At the end of the 2016-17 Second Division EFL Championship Season, the Paul Lambert-led Wolverhampton Wanderers finished a lowly 15th with just 58 points (same points tally as the previous season).
The Wolves board decided that it was time to pull the plug and shake things up surprising fans and pundits alike with the surprise appointment of former Porto FC manager Nuno Espirito Santo, a club that had dismissed him. For Nuno, as he was known fondly, it was a conundrum nonetheless to go from managing a Championship contender in the Portuguese Primeira Liga to coaching Wolves in the lowly second division.
For many, it made very little sense with lots of downsides for both parties, but fast-forward 3 years, and this decision has proven to be an absolute masterstroke!
The 2017-18 EFL season saw Wolves achieve instant promotion to the top flight with a staggering 99 points EFL Championship title finish. This was +42 points more in just one season under Nuno Espirito Santo. For Wolves fans, the football fairy tale was all too real at the time. Would it last, though?
Nuno Espirito Santo takes Wolves on a journey back to relevance
EFL Championship winning teams find out the hard way that the Premier League is like a Piranha in your backyard that looks harmless but can rip you apart in an instant. So many teams like Middlesbrough, Cardiff City and, most recently, Norwich City have been found wanting after being promoted to the premier league in very impressive fashion.
But, there have also been exceptions like Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers under Nuno Espirito Santo who finished their first season back at the top in the Top 7, a result that was no fluke.
With good backing from the new owners, Chinese group Fosun International, Nuno Espirito Santo went big bringing in 9 players and offloading 16 more. Most of his signings proved to be immediate hits like Diogo Jota, Willy Boly, Rui Patricio, Adama Traore, Jonny and Joao Moutinho.
But the biggest signing so far was the arrival of striker Raúl Jiménez from Benfica, a loan move, which proved to be another masterstroke. The striker netted 44 goals in just 99 games, almost averaging a goal every two games which is an incredible return for a newly-promoted side.
Underdogs no more
When Adama Traore scored the 2nd goal at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City to make it 2-0 for Wolves in the 2019-20 Premier League season, it felt like the fairy tale was alive and well for the Wolves fans. Nuno Espírito Santo's Wolves had outsmarted Pep Guardiola again to deal a big blow to Man City's title hopes.
Nuno Espírito Santo's Wolves reminded you of Mourinho's Inter Milan & Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid teams in their spirit and intensity. They scrap for every ball, go for every second ball, play every game to win, be it at the Etihad, Molineux or Anfield.
Nuno Espírito Santo's track record is wonderful too. He has a winning record of an amazing 51.59% at Wolves, an incredible achievement considering the sheer money the teams around them have spent & managers that have come and gone. In the recently concluded season, Nuno's team not only managed to finish in the Top 7 again but also reached the Europa League quarter-finals where they were only knocked out by eventual winners Sevilla.
Fans are not convinced if they can hold on to their talisman though:
The buildup to the upcoming season has been less than ideal with contract still not pinned down and lots of star players being linked with moves away. This might well be Nuno Espirito Santo's last season with the Wolves anyway if he guides them to another Top 10 finish which would be a great swansong to his illustrious reign with the Wolves.
Nuno Esprito Santo's track record of instant promotion and two Top 7 finishes in the Premier League is the stuff of dreams and his track record against the Top 6 too as of April 2020 was 1.2 points per game which is something even team inside the Top 6 don't manage against each other.
Pinning the crown on Nuno as the best manager in a league that boasts the likes of Jürgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti & Pep Guardiola who have won a combined 8 Champions League titles might seem unrealistic.
Still, his record against them speaks for itself, and he hasn't had the luxury of an unlimited war chest as many of the above managers have. There are other exceptional managers like Sean Dyche of Burnley whose team finished a remarkable 10th considering their shoestring budget and Chris Wilder, who also got his team promoted to the top league and finished a pat-worthy 9th.
Having said all of this, I still believe Nuno Esprito Santo's track record, consistency, team building and organizational skills put him at the top of the list. I believe Nuno Esprito Santo will again guide them to a Top 7 finish this upcoming season and leave to manage another top club in one of the other leagues.Published 30 Aug 2020, 21:21 IST