Photo credit: Wolves Twitter
Wolverhampton Wanderers have changed direction after four years under Nuno Espirito Santo’s management from winning EFL Championship in 2017, ending six-year absence of playing in Premier League to finishing in top half in Premier League with two-consecutive seventh position finish in the League as well as reach the quarter-finals of UEFA Europa League 2019-20. Under Nuno’s managerial tenure, Wolves qualified for UEFA Europa League and secured the highest finish in the English top flight after 39 Years. Nuno turned down various Champions League clubs to move to the Championship, buying into Fosun’s vision while partnering with his old friend Jorge Mendes to build a football team.
Nuno, after arriving from Porto in 2017, focuses on transforming Wolves brand of football from direct, fast football and wingers sending over a cross after cross to a slower, methodical approach with a foundation built on rigid organisation and trying to control games without the ball as much as with it. Nuno made his players during his first season realise that by investing their talent and energy to make his ideas work on the pitch, they do have higher chances to return back into playing top flight football in England. He was taken aback by seeing hundreds of Wolves fans travel to Austria to watch them play in preseason games and warmed up to the gesture of applauding the Wolves fans after every match as opposite to being cold and emotionless towards the fans at Porto as he realised that striking a bond with the fans also plays a key role in getting positive results out of his players on the pitch and in no time, he became the fan favourite which other managers in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers failed to achieve. The fans stood behind Nuno despite 2020-21 being his underwhelming season during the tenure and would welcome him again in the future to take over the reins of the club on the pitch in the future. Nuno made sure that no victory would be complete without him taking to the field and leading a chorus of cheers.
Nuno’s philosophy of football involves a perfect balance of keeping clean sheets as well as players supporting each other, reacting to the loss of possession, keeping shape and running back. Nuno has taken upon himself to prove his predecessor Paul Lambert’s assessment of lack of winning mentality at the club by addressing it immediately and generating a fearless attitude among his players by providing them with short, basic, simple messages, or “their tasks” as he put it. He also made some changes in behind the scene functionality at the club by helping players develop a strong relationship with the Core Backroom Staff as well as restricting club’s other staff members including the media team’s access to his players.
He even skipped doing interviews with the club as well as local press during his early weeks as he wanted the results to do the talking instead. He had little or no interest in generating relationships with journalists, certainly in those opening two or three years. Press conferences would be notoriously terse, he’d snap at reporters or bite heads off in reply to reasonable questions, for no discernible reason. Journalists quickly learned which subjects he would never entertain such as the league table, prospective transfers etc but sometimes he’d generate a dark atmosphere simply in the manner he sat down. He’d occasionally apologise, he knew he was being difficult, but he didn’t care. You always got the impression he felt he didn’t need the press. His team was winning, so what was there to be gained by currying favour. He played the game by not playing the game, never giving anything which might motivate the opposition.
Intrigued by this new style of play and a mythical, beard-stroking manager, fans immediately signed up to the Nunolution. Molyneux's biggest opening-day attendance since 1980 saw them beat promotion favourites Middlesbrough 1-0. He ensured that the players do enough to leave no room for maneuver. It was his way, his philosophy by using attention to detail and world-class expertise from his backroom team. His backroom team introduced new methods in injury prevention, rehabilitation, fitness, and psychology which would help players to up their performances in weeks to come. Wolves reached the top of the table in the EFL Championship By playing stylish football which the fans have not witnessed for years. They reached the fourth round of the EFL Cup for the first time in 22 years, knocking out Premier League regulars Southampton and then pushing Manchester City all the way to penalties at the Etihad, all in his first season.
Nuno took merely Five Weeks to build a new philosophy for the club by using pre-season effectively to understand the changes needed to be made earlier to get the team up and running and prepare them well for the intense battle ahead. The changes involve converting Conor Coady into a ball-playing centre half, transforming Matt Doherty into one of the best attacking wing-backs in the country, as well as assembling a host of new players into a cohesive, winning unit. His most trusted player in Porto, the maverick club captain Ruben Neves, followed him to join Wolves and rejected offers from a host of top European clubs. With the additions of Joao Moutinho, Jonny Otto and Raul Jimenez, they got even better in the Premier League, playing the same way every week, beating Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, finishing seventh and reaching an FA Cup semi-final, before embarking on a European jaunt, the club’s first for 40 years, that will never be forgotten.
To break down his line of instructions for the players on the pitch, ‘Coady to Neves, back to Coady, out to Doherty or Barry Douglas, draw the opponents in, then unleash the red arrows down the flanks, one-twos, combinations, work the ball into the box, play between the lines, isolate defenders….and pounce. Goal and Game over!’. His opponent managers often remarked how damn difficult they were to play against with them being particularly devastating on the counter-attack
His frenzied passion in victory only made the bond between him and the fans much stronger and better. Exhibits of that include while playing against Bristol City in an away game in the Championship season, he celebrated with a lion’s roar cry as he was walking towards the stands on the account of being sent off for arguing with the referees, blissfully ignoring local club legend Alan Dicks’ plea to “kindly move, old boy”. Making managers like Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock sweat with those successive logic-defying victories on their way to the title (with nine men at Boro and then surviving two injury-time penalties to win 1-0 in Wales) only lifted his status to that of a demigod with Warnock told him to fuck off six times after Nuno stormed the pitch to celebrate the second penalty miss instead of stopping first to shake his opposing manager’s hand. The supporters knew that Nuno has got what it takes to drive them towards achieving glory and respect that they deserve in world football. Referees, on the other hand, realised that the Portuguese bearded tactician didn’t care about the authority and they would be having a hard time dealing with him.
He will surely be missed by the fans and the new manager will be having a humongous task to fill Nuno’s big footed shoes at Wolverhampton Wanderers as well building something more positive and constructive to take his legacy to greater heights.