Non-negotiables with Bruno Lage - "Words are empty, it's about how you treat people"

We sat down with the Wolves manager to discuss the key coaching values and philosophies he won’t compromise on and how they influence his management style.

By Callum Davis Published: 16 September 2022 - 12.25pm

Despite an impressive CV that includes a record-breaking title-winning season as head coach of Benfica, little was known about Bruno Lage when he took the reins at Wolves in June 2021.

Since then, the Portuguese, who previously held roles in English football under compatriot Carlos Carvalhal at Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday, has forged his repuation as a shrewd tactician and principled manager.

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Now, over a year into his Molineux reign, Lage has dragged Wolves back into European contention with a distinct style of football that makes them one of the league's most formidable opponents. 

As the West Midlanders prepare to face-off against Man City live on BT Sport this Saturday, Lage has revealed all in an exclusive interview with BT Sport, delving deeper into his key philosophies, values and what he expects from his players.

How important was your time at Benfica in framing your philosophy as a head coach?

Very important.

I started at Benfica when I was 27, I worked in the academy for eight years and in that time I coached every single age group. 

Then I left and when I returned it was with the senior team and we won the league. 

So it was the most important experience I've had in making me the person I am today and the manager I am today. 

When you arrived at Wolves you said: "to become a bigger team we need to have the right mentality." What does it mean to have the 'right mentality'?

To have the right mentality is to have commitment to the work.

That doesn't mean I have lots of rules. I never go into the dressing room and tell the players what they can and can't do. 

But what I expect is that they come with a willingness to work. Do they want to improve? Do they have the ambition to get better everyday? 

I want a squad of players that are ready and willing to fight for their place in the team each and every day.

Bruno Lage Diego Costa
Bruno Lage chats with Diego Costa during his Wolves medical

You're renowned for your work ethic, often staying at the training ground for hours into the night. When you put in such time and effort yourself, do you expect that in return from your players?

Yes because that is something I grew up with at Benfica, knowing the value of hard work.

Whenever I have worked hard at something, good things have happened to me in my life.

It doesn't matter what age you are, the main objective has to be "how do I improve?"

That is why I work hard, so that the team get better day-by-day and we have a better chance to succeed each weekend. 

That is why training is so important, it's the time we have to work, to improve, to learn and to be better every day.

“The players need to have the feeling that they are important to me”
- Bruno Lage

My time working as a fitness coach was very useful.

Every time I worked with a different manager I saw an opportunity to improve and I tried to learn something new.

These days I use a mix of everything that I learned to make sure we are putting players in the right place to perform at the weekend.

What does it mean to be in the right place? It means to be in the right physical condition to play in the Premier League and have the right mindset to play the way we want them to play.

To do that we have to find the right methodology to make everything work together and that is the challenge.

You talk about preparation, how important is preparation in building a successful team?

It's important to have a clear message. 

I can tell you now, but at the start of the season I challenged the team to play in a different system and see how it goes.

In the first two weeks the players were like "here we go again, another pre-season" but when we challenged them to play a different way they were more alert and more motivated to learn.

Sometimes that is the most important thing, to make sure the players are always learning so that when the time comes in a game they already know what to do.

Wolves have a strong contigent of Portuguese nationals, but how difficult is it to create a team spirit with one shared objective?

I think it's the biggest challenge for a manager these days.

As a player, everything is black and white. If they are in the first team everything is beautiful but if they are on the bench next week then everything is terrible! 

So that's why it's so important for them to know they are valued, no matter if they start or not. All humans need to feel important and valued.

We cannot justify every decision but they need to feel like they are important to me whether they are on the bench or on the pitch.

Bruno Lage Matheus Nunes
Bruno Lage welcomes club record signing Matheus Nunes to Wolves

Is communication important in that sense? To make them understand their role in the team?

It's not about communication because words can be empty. It's about the way you treat people and getting them to realise that everyone has the same chance to impress and work in training.

The players need to have the feeling that they are important to me and if I don't pick them it's not a personal decision, it's a professional decision that I take depending on the scenario. 

Again, it is important for players to feel part of the strategy. I don't care for players who have a big ego.

If I have three or four players and they are all fighting with each to be better than the other guy then it is a disaster. 

We try to create an environment where people feel comfortable and provide a place for the players to work.

Would you say you are a disciplinarian in that sense?

I don't want my players to be boy scouts! 

If they do everything by the book off the pitch but then they don't work hard in training, what's the point?

That doesn't mean they can do what they want, of course not. It's about understanding what is more important.

For example, at the start of the season I asked the players what they did with the fine money, and they shared it amongst the staff.

So you see, it's not about me setting rules and discipline, it's about the players knowing the standards and upholding them out of respect for one another.

Wolves vs Man City is exclusivley live on BT Sport 1 this Saturday from 11.30am