It was obvious from the start, really. Everything was different. The way the players moved around when they didn’t have the ball. The way the players moved around when they did have the ball. The way he watched and watched and watched and then exploded with rage when a seemingly very good twenty-yard pass went sidewards rather than backwards. We were playing a style of football that we—the Wolves fans—were not used to. Nuno put his head into a manky bedroom with dirty clothes strewn all over the floor, holey curtains hanging on by a thread, and a broken radio crackling… and fixed it. Changed the aerial. Put the curtains back up. Bought some new clothes. Nuno made us play.
In my life, I’ve seen us beat Manchester United 2–1 in the Premier League (I love you, George Elokobi), and lose to Brighton to go down to League One. In my dad’s slightly longer life, he’s seen us get to a UEFA Cup final against Tottenham, and play in the Fourth Division with only one stand open. In my grandad’s much longer life, he’s seen us beat Honvéd under the floodlights in the first European game of its type, and the whole league cancelled because of a world war. But none of us have ever seen anything like Nuno Espírito Santo.
In his first press conference, Nuno kept talking about ‘adapting’. We will ‘adapt’. The players will ‘adapt’. The staff will ‘adapt’. The fans didn’t need to adapt, though. We’d been told sweet-everythings by a tall, bearded, deep-eyed man born in São Tomé and Príncipe, and we loved it. We were seduced. In bed, tucked up, rain splattering the window, spooning. We loved it straight away. Eyes glazed and rolling back to see wolf heads.
He put three at the back, put Conor Coady at the centre and turned him into Franco Baresi. He bought Rúben Neves, who passed the ball through gaps and down lines and up chasms that nobody else on the pitch or in the stadium could see. He bought Willy Boly and nobody… nobody could get past him. He implemented structures into the formation that meant everyone knew where they had to be all the time. Each player in their own 25-yard square box. Spreading it wide. Bringing it back. Spreading it wide. Bringing it back. Spreading it wide. Bringing it back. Spreading it wide. Boom. Like velociraptors circling humans, we’ve got you splattered all over the shop. We cut in from the right. We pull your pants down. We eat you with smiles on our faces.
That’s what Nuno’s done. He’s put smiles on faces that didn’t have smiles on them for a while. Wolverhampton doesn’t have much to be optimistic about a lot of the time. It’s a great place that, generally, isn’t given much of a chance or much investment. Despite the Black Country, with its pits and forges and grey, grey, grey skies, providing the coal and iron that transformed Britain into the world’s industrial furnace, you lot (everyone) like to take the piss. About loads. About the way we look. About the way we walk. About the way we sound. Southerners sound sexy, northerners sound nice, we midlanders sound thick and gruff and full of soot—so you take the piss. But it’s difficult to take the piss when we’re sticking five past you with João Moutinho in central midfield.
We’re in the Premier League now, and unsurprised to be playing well. We might miss chances, we might be somehow getting players for £0 instead of £20m, and we might finish in the bottom half. But we’re getting the train back from Old Trafford slightly miffed because we’ve only got a point. We’re getting the bus home from the Molineux having taken on Manchester City toe-to-toe, shin-to-shin, goal-to-goal. We’re running back to the car, voices hoarse, because Morgan Gibbs-White from Wolverhampton has just come on against Tottenham and absolutely rinsed them. We’re beating Tottenham and Liverpool and Chelsea. We’re spending long days at work happy to have a handsome, thoughtful, Portuguese man with a Wolves coat on back at home.
Whatever happens in the future, whether the owners leg it or we pass our way into the Champions League, we’ll always have 2018. The Mol feels like I thought it felt when I was a tiny person in tiny gloves and a tiny hat and a tiny scarf. A big, gold place full of people with mouths full of song and heads full of booze and eyes full of goals. We loved Mick. He took us to the Premier League with Karl Henry in centre midfield. But Nuno is the biggest hero at the Molineux since Steve Bull. We, the Wolves, are fucking class.
So, to be a Wolves fan at the moment feels good. My dad’s back to ringing up the radio to say nice things. My brother’s making up his own terrace songs. And my mom says “oooh, I love Nuno” in the same voice she uses to talk to the cats. It’s the voice she uses when she likes people.
This article was originally published in MUNDIAL Magazine Issue 16. Some of it is a review of 2018, most of it is about other things. You can get it sent to your door by clicking here, or subscribe so that you get four issues a year through your door here.