Heads were turned when Bruno Lage was linked with replacing Nuno Espírito Santo as Wolves’ head coach but the club were adamant he was first choice. Lage has spent only two seasons managing senior teams, and one of those was in charge of Benfica B in the Portuguese second division; the other ended with Benfica’s first team winning the Primeira Liga in 2019.
The following season, Benfica went on a poor run, and after leaving the club last June he had been out of work, making his arrival at Molineux slightly more curious, although having Jorge Mendes as an agent may have helped. Lage, however, does have a long track record, spending a decade at Benfica in various roles, and working as Carlos Carvalhal’s assistant.
Lage had no playing career to speak of, before going into coaching aged 21. At Benfica he spent the majority of his time coaching youth sides but also taking charge of the B team, taking them to fourth in the second division in the 2018-19 campaign. It was a season that proved to the club’s hierarchy he was ready to lead the first team.
“I liked him a lot,” the former Benfica midfielder Keaton Parks, now of New York City FC, says. “He’s a very intense coach, he doesn’t let you slack off at all – he’s all about winning and getting the best out of you. He’s very tactical; he liked to switch up how we were playing depending on our opponent. He is a very smart coach, he reads the game well and he is good at getting what he wants out of his players.”
Fluidity is key when it comes to formations and tactics for Lage, which keeps players on their toes. Each opponent is analysed heavily, allowing Lage to tinker and adjust for any circumstance. No two games are the same for Lage but an attacking philosophy is always at its heart.
“He was very detailed,” Parks says. “He is Portuguese but he speaks English well. He would always talk to me one-on-one and explain anything to me I might not have understood. He was very hands-on, he was always focused on every player – he did not just pick a handful of guys to focus on. Training was always very specific regarding what you should work on as an individual and always made sure you worked on it and you were developing throughout the season.”
Lage refuses to allow anyone to give less than their best in training and matches regardless of reputation. Players trying to go through the motions were quickly castigated. Wolves players will be given a chance to prove themselves and what has gone before will be forgotten by the new manager.
Parks adds: “We had players from the first team but they were training with us as they weren’t going to play games with the first team and even those guys who knew they weren’t going to play at the weekend, he always got the best out of them; he never let anyone slack off no matter who they were.
“That was one thing I liked about him, as you don’t like training with a couple of guys who are allowed to not do anything and they make it more difficult for the rest of the players. He would not allow that at all.”
At Benfica, Lage had to bring together a squad from all over the world. Lage would make time to ensure his players were settled and understood what was needed from them.
“He is very personable,” Park says. “He focuses a lot on football but then after training he would always joke around and talk to us to make sure we are doing well off the pitch. He has a great personality and he was well liked.”
This is not Lage’s first job in the UK, the 45-year-old having previously worked as Carvalhal’s assistant at Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea. Lage was in control of training at both clubs. He took the sessions and kept the players in optimum condition, all the time reporting back to Carvalhal.
“I found it hard to see him as a manager,” the former Sheffield Wednesday winger Will Buckley says, “but he was good as a coach. He was very intense, he was always on it; every time he did a drill he wanted it done right, which is the intensity he brought. He was passionate about the game and knew what he wanted from each session he put on, but as a player that was good as sometimes you might go in tired and you need a push to get up to speed and do things properly.”
Lage will be hoping to convince his best players to stay at Molineux by showing his personable side. “He was good to chat to but he was very serious with everything he did – he was not one for messing about,” Buckley says. “He was still approachable as an assistant; if you ever wanted to talk to him, he was always open to it, but only about professional things. I don’t think he ever interacted with players outside of the working environment.”
Lage tested and improved his English working alongside Carvalhal, quickly earning the respect of those he coached. The manager and his assistant had a close relationship, sharing a view of how football should be played, even if their methods were different.
“You will see some of the traits from Carlos and maybe some of the things Carlos told us had come from Bruno anyway,” Buckley says. “They interacted differently and had different thoughts. When managers and assistants work well together they are bouncing ideas off one another to try different things out. It will be very similar in the way he will want to play, getting the ball down and building from the back.”