Nuno Espírito Santo will leave his role as Wolves head coach after Sunday’s season finale against Manchester United. The Midlands club are in talks with the former Benfica manager Bruno Lage over potentially taking over.
Lage, out of work since his Benfica contract was terminated last July, is the favourite but further discussions are planned and it is not certain he would qualify for a work permit under post-Brexit regulations. Over the past five years he has worked as an assistant at Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea and as head coach of Benfica B, before getting the senior Benfica job.
Two other Portuguese coaches are in the early running to succeed Nuno, whose departure was described by Wolves as by mutual consent. The Porto manager, Sérgio Conceição, has held talks but those stopped and the question is whether they are revived. Rui Faria, a former assistant to José Mourinho at various clubs before a spell as manager of Al-Duhail in Qatar, could be an option but again a work permit could be an issue.
Nuno’s departs as one of Wolves’ best-loved managers. He won admiration for more than his achievements – leading the team from the Championship to consecutive seventh-place finishes in the Premier League and the quarter-finals of the Europa League – but also for his personal qualities, the bond he forged with the fans and community. His passion for the area was sincere, as evidenced by his donation in January of £250,000 to help tackle poverty in Wolverhampton. It will be an emotional occasion on Sunday, when fans return to Molineux for the first time since March 2020, just in time to bid farewell to Nuno.
The decision to part company with Nuno was not a complete surprise, even if it was announced immediately after a press conference in which Nuno talked about Sunday’s fixture without hinting that it was to be his last in charge. At that point the players had not been informed but Nuno told them afterwards in what is understood to have been an emotional meeting.
It is just over a month since Nuno underlined his commitment to respecting his contract with Wolves – that was at a time when Tottenham were said to be mulling over asking him to replace José Mourinho. But there was concern behind the scenes at Molineux that Wolves had not evolved this season as they should.
Nuno said at the start of the campaign that he aimed to upgrade the team’s style, to make them more dominant and proactive, rather than a very slick counterattacking team.That was always going to be a tall order, especially after the sales of Diogo Jota and Matt Doherty and injuries to Raúl Jiménez and others. At times Wolves looked ragged and unsure of themselves, and questions were raised about Nuno’s ability to usher in a new way. With a 12th-place finish the best Wolves can achieve, it was decided to entrust the task to another manager.
“Nuno has brought us some incredibly special moments at Wolves that will never be forgotten, but every chapter comes to an end,” the executive chairman, Jeff Shi, said.
Nuno said in a statement: “We achieved our goals, we did it with passion and we did it together. Firstly, I want to thank the supporters, who have all played such an important part in helping us reach new heights for Wolves, and the people of the city, who embraced us and made us feel at home. I, of course, want to thank all of the staff at Wolves, for their support and total commitment, every single day.
“Most importantly, I want to thank each and every player that we’ve worked with since the day we started, for their loyalty, their dedication, hard work and talent. They are the ones who have made this amazing journey possible for us. Sunday will be a very emotional day, but I am so happy that the fans will be back in Molineux and we can share one last special moment together, as one pack.”