Nuno Santo is the Ole Testament prophet we love already…

Date published: Friday 15th February 2019 12:38

This week, Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio arrives at a Portuguese manager who isn’t an outmoded psychotic narcissist and is someone that people actually like. That’ll be Grandfather Holy Spirit, or Nuno Espírito Santo as we more typically know him, then…


Who are ya?
Nuno Herlander Simões Espírito Santo is 45 years old from São Tomé and Príncipe, an island in the Gulf of Guinea. A goalie, he spent his career playing for eight different clubs in Spain and Portugal and a year at Dynamo Moscow, making a career total of 199 appearances. He was in Jose Mourinho’s Porto squad in 2002-2004 but only played six games. Also played a few games for the national side up to Under-23 level.

Began his managerial career at Rio Ave in Portugal. In his second season, he got them to the Taça de Portugal and Taça da Liga finals and into the Europa League for the first time ever. Moved on to the notoriously tricky Valencia gig for 16 months. Finished fourth and by the time he quit, had a 50% win ratio. Their next full-time manager was Gary Neville, who did not.

Took Porto to runners-up in the league but that wasn’t enough so was sacked after a year. This took him to Wolverhampton Wanderers in May 2017 whom he got promoted from the Championship playing some wonderful football, albeit backed by some serious spending and agent action. Currently enjoys a 56% win rate, is well-loved in the West Midlands and has hardly been out of the top ten.

Unusual for a goalkeeper to become a manager, given the more rarefied atmosphere that they tend to exist in. He does come across as a highly intelligent thinker or philosopher and has something of the Old Testament prophet about him, as his beard gets bigger and more grey.

Usually found pitchside in sportswear. Doesn’t seem overly fond of tailoring. Certainly not a show pony in the fashion stakes. Very much suits the facial hair he’s been sporting. Seems to invest authority and wisdom.


Cunning linguist?
Has an excellent command of the language. A lovely softly spoken chap too. Nothing harsh about his voice, it flows like thick warm custard into pastry. Custard tarts ‘pastel de nata’ were invented in Portugal, via Hong Kong, y’know.

Seems to be a very pragmatic sort of fella in interviews and is refreshingly lacking in the usual managerial lexicon of middle management-speak and scary gym teacher intimidation.

“Dreaming doesn’t achieve things if you don’t move your ass. It is about doing things. It is about working and knowing exactly what you are doing on a daily basis. We are not dreamers. We have a clear idea.”

With some big results under their belt this season at time playing a flowing 3-4-3 formation, he’s hit the ground running in the Premier League and has given Wolves a real identity. This is quite deliberate.

“If you embrace a project that will require time and patience then you need something to work on. So the first step of the project is to create an identity. If you don’t have an identity then today you want this player and tomorrow another one. If you have an idea and a shape then this is how you develop an identity.”

Like many for whom English is not their first language he shifts a word from the end of the sentence to the middle as in “we should manage better, the game”.

His down-home upbringing barefoot on the island seems to have set him in a humble mode, one that places emphasis on empathy over conflict.

“One player comes to training late, so you wait for him. Instead of fining him £1000, we say: ‘What happened in your life that made us have to wait for you to start working?'”

Which, to be fair, does sound incredibly passive-aggressive.

One of those fellas who really suits the cropped, shaved head, so much so that older photos of him with hair look wrong somehow.


Media hit or miss?
Although he doesn’t have a really high media profile and no-one could accuse him of hunting the limelight any more than someone at a high-profile club might have to, he has charm and warm, smiling chocolate fondant eyes, which have made him something of a media star in his first year in the PL and his second in English football. When asked about whether he keeps an eye on what his players are doing when away from the club he said: “They have Instagram. They are so proud of showing themselves and the bullshit they are doing that you don’t have to chase them.”

That’s the sort of amusing, grounded attitude that will always get you fans in the British media. Even his post-game interview after being sent off following their 4- 3 win over Leicester was the model of amused reasonableness, admitting he was in the wrong and deserved to be sent off.

Clearly someone who is reflective on the game and on life more broadly. He wisely dissected the nature of much of the overheated rhetoric that passes for modern football media. “Sometimes a polemic tweeter is more important than a normal view. You know how things move. What sells more, criticism or compliments? What do people like more? They enjoy blood….I live in peace.”

Far out, Nuno, dude.

Press conferences are calm, self-contained affairs. Seems to lack the kind of stonewalling negativity and paranoia that is many an old school manager’s go-to attitude when dealing with the press and TV. Indeed in that regard he is following a modern trend. While aware that the British tabloid press will seek to stitch you up at any and every opportunity – indeed it will twist and fabricate stories by willfully misinterpreting your words – he is just open and honest in how he sees the game, so can’t be caught out contradicting himself or not living up to some previously stated position. It often seems to me that the overseas managers in England manage to sideline the English tabloid bottom feeders more expertly than the natives.


