A Question Of Comparison
So How Does Nuno Measure Up?
Combining the present and the past in this article with a difference, we spotlight the outstanding work of the man at the Molineux helm and provide some pointers as to why Wolves are well fancied for a top-two finish.
This time last year, Wolves were languishing towards the wrong end of the Sky Bet Championship. Now, they are a club transformed, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Nuno Espírito Santo.
Victory at Norwich on the last day of October regained the leadership they had first tasted by beating Aston Villa in the middle of the month and there they have remained by setting a red-hot pace in a notoriously competitive division.
Defeats at Fulham and Villa have seen the gap over second-placed Cardiff close substantially but Wolves are still favourites on Stakers to win the title.
Some pundits were seriously questioning their ability to last the course after the second-half collapse at Villa earlier this month – now, many punters will be including them as a banker bet as the campaign reaches its climax.
Owners Fosun deserve plenty of credit for backing their head coach financially but much of the praise for this stunning season to date has to go to the man himself.
Having blended a host of 2017 signings to create a largely new team, Nuno has evolved a brand of football that is both resilient and exciting to watch. The for and against columns show us that Wolves have often this term boasted both the most effective attacking and the best defensive record in the Championship.
The 3-4-3 formation the Portuguese has so expertly introduced has provided a sound platform for their creative unit, led by Rúben Neves, to weave their magic and supply Léo Bonatini, Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Benik Afobe with opportunities.
If Wolves do return to the Premier League, Nuno’s hero status around Molineux will be inflated further. Beyond that, with further sizeable backing, who knows? Could he enter the pantheon of most successful Wolves managers.
Here is our reminder of some of those title or promotion winners that he is emulating and even aspiring to:
Back in 1948, at the age of only 31, Stan Cullis became Wolves manager and proceeded to guide the club through an unforgettable golden era. In his very first season, Wolves won the FA Cup, making him the youngest manager to win that famous trophy. Five years later came a greater achievement as Wolves won the First Division title for the first time. Two more League titles followed, in 1958 and 1959, and they almost grabbed a third in 1960 as they missed out by a point in a spring in which they lifted another FA Cup. All that and Cullis’s Wolves also led the way in European football by bringing down some of the Continent’s finest.
Wolves fans were sceptical amid the club’s basement years when former Villa boss Graham Turner was appointed as manager in 1986 but it proved to be an inspired choice. Turner had an immediate effect, guiding the team to the play-off final in his first season and the following year winning the Fourth Division title, along with the Sherpa Van Trophy. Another promotion followed a year later as Wolves returned to the second tier. Although Turner couldn’t deliver Premier League football, his role in restoring pride to Wolverhampton Wanderers will never be forgotten, nor his signing of Steve Bull.
Seven years after Turner left the club, Wolves were going nowhere, languishing in mid-table in what was then known as the First Division, when the Liverpudlian took over. In the summer of 2001, Jones set about overhauling the playing squad and bringing in the likes of Nathan Blake, Shaun Newton, Alex Rae, Kenny Miller and Colin Cameron. The season that followed was to end in disappointment as Wolves missed out in the play-offs but a roller-coaster campaign 12 months later took them to another play-off final. With an epic victory over Sheffield United, they finally reached the Premier League and returned to the top flight for the first time since 1984.
Back in the second tier, Wolves appointed Mick McCarthy in July, 2006 in a bid to return to the big league. He immediately set about building a squad of young players and inexpensive transfers and reached the 2007 play-offs. The following season saw the club miss out on the play-offs by a single point, but, in 2008-09, powered by the goals of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, they won the Championship title to return to the Premier League. But McCarthy wasn’t done. Wolves secured their Premier League survival with two games to spare in their first season up and, in 2010-11, McCarthy repeated the feat, although it came down to goal difference on what became known as Survival Sunday. That nail-biting feat made the Yorkshireman the first manager since League Cup winner John Barnwell more than 30 years earlier to manage the club in the top flight in three consecutive seasons.
Many fine managers – a list also including Major Frank Buckley and Bill McGarry – have entered the annals of Wolves history but Nuno has an opportunity to surpass the achievements of Jones, Turner and McCarthy, set about re-establishing Wolves with the elite and maybe deliver much more.