Given the January transfer window Wolverhampton Wanderers had, most head coaches would be fed up. But then the Portuguese is not like most bosses.
Wolves already had the Premier League’s smallest squad before last month’s trading period. Nuno called for reinforcements but rather saw two senior players who had only signed in the summer leave Molineux.
Central defender Jesús Vallejo returned to Spain on a sub-loan, a mechanism that enables a player to leave the club they’re on loan in to join the following side on loan to join Granada. Meanwhile, Patrick Cutrone signed for Fiorentina for another 18 months with the obligation to purchase, effectively ending his Wolves career after just half a season.
Even Ryan Bennett, among the members of the side that won promotion in 2017/18, left the Midlands club though he didn’t go far, signing for Leicester City for another six months.
Concerning the incomings Nuno had hoped, there were six. Of those, only Olympiacos winger Daniel Podence was signed for the here and now.
Justin Hubner, Leonardo Campana, Nigel Lonwijk and Enzo Loiodice have all been signed for the under-23s and under-18s, while Luke Matheson — you may recall his Carabao Cup goal at Old Trafford in September — has been loaned back to Rochdale for the rest of the season.
All that leaves Nuno with 17 senior outfield players for the rest of the season. Wolves are embroiled in a battle for Europa League soccer and have the small matter of a last-32 tie with Espanyol at exactly the same competition.
But unlike the majority of his peers, Nuno is not bothered. In actuality, the 46-year-old prefers it.
“It’s our philosophy, it is our idea of having a strong and compact squad that allows us to make good decisions,” Nuno explained last March.
“If it is the exact players, over and over again, training together, passing the ball to each other, timing their runs, all these small details that can help so a deep knowledge of your team-mates it really helps with the tasks he has to do.
“The squad must work well, then we must determine the 11 and the players that come in, but although we have a small squad, everyone’s involved at the same time.
“Even if they don’t play, they are still involved in the contest, so making it easier when the player steps into the group, they know their task and what they have to do inside the dynamic of the team.”
It’s tough to argue with Nuno’s logic.
Taking over after a campaign which had seen Kenny Jackett (until July 29), Walter Zenga (before October 25), Rob Edwards (interim) and Paul Lambert (November until May) take charge, Nuno delivered promotion the following season.
He followed that with a seventh-place finish in Wolves’ first year back at the top-flight and was moments away from an FA Cup final before Watford forced extra-time in Wembley, going on to win set up a mauling by Manchester City in the final.
Despite the increased demands on the squad as a result of their Europa League exploits — Wolves’ season started on July 25 with a match against Northern Ireland’s Crusaders — they are very much in the tussle to secure European football again next year.
Supplementing their little squad has been a selection of talented youngsters from the academy. Defender Max Kilman has been an unused sub 22 times, making three appearances.
Despite the fact that Wolves have a phenomenal injury record, only centre-back Willy Boly and midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White have missed some real length of time this year thanks to the ground-breaking preventative steps they take, you can bet additional chances will come the way of those youngsters.
The only concern for Wolves supporters is how much longer they’ll be able to hold onto their impressive coach. Nuno was connected with the Arsenal job when the Gunners sacked Unai Emery at the end of 2019 and awarded the club’s trajectory under his stewardship it is tough to imagine there will not be further interest soon.
“I have one more year of contract so I do not consider that,” Nuno advised the Birmingham Mail.
“I’m delighted with the group of players, the way we operate. Yes, I am settled.
“Players came with us since day one, that’s why I say it is my life because I am 100 percent here and I give everything I have to help improve the players and help the club.
“We signed it and we’re committed to it. They (the fans) can be completely assured every day Wolves is my obsession, I do not think about anything else.”
It’s easy to see why. Wolves have revealed themselves to be a progressive club since Nuno arrived in the summer of 2017. Much was made of their connections with so-called’super-agent’ Jorge Mendes but he holds no formal function at Molineux.
Wolves’ recruitment in that time has been superb believe Rúben Neves, João Moutinho, Willy Boly, Raúl Jiménez, Rui Patricio and the fact Vallejo and Cutrone were such high-profile busts merely serves to underline the fact there aren’t many.
Nuno clearly has something as a coach, too.
Wolves have a very clear game plan that works and is easy on the eye. No-one finishes more long passes in the Premier League (34.44 per 90) but they’re not hit-and-hope merchants. They counter with precision and pace and, thanks in no small part to Traoré, finish the third-most crosses, not including set bits, at the league with 3.72 (per 90).
Defensively ordered to boot, which makes the third-most interceptions (11.64 per 90) and second-most possession regains in their defensive third (28.92 per 90), Wolves are the poster boys to what can be achieved with a transparent plan, individuality, smart recruiting and a bit of patience.
Nuno is not like his coaching peers, he’s the most underrated manager in the Premier League, in a class of his own.