for his goal and I was delighted he got the winner.”
The assertion that he ‘puts a great shift in for the team’ could easily be a throwaway cliché. But Mariappa is right about his work-rate and Richarlison has made the most tackles of any forward player in the Premier League, alongside Andre Ayew, with 47.
In fact, he averages 1.9 successful tackles per game, per WhoScored, which is more than any other Watford forward who’s playing regularly. Richarlison’s boundless energy has been a huge asset on both sides of the ball.
But, as with any prodigy, there are still areas of his game where Richarlison can improve. It is, for example, a good thing he is so good at getting the ball back because he loses it often enough. He has been fouled 3.1 times per 90 on average 60 times this season already – just behind Ashley Barnes and Eden Hazard. The Chelsea star is hardly bad company to keep.
He is, though, not your typical winger in his build. At nearly 5ft 11ins he can look ungainly running at defenders but he has the pace, close control and trickery to cause problems.
That begs a question over where his future lies. He has started wide all but once, against Leicester City, when he was tasked with leading the line from the off. The experiment did not work and Silva moved him back to the left where he terrorised Aleksandar Dragović at right-back.
But he certainly has the attributes to play that role and his finishing so far suggests he knows how to find the back of the net.
So could could he, like another former Pozzo protégé Sánchez, find his calling through the middle in the future? Only time will tell. But if he becomes even half as good as the Chilean, Watford and the club’s fans must savour Richarlison while they can.