On the 20th of December Nottingham Forest appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as their new boss. He replaced Steve Cooper, who was sacked the day before, despite having led them into the Premier League, kept them there, and the club sitting five points clear of the relegation zone at the time. Presumably they are expecting Nuno, as he is generally known, to guide them into the Champions League this season or the next.

We are not here to discuss Cooper though, nor the rights or wrongs of his dismissal. Instead we will be taking a look at the new man in charge. Who is Forest’s new manager and what is his record like?

Who is Nuno Espirito Santo?

Sao Tome and Principe on Map

São Tomé and Príncipe

Nuno was born in São Tomé which is the largest island in São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation off the mid-west coast of Africa. It was a Portuguese colony but was granted independence in 1975 and the new boss at Forest is Portuguese. He was born on the 25th of January 1974, shortly before independence was granted, but played youth football in Portugal having moved there at a young age.

He was a goalkeeper, which is statistically unusual for someone who goes into management. He never really thrived at any particular club, often spending short spells at sides, being out on loan, or acting as a second-choice stopped. He played in Portugal, Spain and Russia, appearing 69 times in the league for Merida, a total he didn’t match anywhere else.

Despite this, he did make the squad at a major tournament with Portugal. He was named in the party for the 2008 Euros but didn’t get on the pitch and, in fact, never represented his country at all at senior level. He earned one cap for the under-18s, three for the under-21s and five for the under-23s, as well as playing three times for Portugal B.

Despite this itinerant club career and lack of international joy, Nuno won a number of honours as a player and was a very decent keeper at his peak. No less a judge of player than Jose Mourinho signed him, for Porto, and he won four league titles and the Champions League with the Portuguese giants. He won many further trophies with them, all despite playing just 14 league games! He also won the Spanish Cup with Deportivo La Coruna, despite again rarely making the field of play!

He moved into coaching almost as soon as his playing days ended. In June 2010, at the age of 36, Porto said that would not be renewing his contract and by November he was the goalkeeping coach with Malaga. Less than two years later he made his first step into full management, with the relatively small Portuguese club Rio Ave.

Espirito Santo’s Managerial Career

Nuno showed early promise and helped guide Rio Ave into the Europa League for the first time. However, after a couple of years he moved to Spain (in July 2014), to a much bigger club in the shape of Valencia. He guided them to a fourth-place finish in his first season at the Mestalla, winning the Manager of the Month award no less than three times.

However, the following season went badly and the Portuguese boss left the club in November 2015. Less than a year later he was in charge at one of his former sides, Porto, where expectations were high. Despite leading the club to second, he was sacked after a trophyless campaign.

Nine days later, on the 31st of May, Nuno came firmly onto the radar of English football fans when he joined Wolves on a three-year contract. The team were in the Championship at that point but their new Portuguese boss did exactly what he was brought in to do and led the Black Country outfit into the Premier League. They won the second-tier title with two games to spare and were dominant.

Wolverhampton Wanderers LogoThe following season, in September, the Wolves boss became the first manager of the club to win the Premier League Manager of the Month award as his side began superbly in the top flight. They would finish seventh that term, qualifying for Europe and backed that up by finishing in the same position a year on. In September 2020 Nuno extended his contract with Wolves and the following month again won the Manager of the Month award.

However, the following May he left Wolves, reportedly by mutual consent, and joined Spurs in June 2021. His time at Spurs was short and epitomises so much of what is wrong with the modern Premier League. Tottenham won their first three games and Nuno was named the league’s best boss yet again, in August 2021. However, by the end of October pressure was mounting due to a bad run and on the 1st of November 2021 he was dismissed! Hero to zero in three and a bit months!

Saudi Calls

The Portuguese manager’s next move took him to Saudi; his love of Arab culture, cuisine and politics was well documented. Or was it the money? Either way, in July 2022 he was appointed boss of Saudi giants and football icons, Al-Ittihad. They won the league but in November 2023 Nuno was again dismissed, partly due to defeat in the AFC Champions League.

Who are Forest Getting?

So, we know about Nuno’s playing and managerial career, but what can Forest expect? Well, if his past is a guide to the future, the chances are that the former Wolves man won’t be at the City Ground for too long. Given the way the owners have treated Cooper, that might suit both parties.

Forest’s new boss took charge of 199 Wolves games, but his five other managerial posts lasted no more than the 80 games he was at his first cub, Rio Ave. Overall it has to be said that his winning percentage has been very solid and in his career to date it is a shade under 50%. At the two English clubs he has managed it was around the 47% mark and if he can replicate that at Forest the fans will surely warm to him.

What might be less appealing is the fairly stolid style of football his teams often produce. Nuno is a good organiser but he is not known for expansive play or great excitement. For Forest fans that could be an issue, especially if results are not good too. The fans were very much behind Cooper too, so Nuno may not instantly create the bond with them that was a large part of his success at Wolves.

The incoming boss may also face negativity given he has been sacked from his last two roles. Whilst Forest may benefit from his organisational skills – they have conceded 30 goals in 17 league games – there is a feeling that his spell with Wolves, the only one where he has really excelled, was perhaps the outlier, rather the norm. Forest fans, and the rest of us, will just have to wait and see!