Nuno Espirito Santo‘s last act in English football was to clear out his locker at Tottenham after just four months, but he has caught the eye of Nottingham Forest for his achievements 60 miles west.
Forget the dodgy stint in north London in 2021 or his most recent venture, 16 months with Saudi Arabian club Al Ittihad. Forest have seen what Nuno achieved in four years at Wolves and believe he can do the same for them. Following the departure of Steve Cooper, he was in advanced talks to succeed him last night.
Nuno was well backed at Molineux, certainly in the first half of his reign, and made the most of it. After galloping to promotion in his first full season, he delivered consecutive seventh-placed finishes in the Premier League in 2019 and 2020, and reached the FA Cup semi-final in 2019 and the Europa League quarter-finals the following year.
Though he will have his work cut out to match Cooper’s relationship with Forest fans, he forged a strong bond with the Wolves crowd. His three fist pumps to the South Bank after victories are fondly remembered and when Wolves take on Forest at the City Ground in April, he will get a good reception from the travelling support.
He is a different character from Cooper, though. Cooper believes man-management is key and held regular daily meetings, with individuals and the squad.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s discipline and ferocious training transformed Wolves
The 49-year-old values respect far more than popularity and doesn’t accept compromise
The Portuguese was sacked by Tottenham in in 2021 after just four months in charge
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Nuno does not subscribe to that. One summer, when Wolves players were planning a barbecue, they were asked if their manager would be joining them. They reacted as teenagers might at the prospect of their strictest teacher rocking up at a party.
Nuno values respect far more than popularity. It was that clear-sighted leadership that helped turn Wolves from a club drifting in the Championship to one competing well in the Premier League.
Nor does the 49-year-old like compromise. If Nuno leaves a player out, he is unlikely to tell him why. A knock on the manager’s door may be fruitless.
For some, this is unsettling. Patrick Cutrone, signed for £16million from AC Milan in 2019, never saw eye to eye with Nuno and it was no surprise when he was moved on. Ryan Bennett was another to question his judgment that season and rarely played again.
Yet for every story like those, there is a player who improved rapidly under him — see Adama Traore, Matt Doherty, Conor Coady, Pedro Neto or Romain Saiss. The methods work.
Nuno speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish and Russian, but when addressing his squad he only speaks English. He demands his players reach a solid level of English, which is rare at many Premier League clubs but was the case at Wolves.
Players had to have lunch at the same time and sit together at a long table. There are many ways to put your foot in it with Nuno, but perhaps the biggest would be to disturb him during lunch.
Fitness is also non-negotiable. Some of his lieutenants at Wolves — assistant head coach Rui Silva, first-team coach Julio Figueroa, assistant first-team coach Joao Lapa, goalkeeping coach Rui Barbosa and fitness coach Antonio Dias — may join him again and Forest’s squad can look forward to ferocious training.
Before the pandemic, Wolves’ injury record was excellent, with 11 players clocking up more than 40 games in the 2019-20 campaign. That will be music to the ears of Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis, who tears his hair out at Forest’s long absentee list.
Nuno uses a counter-attacking 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, with pace in wide areas, and it will be fascinating to see how he deploys Forest’s most creative player Morgan Gibbs-White, as he did not always trust him at Wolves.
He prefers a small squad, which will surely mean several of Forest’s fringe players leaving in January. The Portuguese’s arrival also means super-agent Jorge Mendes will likely have a big influence again at a Premier League club. Nuno was one of Mendes’ first clients and the pair have a very close relationship.
The former Wolves and Tottenham boss is finalising a deal to replace Steve Cooper
Cooper was sacked as manager of Nottingham Forest after one win in 13 matches
Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis had targeted a top-10 finish after survival last season
During those four seasons at Wolves, several members of the squad were represented by Mendes’ Gestifute company and it will be fascinating to see if Marinakis follows this policy.
Will we see players from Nuno’s Wolves side such as Jonny Otto, Saiss and Daniel Podence — all linked to Mendes — getting the band back together at Forest? A penny for the thoughts of chief football officer Ross Wilson whose role encompasses recruitment.
Yet it is unfair to attribute Nuno’s success solely to his link with Mendes. Though his manner can seem aloof, even threatening, he inspired so much trust from key players that several shed tears when he told them he was leaving Wolves in May 2021.
Forest fans will also shed a tear at Cooper’s departure, but Marinakis is convinced Nuno will soon have them smiling again.