Look at Wolves go. They are this season’s most unlikely contenders for a top-four finish and could boost their chances on Sunday by winning at home to Leicester. Bruno Lage deserves high praise. So does the manager’s little brother.
Luis Nascimento, at 42 three years younger than his more prominent sibling, was one of the six backroom staff members brought to Molineux after Lage’s appointment in June. Lage had collaborated with each of them before but had never worked directly with his brother, whose career has largely mirrored his own.
Nascimento’s official title is Wolves’ senior professional development coach but he is nicknamed “Il Capitano” after Capitano Nascimento, the lead character of the 2007 Brazilian movie Tropa de Elite, about a no-nonsense policeman tasked with cleaning Rio de Janeiro of drug gangs before a visit by the pope.
“He is different to me, he is more serious,” says the jovial Lage, explaining the tag was coined by Carlos Carvalhal, under whom they served as assistant manager: Lage at Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday between 2015 and 2018 and then, in 2019, Nascimento at Rio Ave in Portgual.
“He has had the same pathway as me,” says Lage about his brother. “I went to Benfica in 2004, he went in 2005. We worked together but not in the same teams. When I was at the under-15s, he was working with the under-11s. But the good thing is we shared experiences between us. Then, after I went to Dubai [in 2012], and then also with Carlos, if I was doing something new – a new exercise or idea – I would share with him and he would try it with the kids. Similarly, he would share experiences with me. After I left Carlos’s staff, Carlos invited him and it was very good. He is a top professional. When I came to Wolves I thought: ‘I need one more person to work with me because I want to control everything.’”
He may want to control everything but Lage seems to take genuine pleasure in talking about the contribution others have made to Wolves’ success this season. He does not feel threatened by the expertise of others; he thrives off it.
“All my staff, not just Luis, know they have the freedom to do their work. I have specialists and they understand the way I want to work. I have Luis doing some things, I have Alex [Silva, assistant head coach] doing some things, Carlos [Cachada, fitness coach] doing things and Tony [Roberts] doing the work I want to do with the goalkeeper and I have two analysts (Jhony Conceição and Diogo Camacho]. Then I receive all the information from them to take the best decisions.
“We control everything. In some things they are better than me, that’s why I invited them to be here with me. There are too many things to know, I need top guys with me to be a better manager.”
Nascimento’s role is to prepare training sessions. “This is the big responsibility he has,” says Lage. “To try to look at all the information on the opponent. Like how can Leicester play against us with three or two midfielders. We try to create scenarios and prepare those things. It’s teamwork. I’m just one of them. I’m the manager, I have the big salary but they are the same level as me.”
Leicester beat Wolves 1-0 on the opening day of the season but the teams have gone in opposite directions since then. That is partly because of injuries – Leicester will be without their entire first-choice defence again on Sunday whereas Wolves will be at full strength for the first time this season. But it is also because Wolves have grown slicker and tighter.
They still need to improve their finishing but they could hardly defend better, since only Manchester City have conceded fewer goals in the Premier League this season. When opponents have managed to pierce Wolves’ defence, they usually been thwarted by José Sá, who has the best shots-to-save ratio of any goalkeeper who has played regularly in the league this season. Again, Lage is quick to hail the people who work with him.
“In modern football the goalkeeper has a massive influence and José gives us that,” he says. “When you start buildups from the back, you need to take the best decisions with where you pass the ball. Also, when you want to try to press more high it’s important that the keeper comes out of the box to control the space behind the defenders. The way Tony Roberts works with him is improving those skills. I’ve known José since he was 16-17 and he has the same mentality. His career is about steps and he conquers with the right work. He is in a good moment and he needs to continue.”
That is the message Lage keeps drumming into the whole squad with talk of a top-four challenge. “My ambition is for the team to play in the next 15 games with the character we played against Tottenham,” he says of last Sunday’s 2-0 win. “I want that solid personality. That’s the only thing we can control. Don’t relax with what we have.”