Apprentice to master – the rise of Nuno Espirito Santo

Apprentice to master – the rise of Nuno Espirito Santo

Nuno Espirito Santo is working wonders at Wolves. The Portuguese guided Wolves to promotion, before reaching the Europa League and a 7th placed finish in his first Premier League campaign. He is now looking to take the club another step forward and onto the next chapter of this wonderful Wolves story. This is Charles Hague-Jones’ guide to the rise of Santo, a man who’s worked with the best, and is on course to become one of the best.

2002-2004: The Mourinho masterclass

Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto side were victorious over Martin O’Neill’s Celtic in Seville. Nuno was the back-up keeper in Jose’s side but still had an influential role in the dressing room.

Mourinho had an unusual phrase to describe Nuno – “He was “born in the crib next to Dom Afonso Henriques” – a reference to the first king of Portugal who secured independence in the 12th century.

It was a grand compliment that referred to the former goalkeeper’s strength and unmistakeable presence; Nuno had the ability to sort things out, take control and to be a little scary, if need be.

Nuno regarded his second choice keeper place so highly and it was due to the emotional bond he and the Porto players had with Mourinho.

He said: “He is obsessed about winning, about success, about developing players. A fantastic manager.

“Before being a professional player you have to know he is a human being and a man with a family, a wife, a girlfriend, or has social problems, or whatever. This is one thing Mourinho did so well.”- The Telegraph

Mourinho guided Porto to their first UEFA Champions League trophy since 1987 and was now on the radar of Europe’s biggest clubs, securing a move to Chelsea in June 2004.

2012-2014: “The Rio Ave European history

After retiring from Porto as a goalkeeping coach, Nuno joined Portuguese side Rio Ave to kick-start his managerial career.

After so many years at Porto, joining another Portuguese club must’ve been tough but it was clear he wanted to implement everything Mourinho had taught him.

In his second season, Rio Ave were finalists in both domestic cup competitions, qualifying for the UEFA Europa League for the first time in their history. European job done for Nuno.

2014-2015: Overcoming and competing with the big dogs

In 2014, Nuno saw his first managerial job overseas in Valencia.

When he first joined he said there was an “incredible desire to compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona.” He wanted to make sure Valencia were able to compete with these two footballing giants.

He said: “In Spain there is a big difference between the two big clubs and the rest.

“They are two champions. The players are aware of it and therefore we need time for them to believe we are going to get there.”

He guided his Valencia side to fourth in the league in his first season, overcoming Real Madrid at home with a famous 2-1 victory, which ended Madrid’s winning run of 22 games, in the process.

His ambition was highly recognised and he explained how playing in Europe would be Valencia’s number one priority.

“First we need to be in the Champions League and I think if the club’s culture keeps growing in this way then next year it will be easier,” he said in 2015.

Nuno was named La Liga manager of the month three times in his one season spell but he later resigned following a 1-0 defeat away to Sevilla in November 2015.

2016-2017: “Porto homecoming”

Nuno returned to Porto in June 2016 as manager.

Porto had faith in their long serving keeper he but was relieved of his duties just a year later, despite finishing second in the league and losing just six games all season.

2017-Present: The Nunolution

In 2017, Wolves appointed Nuno to try and get them to the Premier League at the first time of asking. Fosun, Wolves’ owners, had admittedly got it wrong when they turned to Walter Zenga a year earlier to try and get the job done, which ended In Paul Lambert having to come and steady the ship to prevent Wolves from again being relegated to League One.

Nuno crafted a Championship side when he mixed brute and experience with flair and Portuguese talent. Signing youngest ever Champions League captain, Ruben Neves, for a club record £15million was his boldest move and showed Wolves fans that he certainly meant business. Neves’ name has to be mentioned when the discussion of greatest Championship players comes up.

The Wolves side had its doubters, who claimed the Portuguese players wouldn’t be able to win away at Barnsley on a cold Tuesday night, but Nuno and his side went on to prove everyone wrong.

Nuno revolutionised a back five, playing some of the best football that the English second division had ever seen. The season ended with Wolves being crowned champions with 99 points, nine points clear of second place Cardiff. Wolves were back in the Premier League after a six year absence.

Nuno bolstered his side in the summer of 2018 and added Champions League veteran Joao Moutinho to his midfield, who earned Wolves’ Player of the Season award in a magical season that saw Wolves finish 7th in the league – their highest ever Premier League finish – and get to an FA Cup semi-final.

Nuno’s ambitions have remained from his playing days under Mourinho and he bases the success of his clubs to whether or not they can compete in Europe. Wolves’ 7th place finish in the 18/19 season meant they would earn Europa League football for the following season- their first European competition for 39 years.

The comment he made about competing with the big clubs was something that attracted a lot of attention towards him at Wolves and he wanted to make sure his side would challenge the ‘big six’.

Since being in the Premier League with Nuno they’ve beaten each of the big six sides, some on more than one occasion.

Although Wolves have already racked up 30 games this season, they are currently 6th in the Premier League and have already overcome their Europa League group to progress to the round of 32 .

From apprentice to master, Nuno Espirito Santo is now a high profile manager that has taken what he learned at Valencia and Porto and has implemented it into English football. He has worked a side that has high ambition in Europe and the ability to compete with the top teams in the country.

This guest article was written by Charles Hague-Jones