Bruno Lage brings to Molineux with him a fascinating history in the game, with a coaching career spanning 24 years and a prosperous spell at one of European football’s power houses.
On the day he begins his new chapter in the Black Country, wolves.co.uk expands on four talking points from the Portuguese’s career to date, which peaked when he lifted the Primeira Liga in his first managerial job at Benfica in 2019.
#1 An attacking brand of football
When Lage is labelled an ‘attack-minded manager’, the proof is in his numbers from his one job at the helm of Benfica. En route to lifting the Portuguese title in 2019, Lage’s side equalled a club record of 103 goals scored in one season. In that same campaign, Benfica became the first team in the Portuguese top flight since 1965 to score ten times in one match, as they annihilated Nacional 10-0 in February 2019. The majority of those 103 goals came in a run of 18 wins in 19 games - a sequence he repeated the following season.
Overall, during his time at Benfica, Lage’s side averaged 2.4 goals and 2.5 points per game. Others stood up and took note, with Lage crowned the Primeira Liga’s top coach for the 2018/19 season, despite only being in charge for six months of it. During his time at Estadio da Luz, the 45-year-old predominantly opted for a 4-4-2 system, with great emphasis on wide play, which should benefit the likes of Adama Traore, Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence at Molineux. It wasn’t only the traditional wingers with responsibility in an attacking sense down the flanks however, with full-backs encouraged to join in attacks, knowing a pair of defensive midfielders would cover them.
#2 Not so unfamiliar territory
English football isn’t unknown to Lage, whose education in the game included three years as assistant to Carlos Carvalhal at Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City. In their two full seasons with the Owls, the Carvalhal-Lage partnership guided Wednesday to their highest-placed finishes in the last 21 years – when the South Yorkshire club were last in the Premier League. The two Play-Off campaigns both ended in heartbreak, at Wembley and then at the semi-final stage, but the Owls attracted plaudits for their entertaining football.
At Swansea, the pair took on a daunting task, with the Welsh club five points adrift of safety in the Premier League at the end of December. Results did turn upon their arrival, with City losing just three of their first 13 games under Carvalhal and Lage, shocking Liverpool and Arsenal with victories along the way, but the damage had already been done and the Swans dropped into the Championship by three points, despite a spirited battle. Nevertheless, Lage left with a greater knowledge of the English leagues and is now ready to take on that challenge himself.
#3 Unearthing diamonds in the rough
Prior to Lage’s arrival, Joao Felix was spoken about as a talent for the future, but the head coach transformed him into a star of the here and now. During the 2018/19 campaign, the youngster had scored twice in three games, but was suffering as a result of the system, until Lage opted to play two strikers, the second of which was given a licence to roam. The rest is history, as they say, as Felix took up that role and scored 16 times in the remaining 25 matches under Lage, helping his team to the title, before departing for a sizeable fee to Atletico Madrid, where he won La Liga just last month.
It’s not just young players Lage has a track-record of developing, however. Ruben Dias was recently named FAW and Premier League Player of the Season following a sensational debut campaign at Manchester City, where he’d earned a move from Benfica. The defender’s previous 18 months in football came under the stewardship of Lage, his Portuguese compatriot, who helped develop a player worthy of £65 million. Alongside Dias in his final season was Carlos Vinicius, who hit double figures on loan at Tottenham Hotspur this season. In his one season under Lage, Vinicius bagged 24 goals, finishing the division’s joint top scorer.
Even before taking the top role, during his eight years learning his trade at Benfica’s world-renowned academy, Lage played his part in making the likes of Manchester City trio Ederson, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva the players they are today.
#4 Offering the academy a pathway
While Felix, Dias and Gedson Fernandez are Benfica Academy’s finest recent exports, Lage inherited them in his first-team in January 2019, but the head coach did provide more opportunities to the club’s own youngsters. Lage’s history in the youth side of the game, and with Benfica B, where he became accustomed to the club’s younger talents, allowed him to take the top job with prior knowledge. Just one month into his role as Benfica head, Lage promoted exciting trio Florentino Luis, Joao Filipe and Ferro to the first-team, and within a month had handed them all senior debuts.
In all three cases, Lage showed his faith in youth. Ferro was thrown into a Taca de Portugal semi-final off the bench and days later scored on his full debut against Nacional in the Primeira Liga. Filipe debuted in the league, but soon after was experiencing European football for the first time, starting a Europa League last 16 clash against Dinamo Zagreb. Similarly, Luis had been in the first-team set-up less than two weeks when he helped Benfica to their first ever win in Turkey – a Europa League last 32 win over Galatasaray. With Wolves proud of their academy set-up, the faith Lage showed in the Benfica system will give hope to James Collins, Steve Davis and the whole structure in place at Compton Park.