What’s left to be said that hasn’t been written already?
In this most glorious of seasons that has surpassed all expectations, no amount of superlatives do justice to the progress made, the unforgettable top-tier victories or the exquisite brand of football underpinning it all.
The defeat to Liverpool was largely irrelevant as it turned out, partly due to events on the south coast and in our case, the hat-trick of league wins preceding this game to confirm our seventh-placed berth.
We wait to learn our Europa League fate this Saturday, which would add a hotly anticipated follow-up, back by popular demand! Sat-navs would be reprogrammed to include European routes, (rather than Broadhall Way and Broadfield Stadium destinations), and our office managers would be gingerly consulted for some impromptu time off.
For a club steeped in continental conquests under lights, the prospect of a midweek Molineux visit from a European opponent – wherever the heck they’re from – really is too intoxicating to contemplate.
But for the here and now, it leaves me to frantically search for some new positives which haven’t been dwelt on a great deal, such has been the abundance of obvious sources elsewhere.
1. The backroom team: Behind every great manager is an indispensable coach or tactician, whether its Queiroz to Sir Alex or Peter Taylor to Brian Clough. In Nuno’s case, we have a crack team of rational thinkers, with first team coach Ian Cathro a force to be reckoned with.
Rumour has it that ‘Cathro was way, way out of his depth,’ according to former Scotland striker Kris Boyd shortly after Cathro was appointed Hearts boss in 2016. He was derided as not being a ‘confident, charismatic top level coach’ by Boyd when both were at an FA Pro-Licence course.
“I just think of the shy lad who hardly spoke to anyone when we were on the same coaching course,” he said.
But what Boyd failed to realise was that while he was getting a round in, Cathro was devising Valencia’s game-plan ahead of Real Madrid’s visit to the Mestalla the following weekend. The then-Valencia gaffer Nuno had given Cathro a job to do – and the young coach did it with aplomb, masterminding an historic 2-1 win, thus ending Madrid’s record 22-game winning streak in the process.
Cathro works with Rui Pedro Silva to assist our Bearded Wonder and it looks like the calm approach of the former, allied with the fire and brimstone of the latter, makes for a compelling proposition on the sidelines. Well done to both – and everyone else in black Adidas puffer-jackets!
2. Plan B: With such creative thinkers on board, the mere thought of Terry Connor and his clipboard in isolation is enough to induce a cold sweat, as due-diligence has been ramped up to new levels this season. It’s no surprise then, that a formidable ‘Plan B’ has been forged during the season, in place of our previously irresistible 3-4-3 formation. Bringing in The Donk to free up Moutinho and Neves has been a masterstroke, as has the decision to play Jota as a striker. This Plan B is good enough to cause the very best sides problems, as Liverpool found out at Anfield during spells of the game. It’s still got enough longevity in it to serve us well next year, before a Plan C is doubtless devised for when the time is right.
3. Molineux Factor (or lack of): For more years than I care to remember, Radio WM and other outlets would be at pains to beat us with a tired old stick known as the ‘Molineux Factor.’ To break this down into layman’s terms, it simply translated as opposing teams keeping us fans quiet for 15mins at the start of games before we all turn like a pack of rabid dogs, screaming and chewing at the players’ fatal flaws with relish. Again, we must thank Nuno and his team for consigning this theory as complete and utter nonsense.
We’ve won 10 at home, and whilst clearly this is largely down to player ability, the spirit and togetherness engendered by Nuno’s ‘One Pack’ mentality – stretching back to the first day he was appointed – has been a huge factor in all this. No more unfounded slagging of the ‘fickle’ fans to mask deficiencies elsewhere (as was so prevalent in the previous regime), and moreover, not one single fan taken for granted in the role they play for the cause.
4. Injuries: Ok, so this has been mentioned plenty of times before, but to boast a fit and firing squad week after week has been nothing short of a miracle. When Michael Kightly used to terrorise back in the days of Mick, we’d all fear a KO to scupper his one-man mission. It inevitably occurred, just as it did with Geoff Thomas, Tony Daley, Steve Froggatt and hundreds more in times gone by.
Hands up who feared Neves would go the same way as Kightly last season, when things seemed too good to be true? I doubt any monkey glands were exchanged like Major Frank Buckley’s day, but the treatments which have been administered have been equally revolutionary – and the results have been every bit as impressive as those on the pitch.
Other marginal gains to do justice to this most memorable season of all are out there somewhere, including the menacing black signage on the Steve Bull Stand (in place of the insipid old Red Row fascia) which Dad still insists adds more intimidation on match days?!
Such attention to detail is lost in an empty press conference at Anfield, where Nuno answered to a single soul.
Next season, they might be queuing out the doors to find out how he does it.