Wolves provided plenty of pop in the Premier League last season and Nuno Espirito Santo says their formula will stay the same in this campaign, despite the addition of European football.
‘It is the most important thing, an identity, stick to it,’ the manager explains. ‘When things don’t go so well, what are you gonna grab to? It is like Coca Cola, they never change the recipe. Diet, full sugar, no caffeine, maybe, but the recipe is always there.’
Nuno’s recipe has certainly tasted sweet to regulars at Molineux for the last couple of years and the next stage in the process to establish Wolves as a major force begins on Thursday night.
They are entering Europe for the first time in four decades and rekindling memories further back of the floodlit match against Honved in 1954 that proved instrumental in the formation of continental competition.
‘We know what it means to achieve European football,’ Nuno says. ‘For the club and the city it will be amazing to get this atmosphere again. But it depends on us to make it real because the qualification is not done yet.’
First up in the Europa League are Northern Ireland’s Crusaders, with two more rounds of qualifying set to follow. Should Wolves reach the group stage it would mean an extra 12 games before Christmas, but Nuno is adamant he does not need more bodies.
He operated with a squad of 18 first-team members last term and wants a similar number again so that all players know they have the chance of featuring and young prospects are given space to progress.
‘We have a model of operating, an idea of working. It’s not because you are in one more competition that you are going to change the recipe,’ he says.
‘We know we are a small squad but we are trying to develop a different project. It’s not an idea of this gap between the under 18s and first team. We have identified players that can fill both.
‘My view is that every player inside the club can give different things to the team. We have the first team, the back-ups, and the developing group that can hopefully step up. So it’s three parts.
‘And look back at year one when we were in the Championship, how many games we played. If you count, there’s not much difference to what we’re going to face.’
Nuno still wants new signings of course, but his demand for quality mean time is required. Wolves are yet to complete a transfer. The club have made a verbal offer of £18million for James Tarkowski but Burnley want more than double that. AC Milan’s Italy striker Patrick Cutrone is a £20m possibility.
Holding on to the likes of Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Diogo Jota, and Raul Jimenez has been a success in itself though. Nuno accepts that even with Wolves making major strides, bigger Premier League clubs are an attraction in terms of status and money.
To counter this Nuno has a simple plan, saying: ‘The best way is to create a good environment, no conflict, working together for one goal. To make players believe and realise the place to be is here.’
A significant number in Nuno’s squad will have got measurably better from experiencing a first year of Premier League football.
‘Hopefully by improving the player individually, we are improving the team,’ he says. ‘I expect 95 per cent of the squad will maintain the standards.’
Nuno’s analytical approach to coaching also means constant evolution. The Portuguese is tweaking training and thinking of tactical solutions to problems encountered last season against teams who sat deep. Wolves took 16 points against the top six but lost twice to Huddersfield, for example.
‘We have to go and look for better solutions, trying to anticipate.
‘It is a lot like chess. I think all managers have to anticipate. I tried to put myself inside the other managers’ heads. If I played Wolves, what would I do?’
That is the task in front of 19 Premier League managers and, Wolves hope, more than just one in the Europa League.