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Wolverhampton Wanderers: Doing it the Portuguese way

Nuno Espirito Santo appreciating the support at Molineux after defeating Arsenal FC
Nuno Espirito Santo appreciating the support at Molineux after defeating Arsenal FC
Modified 28 Apr 2019, 23:55 IST

Since the turn of the century, Portuguese men have influenced the Premier League in every aspect. Be it playing on the field or coaching a world-class team of players. Firstly, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who won hearts at Manchester United.

Then, in came 'The Special One', Jose Mourinho who altered the landscape of football in the Premier League. Apart from these two legends in the game, there have been many of their compatriots that like Luis Nani, Ricardo Carvalho, Pedro Mendes, Raul Meireles and others less notable than these men, who made the league exciting to watch.

The Portuguese influence on the Premier League is vast. Coaches in the league have turned have always looked at talent from the country in the Iberian peninsula.

One such man was appointed as the 'Gerente' of Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer of 2017.

The board sacked Scotsman Paul Lambert under whom, they were wandering in 15th place in the Championship. The new man in charge was Nuno Espirito Santo who had played under Jose Mourinho at Porto.

Since he took to the helm at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, the fans were up on their feet applauding the efforts of Nuno and his team.

The man from Portuguese Sao Tome and Principe, won the Championship in his first season earning a promotion to the Premier League for this year's campaign.

And to everyone's surprise, the team from the West Midlands surprised everyone with their attacking flair and defensive solidity.

One might think what on earth could have changed Wolverhampton Wanderers from being a lower mid-table in the championship to become one of the finest in the Premier League.

It is, of course, Nuno Espirito Santo and his qualities as a football manager which has taken the team to newer heights. He plays an attacking 3-4-3 or a narrow 3-5-2 formation to disrupt the oppositions midfield play.


The Portuguese are known to rely too much on counter attacks and prefer to have a skilled operator in every position. They do not care about possession and love long raking balls to the forwards with wingbacks running down the flanks.

Since his arrival at the club, Nuno Espirito changed Wolverhampton's playing style from a conservative 4-2-3-1 to employing three men at the back. He is well liked by the Fosun Group, a Chinese company which currently owns Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Wolverhampton Wanderers players celebrating a goal against Arsenal FC at Molineaux Stadium
Wolverhampton Wanderers players celebrating a goal against Arsenal FC at Molineaux Stadium

The former Porto goalkeeper wanted players to fit into this new system and where better than in Portugal, can one find prospects who'd understand the typical Portuguese football brain of Nuno Espirito Santo. Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaliero were already at the club before Nuno Espirito was appointed as manager. They were the bedrock of Wolverhampton's success in the previous season.


Portuguese talents like Diogo Jota from Atletico Madrid, Joao Moutinho, goalkeeper Rui Patricio, and Ruben Vinagre from Sporting Lisbon, Mexican attacker Raul Jimenez from Benfica and Ruben Neves from Porto were added to the squad in a span of two years at the squad.

This year 'The Wanderers' have taken the Premier League by storm and currently sit seventh in the Premier League. The narrow 3-5-2 formation has worked perfectly for Nuno and his team as they were able to contain and defeat top six oppositions like Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal who heavily depend on build-up plays.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United lost to the Wolves twice in a span of 12 days. Something, the team had not managed to do in decades.

They have an average possession of 47.8% in the league. But, the Molineaux side is good at winning aerial duels especially at the back with muscular figures like Conor Coady, Willy Boly, and Dendoncker.

The narrow shape of Wolverhampton Wanderers and constant pressing from the five man midfield is a revolution in English football since Antonio Conte's Chelsea who played a narrow their title-winning season of 2016-2017.

Nuno Espirito Santo is the only manager in the league who prefers to play a traditional set of two strikers in front. It reflects in their goals tally with the combination of Jota and Jiminez scoring 25 goals between them.

The ruthless use of counter-attack at the cost of possession is the golden rule in Portugal. It has been used by many successful Portuguese managers including Jose, who first brought it with him to England. The island nation provides a platform for palyers and mangers from all around the world to experiment and apply various tactics. Some so revolutionary, that one can influence the league in a manner that nobody can imagine.

Italian football gave us 'Catenaccio', Spanish football teaches 'Tiki-Taka' and 'Rondo', whereas Portuguese football induced both and developed a deadly style of 'Contra Ataque'. No wonder why Eusebio's Benfica dominated in Europe in the early days!

Published 27 Apr 2019, 09:21 IST
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