Proper Football Man Rating: N/A Measuring device has been flushed down a toilet
Nuno fails every PFM’s fitness test for being a Premier League manager. First he’s called Nuno and no PFM has ever been called Nuno. Is that Portuguese for nun, Jeff? Is he actually a nun? That’s weird.

Second, he’s a goalkeeper and all PFMs are scared of goalies because they’re all too weird. That Albert Camus he was a goalie and an existingless writer, Thommo?. How can you not exist and keep goal? You’d let in loads.

And custard tarts are not foreign pastel de nata, Chaz. They’re as English as tea and madeira cake.

All this empathising with players doesn’t sit right with them either. Any PFM knows you rule with a rod of iron, and fine players for even the most minor infringements and if those cash fines end up in the the drawer of your desk then that’s just the way it goes, how else are you supposed to get that villa in Spain built? You never get anywhere being nice to people, especially to foreigners who, as Brexit has proven, only understand you if you’re shouting in their face very loudly whilst wearing a Union Jack waistcoat (even though you hate all the countries in the union that are not England and are not even that fond of England, frankly) and a cheap plastic bowler hat, whilst pretending it is still 1943.

They’re also not happy that here’s a man who has won nothing abroad who has been parachuted into one of England’s great old clubs. They would never take a job abroad after not winning anything in their own country. They insist on taking English jobs and failing at all of them and it’s a bloody cheek that a Portuguese fella from an island what I never heard of ‘cos Thomas Cook don’t do package holidays there, can come over here and deny them the possibility of failing at Wolves as well. They know they could go in there and do a job and would certainly not expect to be judged inferior to a man who has won the Championship because anyone can do that, and not worse than someone who has been in the top four in Spain and two cup finals in Portugal because everyone knows anyone can do that in them countries for clubs what no-one has ever heard of, Jeff.


What the people say
It’s funny how some managers just get taken to the hearts of, not just the club’s fans, but more widely among the public. There’s much admiration for Nuno’s beard and general demeanour. It is also noticeable how many find ‘new’ managers like Nuno to be a breath of fresh air in a league that for so long seemed to be populated by the same stale British names. And that’s why the Proper Football Man default position of forever being disappointed that a club has gone foreign really grates on many and seems so out of touch. I often wonder if those who promulgate such a notion even know this, or maybe they’re in their own echo chamber with those plastic Union Jack bowler hats on and can’t believe any contrary view exists. Anyway, Nuno is a welcome addition to our football lives and the general feeling is that he’s on an upward curve. Our lesson here is that whether you’re good or bad at your job, it’s worth growing a brilliant beard.

His name sounds like the end of a Latin prayer……so I’m guessing he has the endorsement of the church.

Love his name. Mr. Hlly Spirit cannot be all bad.

Breath of fresh air. Almost like he’s Mourinho’s more positive, hipster cousin.

Magnificent beard. Seems quite good at the whole football managing lark too. But mostly, it’s all about his magnificent beard.

There’s a little bit of a zen monk-vibe to him too. Maybe one who used to be a warrior monk, but has left that all behind him now.

He is the anti Mourinho

Magnificent beard. Promising manager.

In an age of omnipresent hipster beards, his is effortlessly magnificent. Destined for a “top top” job in Europe in the near future.

He’s my favourite Jorge Mendes creation.

He seems to be doing a brilliant job

It’s an extraordinary beard. Such well defined boundaries on something so massive.

I think we (Man Utd) appointed the wrong Portuguese manager.

I like that when we were in the Championship, whilst he apparently hates doing interviews, he’d be most forthcoming when we lost. Seems to have effectively hoodwinked everyone with banalities which don’t sound banal this season, in the enforced EPL press interactions for managers.

There are levels of enthusiasm for football that you pick up on from people in the game, and I can see how much he loves it from the look in his eyes when when his team has won. Also, it is a magnificent beard.

Hard to get past the beard. It’s magnificent. But he seems like a cool guy, comes across well in interviews. He has that intense but calm thing down pat, quite Pochettino-y. Plays good football. It’s a yes from me, Jeff

Always accepts responsibility and never blames the ref. After being sent off for celebrating a last minute winner against Leicester… “I was sent off and rightly so. You cannot go on the pitch. I tried but someone saw me!” What a guy!


How long has he got?
It’s always hard to know how long anyone has got at a club, but with one promotion under his belt, a second season which seems likely to end in the top ten in the top flight and the financial backing of the Chinese owners as well as access to a high-profile agent Jorge Mendes, he seems destined for higher things by either breaking Wolves in the top six or moving on to even bigger clubs. Certainly, one of those managers whose career is quietly heading upwards, possibly largely due to that beard.


John Nicholson

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