“It is not important what we have done in the past”, explains Bruno Lage Air sports. “What Nuno has done over the last three or four years, very successful, was amazing. Now it’s a new cycle.”
The presence of another Portuguese coach at Molineux, a man who exudes calm just like his predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo, may seem like a smooth transition. But it’s a summer of change for the Wolves as they embark on a new era under Lage.
Nuno’s impact at the club is no doubt, but after three years of progress, the end of the last half of last season caused a separation of paths amid feelings that the journey had run its course. Lage was hired to bring new ideas and restore momentum.
He does not shy away from this need for change. That’s why he’s here.
“We have to handle the ball better and be more aggressive without the ball,” he said. “We want to move forward, play in a different way. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, it’s just my idea. We have to be a more competitive team, a better team.”
He is a coach of a certain pedigree, winning the title with Benfica just five months after taking office after staging an unlikely turnaround at the famous former club. But others point out that this remains his only management job and that he’s gone in 18 months.
At 45, there are only four Premier League coaches younger than him. And yet, that’s a bit misleading considering that even Dean Smith and Sean Dyche were still playing when Lage took on his first coaching role at Benfica at the age of just 27.
He rose through the ranks after taking the U10s, but he’s much more than a Benfica kid. Dig deeper and his experiences are more varied than one might expect. He is a man who has worked in Dubai, Sheffield and Swansea, a man steeped in gambling.
He has written two books on coaching, including one with former Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal. His father Fernando, himself a former player and coach, was secretary of the board of directors of the general assembly of the association of football coaches in Portugal.
“He was the first influence,” Lage says. “I always watched him prepare for training sessions and prepare for games.” In Benfica, his usual walk around the pitch an hour before kick-off drew media attention. It was borrowed from his father.
Jaime Graca, the former Portuguese player who took him to Benfica in 2004, has been another big factor in his life. Lage gave his son his name. “These three people, they were the big influences. The whole way of seeing the games, the training and how to prepare the team.”
His time at Carvalhal, three seasons at Sheffield Wednesday and six months at Swansea, explains why this move to England is not as new to him as some might think. He has worked in the Premier League, although he sees his league experience as key.
“Sheffield on Wednesday has been a huge experience for me because of the way the championship is organized, competing on Saturday and Tuesday. It was part of my success when I came to Benfica. It’s through that experience that I’ve got it. I was able to organize in the short term, to play the matches without training. It was very important. “
Lage faced Nuno Wolves in the Championship and is full of admiration for the club’s rise under owners Fosun. He knows he inherited a good group. “The environment between the players, between the players and the staff, it’s really amazing.”
Indeed, there are times during this interview when even his language echoes that of his predecessor. “They have to play as one unit. That’s why the wolf pack means a lot because we have to play as a unit, like a pack. With and without the ball, we go together.”
But more often than not he comes back to the idea of this need for change. Lage is in daily contact with sporting director Scott Sellars and he is looking for greater cohesion off the pitch, with his six new members looking to help connect the departments at the club’s training base to Compton.
The desire for two players for each position is also a clean break with the previously favored small team. This approach provided continuity until injuries and fatigue took their toll and a lack of competition for places was seen as counterproductive.
Above all, he focuses on the need for a change of style on the pitch.
“When you have the ball, you have to better manage the ball,” he repeats.
“When you start from the goalkeeper, if he’s lucky enough to be short then we go short, if we have to be long then we go long, if we have to change the game, we have to know how to change the game. You always have to be balanced when you have the ball.
“At the same time, when we don’t have the ball, we should be more aggressive.
“If we go high everyone goes high. If we stay middle everyone is middle. If we have to go down to defend our goal then everyone down but we’re still aggressive because the other team needs to feel that when she confronts us, we are a difficult adversary to face. “
He has already identified sluggish set-pieces, a major problem last season. “We have to be more vigilant in these situations because we concede a lot of goals. This is an issue we have to work on and we are working hard to be better at these times of the game.
“These are the main things we have been working on over the past two weeks.”
Are two weeks enough for such a fundamental change of approach?
Wolves ranked near the bottom on the most urgent action last season and there was little time to institute this new way of thinking. Conor Coady and Adama Traoré have just returned to training.
The latter is the subject of an ongoing transfer speculation. Ruben Neves too. Pedro Neto and Jonny Otto have been absent for a long time. Wilfried Boly and new recruit Yerson Mosquera were also injured. At least star striker Raul Jimenez has made a welcome return.
The signing of Francisco Trincao, initially on loan from Barcelona, is an exciting prospect, although Lage prefers to stress the need for his compatriot to adapt. “Trincao is a player,” he said. “First of all, he has to be a hard working teammate for the team.”
Then there is Fabio Silva, the teenage striker with a great reputation. There is hope that the presence of Luis Nascimento, Lage’s brother and the coach Silva calls the most important figure in his fledgling career, could be the catalyst for him to get started.
The manager has a message for him and the rest.
“We have to work hard every day,” says Lage. “Older guys can’t live in the past and younger guys can’t live thinking, ‘I will be to be a good player ”. We have to work to prove that you belong to this team, that you belong to this competition and that you are a high level player.
“Every day is a challenge for these guys because what the fans want in the end, it doesn’t matter if the player is 18 or 30, what they want is a competitive team with the best players.”
Those supporters seem to have hugged the new man during the preseason – Bruno for Nuno scans the chants quite easily – but the fixture list has not been kind. A trip to Leicester is followed by home games against Nuno’s Tottenham and Manchester United.
Lage is still familiarizing himself with his surroundings. “I spent my time between the hotel and the training ground preparing for the sessions. There were two a day, videos and lots of encounters but we could forgive him for feeling like time is on his side.
Even so, if he acknowledges that the preseason was played out in two games due to the number of players missing in the first three weeks, he is optimistic. “In the last two games against Stoke and against Coventry, I’ve started to see the things that we train,” he said.
“Every manager is in the same position. We all want more time to work with the players. We don’t have any, so we have to start working. Day by day we grow as a team, playing the way we want. right now, I’m happy with what we’re doing. “
And he’s happy to be at Wolves.
“I think it was the right time and the right club to start working in the Premier League,” he adds.
“All my life I think about preparing for the next challenge. When I was at Benfica all the time I was preparing to be the best manager I could possibly be. When I worked as Carlos’ assistant I worked hard. to be the best helper I can be.
“When I arrived in team B [at Benfica], I worked to be ready to be a first team manager in Benfica or elsewhere. Now here I am, 45 years old, in a big club in a massive competition with the best players and the best managers. Of course, it’s very important for my career. “
But what exactly is Lage’s success at Wolves?
“The first step is to create a competitive team and play the way I want. If we are lucky enough to have two players for each position, to play the way I want, then we will win games.
“If we win, we will be successful. The president will be happy, the players will be happy and above all our fans will be happy because of the way we play and win games.”
The new cycle of wolves has begun.