It was billed as a meeting between master and protégé when Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo squared up against his former boss. Nuno was the third-choice goalkeeper in José Mourinho’s Porto team as the well decorated Manchester United manager began his rise to the top of the football world.
So, long before the 44-year-old made the transition from the goal posts to the dugout in 2010, Mourinho was already helping to fill the trophy cabinets of clubs around Europe.
But that has not stopped Nuno from building his own profile as a manager of note. Like his countryman he also started his journey to managerial success in Spain before consolidating from back home in the Portuguese league.
He took over Rio Ave in 2012 and in his second season in charge qualified the team to both the Taça de Portugal and Taça da Liga finals. He also took it to the UEFA Europa League for the first time in its history thereby showcasing his ability as a manager who can make history.
He returned to Spain as Valencia manager in 2014 and led the club to a fourth-place finish in his first season in charge. Another tenure back home, this time with Porto in 2016 came to an end a year later after the club failed to win any trophy despite finishing second on the league table.
Then came the chance to move to England. It however, came in the form of Championship football with Wolves. Now boasting of new owners and ambition to play in the top echelon of English football, the Portuguese was considered the best man to take the club back up after six seasons away from the top flight.
He did not disappoint. He even surprised many by leading the club to the Premier League in his very first attempt. The West Midlands side was crowned Championship champions in the close season.
Back in the big time, the Wanderers have continued to play the same brand of football that saw them achieve promotion with four games to spare.
The highlights of the season so far have been draws against the Manchester clubs as both Pep Guardiola’s City and Mourinho’s Manchester United were not able to beat Nuno’s team. Against both teams Wolves were neither overrun nor outplayed despite the huge difference in resources and expensive acquisitions between them.
Nuno’s win rate as a manager has continuously been on the increase, showing tremendous improvement on the job. He has gone from a win rate of 39.7% at Rio Ave, to 51.6% at Valencia, 55.1% with Porto and 61% at Wolves. At this rate, he has proven to be a top-class manager that to do a good job at a top club.
Mourinho remains a manager whose future at Manchester United is constantly the subject of speculations. His history of not staying beyond the third season at any club may well be working against him. That has not been helped by the kind of football he is playing at Old Trafford and the often less than satisfactory results.
Many fans of the club will rather see him leave. And for a capable replacement that can take the club forward, the 44-year-old fits the bill.