90min: Nuno Espirito Santo was rewarded for his impressive spell at Wolves on the eve of the new Premier League campaign with a new three-year contract.
It’s a deal that needs no justification after a sealing a Championship crown, back-to-back seventh-placed finishes, an FA Cup semi final and a run to the Europa League quarter finals, but one they celebrated in style with a typical 2-0 victory over Sheffield United on Monday.
Nuno’s new contract represents a new era at Molineux and the next stage for the Midlands club under their ambitious owners. But what comes next?
They arrived in the summer of 2017 under a cloud of outlandish claims and bluster with ambition beyond reality. Laurie Dalrymple, the club’s managing director at the time, said following their promotion to the top flight: “We are going into the Premier League to compete and compete hard. We don’t just want to be one of the 20 teams that is there to make up the numbers. There shouldn’t be any limits to what we can achieve as a club.”
However, there is a sense that reality has kicked in, and although they’re still desperate to reach the top, they now recognise there is no quick fix.
The 2020/21 season will represent Wolves’ joint longest stint in the Premier League and their longest stay in the top flight since a five-year spell ended in 1982. How to take the next step on the road to success is what the former Porto boss must answer.
During his two years in charge of the club in the Premier League, Nuno has halved the gap to fourth place. Wolves were 14 points behind Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham in 2019 and just seven behind Frank Lampard’s Chelsea at the end of the most recent campaign. But when you stagnate, you deteriorate. Pochettino can vouch for that.
Since Leicester City shocked the world in 2015/16, England’s established ‘big six’ clubs have developed a vice-like grip over the upper echelons of the Premier League that looks almost impossible to break.
Over the last four years since Claudio Ranieri’s side humiliated the traditional powerhouses, they have responded in devastating fashion. Every domestic trophy has been won by a top-six side, they’ve recorded the three highest ever points tallies in the Premier League, not once has any of them failed to qualify for Europe and Arsenal’s eighth-placed finish in 2020 was the only time one of them has finished outside of the top six positions.
Before Nuno’s arrival, Wolves had finished in the top ten of the English league just once since 1973. Sometimes, just being better than your previous self can be enough, a mentality the Portuguese manager is striving for in his squad.
After announcing his new long-term commitment to the club Nuno said: “How far? Tomorrow is how far we want to reach, to be better than yesterday and the next day, and the next day.”
However, it is not something that will come easy or something he will settle for. A new chapter has been started at Wolves and it’s one that begins with the club at a crossroads.
Before Monday’s match, Nuno said: “It is evident it is a new cycle and we need to grow some aspects of our game. I would like more dominance and more of the ball and more goals scored.
Compared with our first season, now I think we can sustain our levels of performance more. But we still have ups and downs. We need more consistency.”
Wolves may have the financial might to spend a club-record fee on a teenage sensation unknown outside of the Football Manager sphere and the advantage of having super-agent Jorge Mendes in their pocket, but progress and success are far from guaranteed in the Premier League.
The foundations have been laid, and laid well by everyone involved in Wolves’ recent rise though the next step may well be the hardest they have to make
The challenge of closing the gap on the bigger clubs while fending off the advances of those with similar ambitions is not an enviable one; nevertheless, their stride into unknown territory couldn’t be conducted by a better manager.
Breaking the current dominance will not be easy, but don’t be surprised if you see Wolves join the leading pack – especially with Nuno at the helm.
Source: Published by 90min