Nuno Espirito Santo took charge at Wolverhampton Wanderers in May 2017. In the three years since, the club has gone from strength to strength, winning promotion to the Premier League, qualifying for the Europa League, and confirming their status as one of the best sides outside of the established top six. Nuno’s impact at Molineux has been substantial and having recently signed a new deal until 2023, promises to be so for years to come. Whilst Nuno is an undeniably influential figure at Wolves, the Wolves Portuguese connection stretches far beyond their inspirational manager.
Jorge Mendes is the original super agent. Most famous for representing Cristiano Ronaldo, Mendes’ roster of clients boasts many high profile figures within the game including Jose Mourinho, David de Gea, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa, and Joao Felix. Mendes’ role at Wolves is purely advisory. A known friend and associate of Wolves owners Fosun International, Mendes’ acts as the link between Wolves’ Chinese investors and the European football market. Fosun International also owns a stake in Medes’ sports agency Gestifute. The pipeline of talent this partnership has created has been extremely fruitful for Wolves, with a particular emphasis on players and staff from Portugal.
Since taking over in 2016, Fosun International has broken Wolves’ transfer record six times, most recently with the signing of highly-rated Portuguese forward Fabio Silva. Costing £35m, Silva traveled a well-trodden path from Portugal to Wolverhampton, following in the footsteps of Ruben Neves, Helder Costa, Raul Jimenez, Rui Patricio, and Willy Boly.
Following Diogo Jota’s £45m transfer to Premier League champions Liverpool, Wolves’ first-team squad includes nine Portuguese players, five of whom have recently been called up to represent the Portuguese national team. In contrast, Wolves’ Premier League squad includes just three English players. The success of Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez is a clear indication to players in the Primeira Liga that Molineux is an excellent place to showcase their ability to the bigger clubs.
The Wolves Portugese connection has been criticised by some in the footballing world, leading to them being jokingly known as Portugal B. The club appeared to make a joke of their own with the release of their burgundy and green third kit in mid-September.
Earlier this summer, Wolves’ long-serving right-back Matt Doherty joined Tottenham Hotspur in a deal worth £15m. Jorge Mendes was heavily involved in the transfer, representing Doherty, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, and Spurs manager Jose Mourinho. His replacement? A new right-back from Barcelona in a deal thought to be worth £30m which is unsurprisingly a Portuguese international, Nelson Semedo, who is also represented by Mendes’ agency Gestifute.
The trio of Mendes’, Nuno, and Fosun International have been an unbridled success to date. However, there is an element of risk involved with this transfer strategy. Nuno Espirito Santo has many admirers in the game, and it is unclear if he were to leave whether Jorge Mendes Wolves allegiance would lie with the coach or the club. Any such departure could effectively turn the tap off for Wolves.
Given the on-field success and Nuno’s contract extension, any questions over the long-term strategy at Wolves will take a backseat. After successive seventh-place finishes, Wanderers will be aiming to break into the top six and qualify for the Europa League for the second time in three years. For now, the Wolves Portuguese connection is a good one.
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