By 90Min
August 02, 2018

Wolverhampton Wanderers now have as many Portuguese players on their books as Porto.

That's right. The Championship winners and the Primeira Liga champions both have seven players from the Iberian peninsula in their first team squads. This is the work of Nuno Espirito Santo, a little-known manager when he was appointed at Molineux 12 months ago with previous experience at Rio Ave, Valencia and Porto - not the typical CV of a Championship boss.

The common denominator in all of these teams is Jorge Mendes, the agent whose now-sprawling empire was launched 22 years ago when he negotiated Nuno's transfer to Deportivo La Coruna. Over two decades later, Nuno still listens to every word Mendes says. When he told Nuno to go to Wolves, he did.

Every time Wolves have signed a Portuguese player since then, the move has Mendes' fingerprints all over it. It is against the rules for an agent to be in charge of a club's recruitment, but Mendes walks this fine line with the precision of a man who has mastered all the loopholes of his craft.

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Last season's runaway Championship winners had six of Mendes' clients in their squad, and the Portuguese revolution has continued unabated this summer. Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho, both part of the squad that won Euro 2016, have been added to the mix. Moutinho, who once joined Monaco in a £62.3m double deal with James Rodriguez, cost just £5m.

It seems ridiculous to talk about the "problems" with Wolves' current transfer policy, when they have just been promoted to the Premier League and are being widely tipped for a Europa League challenge in the campaign ahead.

But the key word there is "current". The LMA's end of season report revealed that the average length of an incumbent Football League manager's tenure now stands at 1.53 years. Clubs have to plan for their future, regardless of who will be in charge and for how long. In other words, they have to be sustainable.

Wolves' current model is not sustainable. Mendes is building an excellent team for Nuno, but that's the point: he's building it for Nuno. Not for Wolves. As long as Nuno is in charge at Wolves, that's fine. But what happens when he leaves, or is sacked?

Sam Bagnall - AMA/GettyImages

After all, this is unknown territory for Nuno. In his previous roles at Valencia and Porto he became accustomed to winning most of his games, and this continued last season at Wolves. They never went more than three games without a victory during their promotion campaign.

That sort of consistency will be impossible to replicate this season. Wolves - along with over half of the Premier League - will probably lose more games than they will win. As Neil Warnock has proved over and over again, a good Championship manager isn't necessarily a good Premier League manager.

If Wolves find themselves struggling near the bottom of the league in the crunch stages of the season, they will have to consider making a change. On the other hand, if Wolves do as well as many expect them to, there could be a number of more prestigious teams eyeing Nuno next summer.

The real question is not if Nuno leaves. The question is what happens to Mendes when he does. Will he continue to honour his relationship with Fosun, the club's Chinese owners who own shares in his GestiFute agency? Or will he follow Nuno to his next club, and take his Portuguese clients with him?

Sam Bagnall - AMA/GettyImages

Those are long-term concerns though, and there are much more immediate questions to be answered. One of the big ones is whether players like Patricio and Moutinho - who came from title-challenging clubs that expected to win every week - can adjust to a very different set of expectations in the Premier League.

One only has to look at another of Mendes' clients, Renato Sanches. His move to Swansea was seen as a major coup last summer, but he struggled to adapt to life at the Liberty Stadium. Going from Bayern Munich to Swansea was too much of a culture shock for the youngster.

Wolves' current squad hasn't really faced any adversity yet to test their mentality. They entered the top six of the Championship in the second week of last season and never left. Winning is the best motivation for any team and Wolves couldn't stop winning in 2017/18.

What happens when this team isn't winning on a regular basis? Nuno doesn't know yet, but he will surely find out in the cut-and-thrust of the Premier League. The beginning of the campaign isn't too harsh on Wolves, but that makes it all the more imperative that they start off on the right foot. If they don't, all sorts of fractures could start to appear.

If things do turn sour, the question will be how many of these players are loyal to Wolves, and how many are only loyal to the current regime. Almost every Portuguese player at the club is there because of Nuno and his relationship with Mendes. Do they have a future at Wolves after the current manager moves on?

If and when Nuno does depart Molineux, his successor could find himself managing players who no longer want to be at the club. A mass clear-out could be in order at that stage, but Wolves have so many players with GestiFute connections on their books that it would take several transfer windows to get rid of them all.

If this all seems horribly pessimistic. Wolves are in a good place right now and they should have a pretty good season. But every bubble bursts at some point, and when this one goes pop, it'll be very interesting to watch.

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