“Nuno Espírito Santo has worked wonders with the squad of players of Wolverhampton Wanderers in the past three years.” This statement was made by ex-Wolves player, Joleon Lescott, in a recent interview. With the Wanderers currently sitting in 6th place in the Premier League table, few would disagree with him.
In their last Premiership game of the current season, before play was suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Nuno’s Wolves beat fellow 2021 Champions League place contenders Spurs, by three goals to two at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. It was doubly satisfying for Nuno as he managed to beat fellow Portuguese manager, José Mourinho, in the process.
It was a bitter pill for Mourinho to swallow as it saw Wolves improve their bid for a Champions League place next season at the expense of the North Londoners. It left Mourinho to ponder on the comments he made about Nuno when he said that he was a far better manager than a goalkeeper. To his downfall, Mourinho was again proved correct.
He was referring to the year 2004. At that time Nuno was the reserve goalkeeper for Porto; under Mourinho’s management when they won the Champions League.
Now, as Jose Mourinho is left pondering the remnants of a season that has seen his team kicked out of both the FA Cup and the Champions League in recent weeks, it is Nuno Espírito Santo who is in the ascendancy.
The only thing that Mourinho has to be grateful for is the fact that the current COVID-19 outbreak has forced the season to a halt. With the earliest restart now looking many weeks away, Spurs’ strikers, England’s Harry Kane and South Korea’s Son Heung-min will have recovered from injury.
It may well prove to be too late to make a significant difference to this season’s standings - even if play does resume at some time in the not too distant future.
In the meanwhile, Nuno can bath in the sunshine of his success so far. His side is still in the Europa League competition and could qualify for next season’s Champions League. So, what is the secret of his success?
Well, that might have been revealed by Leander Dendonker, who is a key player for the Wolves squad, having made 46 appearances for the club this season. The 24-year-old midfielder has given an interesting insight into Santo’s methods which are said to be similar to those of his father.
His father, said Dendonker, the Belgian international, used to tell him what was good and what was bad after every match. Nuno does the same, and in doing so, he gets the best out of his squad of players.
One of the key achievements that Nuno can be proud of is the fact that he has managed to keep his small squad of players, fully motivated, fully energised and relatively free of injury, even though they have played more fixtures than any of the Premiership rivals. Nuno puts this down to his backroom team and medical staff, led by fellow countryman, Antonio Dias.