The first time Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo really laughed on a Zoom call on Friday was when he talked about improving players.
“When that happens, it’s very special,” he said, almost boyishly. “That’s what it’s all about. And it will always be about that. ‘
At Wolves, the improvement of players and the purchase of very good players has led to the emergence of an exciting team. For Saturday’s home game against Arsenal, Nuno’s team is sixth in the Premier League, two points away from the Champions League places.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s wolves face Arsenal as they try to increase their top four chances
Raul Jimenez was in good shape for Wolves this season – he scored 15 goals in the league
Nuno, 46, does not talk about Europe. “There has never been talk, and it never will,” he said. But he will also not limit how high his team can fly.
“It is unlimited,” he said. “We strive for perfection. It’s about having a team to compete with everyone, anywhere. ‘
Wolves have only won at home six times this season, surprising for a club with such lively support. Oddly enough, 27 of their 52 league points got away. Whether that explains why Nuno’s team has done so well without fans since the resumption of football is impossible to say. What we do know is that few teams have re-entered the match fitter, and three wins out of three is the result.
The Wolves manager refuses to talk about Europe, but has a lot of confidence in his team
“The reason is the work and dedication of the players during the lockdown,” said Nuno.
Wolves’ manager spent the break of the season at home in Portugal, but his influence was felt. While Wolves’ first team sent each other a daily message on their own WhatsApp group, Nuno made regular contributions to another staff and player forum.
“They were motivational messages or videos and even funny things,” a Wolves source revealed. “His way of making sure he was in touch without choking them.”
Despite their wide range of nationalities – eight different countries were represented in the starting XI that Aston Villa defeated 1-0 last Saturday – the Wolves players are tight.
The influence of Captain Conor Coady, who excelled under Nuno, was profound
Captain Conor Coady, who has played every minute of his club’s last 105 league games since Nuno took him from midfield to defense, is deep. This also applies to the Portuguese playmaker Joao Moutinho.
It was the 33-year-old who bored teammates, she amused by regularly sending them videos performing bizarre ball tricks in his yard.
“We missed each other and our daily routine,” Coady said recently. “But while we were gone, there was an incredible amount of attention to detail from our wonderful employees. We have to do what they tell us simply because we know it works. ‘
Lockdown sessions provided by Wolves fitness coach Antonio Dias were strict. Coady did some running in a field next to his house, and foreign Wolverhampton players were able to use the club’s training ground on a spinning basis.
Nuno has ensured that players are involved through motivational messages and funny videos
When the club’s nutritionist delivered food to the players at home, no means remained untried. It is now up to the players to take the next step.
Nuno will lead his 150th Wolves game on Saturday. His impact at the club was immediate and will continue. Appointed in 2017, he won promotion to the Premier League in his first season. His team played an elaborate style that many thought would be tempered by pragmatism in the top division. That has not happened.
Former Wolves sports director Kevin Thelwell said in an excellent Molineux View podcast: “Most managers say they need nine to twelve months to build a philosophy and a team. Nuno did it in five weeks in the preseason. It was unbelievable. It seemed that we had played 3-5-2 for 10 years. ‘
Nuno is ready to take charge of his 150th Wolves game when Arsenal visits Molineux on Saturday
Thelwell left Molineux after 11 years in March. In his wake, a lineup is increasingly formed by Wolves’ Portuguese coach. His influence runs right through the club and every team of age groups now uses Nuno’s preference system. Players of all ages are recruited to match the model.
For example, Nuno likes big, athletic central defenders, so academy scouts are tasked with looking up guys with those traits.
“Having a coach with a clear idea of the positional features required for each space means you can direct recruitment to very specific areas,” added Thelwell. “We placed one or two profiles for Nuno and he made the choice. I can’t think of a moment when we drew a player he didn’t want. ‘
The selection of Wolves’ first team is not large. That is again the choice of Nuno. It means that players under 23 and under 18 are regularly called upon to participate in training sessions.
WhatsApp messages delivered to the head of the academy, Scott Sellars every morning, list the needs of the first team for the day. If boys don’t fit – or behave incorrectly – their chances take a while to return.
Wolves grow from head to toe in ambition. It is extraordinary that the club was bought only 13 years ago by Sir Jack Hayward’s previous owner Steve Morgan for £ 10.
On match day, when fans are present, the old stadium bounces and the redevelopment of Molineux is discussed. The club is also considering building its own mini stadium to host the women’s team and the under-23s.
Manchester City is at the forefront of this and Wolves has no qualms about following.
Chelsea is another club whose structure they admire. Wolves wants to copy the London club’s policy of having two head coaches for each age group team.
But for the time being, it is the first team to lead the way. One of Nuno’s pet hates is players training with their hips on their hips. He feels it indicates that they are not ready to work.
As this strange, shortened season approaches its critical weeks, there is no indication that they are not ready to slow down yet.
It could be argued that any football team is only as good as their manager. At Wolves, it is more complicated than that. The club’s relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes is known.
One of Nuno’s pet hates is when players stand with their hands off their hips during training
Mendes advised Chinese owners Fosun when they were looking to buy a club in 2016. His Gestifute company – in which Fosun has a small stake – has a management box at Molineux and one of his most trusted staff, Valdir Cardoso, is his husband the ground in the Black Land. About 10 members of a Portuguese team from the first team are represented by Gestifute.
During Thelwell’s time with Wolves, Cardoso was suggested to be the driving force behind recruitment. Thelwell has not been replaced since moving to New York Red Bulls, but he was phlegmatic when he insisted.
“I have a lot of respect for Jorge and for Valdi,” Thelwell told Molineux View. Their network gives Wolves access to every football club in the world. They can connect at the ownership level.
“Wolves are lucky to have that advantage. They helped Wolves achieve the success they have today. ‘
It is against the football regulations that an agent leads the hiring of a club and Mendes’ influence at Wolves has been signed off on the right side of the line by the EFL and Premier League. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for clubs to rely on favorite big names.
Wolves describe Jorge Mendes as an ‘advisor’ and fans may be concerned about Nuno’s future
Wolves describe Mendes as an ‘advisor’ and the only concern for supporters will come if and when he decides that Nuno’s career is ready for the next step.
Nuno was Mendes’ first client – they met at a nightclub when the manager was a jobkeeper in Portugal almost 25 years ago – and he only managed clubs (Rio Ave and Porto in Portugal, Valencia in Spain) where his agent was heavily involved.
In Spain they speak of Nuno as the future manager of Atletico Madrid, where Mendes has influence. Last December, he was delighted by Saturday’s Arsenal opponent. In Wolverhampton, they just hope that this gifted coach extends a deal that ends next summer.
Nuno has not said much about it, but suggested last week: “Now that we are back to work, we have time to talk. We are here and it is good to be here. ‘
Massively improved, Adama Traore perfectly embodies Nuno’s offensive style
With his son at university in Manchester – his wife and daughters live in Portugal – and his team growing forward, Nuno’s work at Wolves is far from feeling. Maybe the fans shouldn’t worry yet. Maybe they should just enjoy what they have and worry about what comes later, later.
Close-up footage of Wolves winger Adama Traore storming through the Villa defense was shared on social media this week. Few players have improved like Traore under Nuno and in many ways he embodies the spirit of the coach’s offensive style.
You can hear a Villa player begging teammates to ‘f ***** g’ him and eventually someone does. Twenty-four players have been booked because they did the same this season with Traore in the Premier League. Any player can be stopped by fair means or by mistake.
Whether Wolves’ momentum is equally easy to slow down is another matter.