Wolverhampton Wanderers have only sporadically enjoyed European football since their golden era in the 1950s, but a controversial connection with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes has made them a force to be reckoned with.
The club’s three league triumphs are immortalised in statues to Wolves legend Billy Wright and manager Stan Cullis at either end of the club’s Molineux stadium.
The side they led came to be heralded “champions of the world” by the press for winning a serious of glamour friendlies.
Sixty years on, Wolves could be back in the Champions League next season via a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men host Espanyol in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie on Thursday and sit just five points off the Champions League.
Just six years ago Wolves were a sleeping giant, rooted in England’s third tier, but a takeover by Chinese conglomerate Fosun in 2016 and their close links to Mendes have transformed the fortunes of the club.
“For a lot of fans of my generation you feel like you are watching your game of Football Manager come to life,” David Evans of the Wolves Fancast told AFP.
Portuguese internationals Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho, former Atletico Madrid and Benfica striker Raul Jimenez and Nuno himself are among the Mendes clients to become modern-day giants at Molineux.
“After many conversations, he convinced me that taking charge of the Wolves would be the right step for me. The project was very challenging and was presented in a very enthusiastic way,” Nuno told ESPN Brazil.
“He is my friend and a person I admire a lot. He is the best agent in the world.”
Wolves’ success has not been without its critics. Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani branded the relationship between Fosun and Mendes “not legal and fair” in 2018.
However, investigations from both the English Football League and Premier League concluded that as Mendes holds no official role at the club, no rules are being breached.
Wolves’ reliance on the Mendes production line shows no sign of slowing down. The signing of Daniel Podence from Olympiakos in January took the total number of Portuguese players in Nuno’s first-team squad to eight.