Undefeated. Second in the League with 17 points from seven games, Valencia are flying. Having only conceded four goals and blessed with a powerful style of play that opponents simply cannot understand how to stifle, we are looking at genuine contenders for the title.
With Jorge Mendes’ dark shadow looming above the club and Peter Lim’s suspicious arrival analysed, few could fathom Valencia’s choice of Coach. The reins of one of the most prestigious clubs in the country were being handed to a man with little experience and hardly any stature.
The footballing snobs within Spain are not familiar with Rio Ave, nor of their remarkable achievements under Nuno Espirito Santo. A former goalkeeper who spent most of his time on the bench, was he really capable of challenging the most brilliant tactical minds within a League that boasts beauty and technique?
He now stands before us as La Liga's Coach of the month, his players united with an insatiable appetite for success, his coaching staff confident they are working alongside a man they always knew would succeed. Why? Because of that time spent on the bench as a player, observing the game and the the psychology of players. Because of his communication skills that see him capable of transmitting his ideals in Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian and Russian if need be, and most importantly because of his leadership skills. Skills that his former Coaches were blessed to have witnessed first-hand.
Having arrived at a club with a broken dressing room, Nuno knew he had to start from scratch. Within his capable hands stood the futures of the youngest starting XI in Spain’s top flight. It was up to him to create a harmonious atmosphere where he could mould their minds and instil the discipline necessary to facilitate his style of play.
Once he united a divided dressing room, Nuno set about constructing a side that adapts to the strengths of its players and to the opponent. That meant highly intense and exhaustive workouts. His players may never be the best but they will be extremely fit, ones capable of playing a rough game as well as one that highlights their technique.
In order to cope, he spoke to them of nutrition, explaining that unless they ran incessantly and played with intensity, they would never realise their collective dream.
Brilliance would arrive so long as they took it step by step and his next task was to ensure a sturdy back-line, one that would safeguard their points. Once that was achieved, the attacking patterns of play were worked upon, with the team growing together as they came to understand each other’s movements on the pitch.
Most attribute the early success to the Coach’s meticulous preparations. Studying his opponents and uncovering weaknesses are perhaps a prerequisite of any good Coach but Nuno gives his men every advantage possible, starting with the mind games he plays so subtly and ruthlessly. Just ask Atletico Madrid, who he labelled as ‘favourites’, snatching their underdog tag away from them while simultaneously speaking of their physical approach. Ref are you listening? When it came time to play, it was his side that exploited the strength of their muscles.
Make no mistake, their players deserve compliments but Nuno is Valencia’s hero.