Wolves: The Portuguese revolution taking over the Premier League

In 2013, Wolves suffered their second relegation in as many seasons and readied themselves for a stint in English football’s third tier.

For one of the Football League’s founding members, who boast four league titles and FA Cups, their circumstances didn’t reflect the club’s proud footballing history or their fans’ ambitions.

Fast forward six years and things look a little different.

Newly promoted Wolves have their sights set firmly on the top half of the Premier League, with a side featuring the dazzling talents of Portugal’s Ruben Neves, accompanied by Euro 2016 winners Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio.

The Turnaround

The turnaround has been remarkable and entertaining in equal measure. For the past 12 months, Wolves have stolen headlines for winning the Championship at a canter while playing attractive football orchestrated by their Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo and executed by several of his countrymen.

Rarely has a British side been so heavily fortified by players from a single nation. Arsene Wenger’s access to a flourishing French market in the 90s helped turned Arsenal into double winners, while Rafael Benitez picked four Spaniards for Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League winning squad.

Going a step further, Wolves currently have more Portuguese players in their starting XI than Primeira Liga champions Porto.

The System

The club’s core of players from the Iberian Peninsula has been at the heart of their stylish success. Last season, they were the only Championship side to play an attacking 3-4-3 formation, and according to Opta, they created 89 big chances, 24 more than closest challengers Aston Villa.

While the likes of Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield may look to grind out results from the back this season, Santo will not abandon his attacking philosophy.


Wolves eased slowly into their Premier League opener against Everton, with Santo employing the 3-4-3 formation led by striker Raul Jiminez with Jota and Costa on the flanks. These players who were so impressive in the Championship looked at home against much tougher opposition, with Neves especially impressive, scoring and creating a goal.

While they have stunning attacking potential, this is also backed by the experience of seasoned veterans such as Moutinho and a strong back three that have already spent a season playing together. On top of that, they’ve added the rapid yet erratic talents of Adama Traore to the squad.

The Sceptics

But it is not without controversy. The club has assembled what some are calling the best side in their recent history and that has brought questions.

Eyebrows were raised when Neves, who in 2016 became the youngest ever player to captain a Champions League team with Porto, signed for the Championship club. Diogo Jota, Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro also boast the likes of Porto, Benfica and Monaco on their CVs.

“The big question I think for everybody is how they are luring Champions League players to play in the Championship,” Steve Bruce told Sky Sports after his promotion-chasing Aston Villa lost to Wolves last season.

Bruce’s scepticism is a consequence of Wolves’ relationship with footballing super-agent Jorge Mendes, whose clientele includes Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho, and all of the aforementioned Wolves players.


Agents are prohibited from having a “material influence” in club affairs, but there have been concerns that Mendes toes the line of his informal role as ‘advisor’, exercising a far greater influence at the club than his position implies.

On the other hand, the Premier League's profile continues to soar, becoming an ever more attractive proposition for players who wish to benefit from its unrivalled coverage and the financial incentives that go hand in hand.

No doubt, too, it is an attractive proposition to play for a manager who speaks the same language and for a team that now boasts a welcoming committee full of familiar faces and voices.

In either case, Wolves fans are unlikely to care as this Portuguese revolution takes them from strength to strength. This is not a group of randomly assembled players, this a well-organised side set out to terrorise defences and score against any opposition.

While the season has only just begun, Wolves are already turning heads, and crowds will be paying close attention to whether this team can fulfill its unquestionable potential.

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