Ahead of a behind-the-scenes documentary about Wolves' pre-season trip to China, Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips sits down with Nuno Espirito Santo to discuss his vision for the club and finds out why "the owners and management are creating something that Wolves have never had before"...
Shortly after being appointed head coach of Wolverhampton Wanderers, in June 2017, Nuno Espirito Santo was approached by the club's then-captain Danny Batth. It was the new head coach's very first week of work at the club's Compton Park training ground. Nuno had arrived after a turbulent first year at Molineux for new owners Fosun International. He became the fourth permanent head coach at Wolves in less than a year.
Batth was concerned at the turnover of management at a club that had struggled in the Championship for much of the previous season. Nuno listened to what Batth had to say about the travails of the previous season, sat his captain down and outlined a vision. Batth left the meeting convinced a new direction was being taken that had the best interests of the team at heart.
Two years later Wolves is a club transformed. Their 2019/20 season began with a draw at Leicester, who are expected to be challenging Wolves for a Europa League qualification place in the Premier League this season. Wolves have already started their 2019/20 Europa League campaign - having finished seventh last season - and could be three matches away from the group stages.
Nuno has become one of the most coveted managers in the Premier League but, despite the occasional bit of creative tabloid gossip over the summer months, there has never been a substantive suggestion he will be moving on any time soon.
"When we started here, we didn't create time limits, but things are going faster than maybe expected," the head coach admits. "But it's a project that will take time. To create an identity inside of a club that everybody recognises will take time. There will be ups and downs and we have to be prepared for that. It would be a mistake to look too far ahead."
Nuno is speaking during pre-season, at the club's first Asia Trophy appearance. We are filming with him on a car journey from the team hotel on the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai to a scheduled Premier League press conference at another hotel on the other side of the water, as part of a documentary, Wolves In China, to be broadcast on Sky Sports on Monday evening ahead of Manchester United's match at Molineux.
The former goalkeeper does not particularly relish talking to the media, preferring instead to devote his time and energy on the team, but the Shanghai traffic is bumper-to-bumper and Nuno is literally strapped in, so this is an ideal opportunity to talk about the impact he has made back in England and what the future might hold.
Was there anything, in particular, that drew Nuno and his staff to a lower mid-table Championship club, when they arrived in Wolverhampton two years ago?
"The people, it's all about the trust and the friendship," he replies. "I met the ownership, I think we share the same view. If you compare the idea of Fosun with Wolves, it's more or less the same. It's a building process. Even for me and my coaching staff, I always thought that was the right moment to come here. We had other options, we were managing Champions League clubs. We came to the Championship because we wanted to develop an idea; let's try to achieve something that we believe can be a success."
Fosun is a global investment conglomerate which looked at several clubs in the United Kingdom, including neighbours West Bromwich Albion, before deciding on Wolves. Their commitment has been impressive. The initial funding to help Nuno take the team out of the Championship has been backed up each subsequent summer, including a net spend of £84m in the last transfer window.
"It is about the chemistry. The coach is also a person who is willing to work with the best people in the world," says chairman Jeff Shi. "If our ability and talent is at the same level, and the coach feels the support from the staff, management and the club, then why leave? I am very confident about that.
"Day by day, year by year, I feel personally more and more an understanding of Nuno, and we have built a very good relationship. It's not only about some big clubs coming calling for him. It's about whether or not you feel comfortable to work here; to build a team from the starting point to a very good place in time, and gradually enjoy the achievement from that."
Conor Coady, who succeeded Batth as captain, is in no doubt about the impact of the revolution that is taking place under Nuno's management. Nobody on the pitch has benefited more from the arrival of the former Valencia and Porto head coach.
Coady finished the underwhelming 2016/17 Championship season as a utility player, drifting across the midfield positions or filling in at full-back. Two years on he signed a five-year contract as the central sweeper in an impressive three-man defence. With a vocal presence and ability to encourage those around him, Coady is a born leader.
"He's changed the whole direction of the football club, in terms of bringing in his own staff and his own players who want to play for Wolves," the Liverpudlian says. "I remember saying at the start of the Championship year that Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Willy Boly came in to get us out of the Championship, and they did that.
"The manager plays a huge part in what has gone on over the past couple of years. It all comes from Nuno, the identity of the football club. You have to make sure you're learning from the boss every day because his ideas are fantastic. He has his ideas, his way of playing, and every single one of the players trusts the manager. As long as we listen to him on a daily basis, we'll improve."
For Nuno, the importance of the tour to China was to show his players who they were working for. The scale of Fosun's ambitions were illustrated over an intensive week of public appearances and events that highlighted how important Wolves are to the investment group. Nuno agrees that the players now have a greater understanding of their working environment.
"Definitely, we were missing a face, if you want," he explains. "And it's good that the players recognise we are in something that is huge, massive, worldwide. That part of the trip has been very good. To know other cultures, realising that football is global, it's not only what surrounds you, it's much wider than that.
"We are very happy that the players came here. We knew we had to be patient and the players have been fantastic. Having dinner with the owner and all the board and seeing this culture, realising that we are appreciated by other cultures, it has been nice. I think the players enjoyed that."
The Asia Trophy was the perfect stage to blood many of the club's promising academy graduates and U23s team, alongside the established first-team stars. Despite the investment in transfers, Fosun and the management team are keen to develop the youngsters into top class talent.
Nineteen-year old Morgan Gibbs-White is the poster boy for the academy, becoming a regular in the first-team squad, after joining the club at the age of eight.
"The owners and management are creating something that Wolves have never had before," he says. "It's been a crazy experience, and I can't wait for more this season. To see where the club wants to go is a confidence boost for the players to keep going, to want to give more. There's a massive route for the academy players, it's a small squad, we have to bring younger players in."
In the quick-fix world of football today, one of Wolves' strengths appears to be an aligned ownership and management who believe nothing needs to be hurried. The long-term strategy of the board is something Nuno welcomes.
"It is true, that is the best part of what is happening," he adds. "Our fans back home must know that. Fosun looks at Wolves as a long-term project, there's nothing we have to rush. It's something that gives us stability. If you are emotionally well-balanced you work better."
Watch Wolves in China, a behind-the-scenes documentary of the club's trip to Shanghai, on Monday, August 19 at 6pm on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event