Wolves boss Bruno Lage nurtured three of Man City's stars at Benfica

Bruno Lage nurtured Manchester City stars Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva during his time at Benfica… now the Wolves boss must set up his team to stop them

  • Bruno Lage coached every age group at Benfica between 2004 and 2012
  • Now Wolves manager, he comes up against three of his proteges at Man City
  • Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva could all face their former coach
  • Cancelo said he views Lage as a ‘father figure’ after an early life bereavement 

Finding a way to beat Manchester City is the most difficult task in English football, yet at least Wolves boss Bruno Lage will understand exactly what he is up against.

City’s three Portuguese stars —defenders Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias, and attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva — are among the best players in the Premier League and have been at the heart of the success enjoyed by Pep Guardiola’s team over recent seasons.

Coaching every age group at Benfica from 2004-12, Lage played a significant role in the rise of all three — as well as City goalkeeper Ederson. Bernardo was skipper of the Benfica Under 10 team he guided. 

Bruno Lage trained young players at Benfica, some of whom he will now face on Saturday

‘When I arrived to work with the Under 10s, Bernardo was there,’ recalls Lage.

‘He was my captain and we won the league that year. He is not just a top player but also a top man.’

When Lage took charge of the senior side, he made Dias his skipper, having spotted his leadership qualities at youth level.

While Lage had left Benfica by the time Ederson made his first-team breakthrough, he had worked with the Brazil goalkeeper at the junior levels and watched him join Rio Ave before returning to the Lisbon giants in 2015.

Ederson secured his move to England two years later.

Joao Cancelo referred to Lage as a ‘father figure’ after his mother died when he was just 18

Perhaps the most important work Lage did was with Cancelo. When he was 18, Cancelo’s mother died in a road accident close to Benfica’s training ground.

He refers to Lage as a ‘father figure’, explaining of the 46-year-old: ‘He was the coach who had the biggest impression on me in training. We had a father-son relationship. He was almost a father to me.

‘He pulled my ears and got me in line. He was the only one I respected and who could keep me in line because it was often difficult to deal with my irreverence.’

It is no surprise Lage has surrounded himself with Portuguese players, given his expert understanding of them. When Wolves line up against City today, as many as eight of their XI may be from Lage’s homeland, as super agent Jorge Mendes continues to exert his influence in this corner of the West Midlands.

Lage was involved in all ages of Benfica’s impressive youth system between 2004 and 2012 

Jose Sa is first-choice goalkeeper. Nelson Semedo is pushing for inclusion at right back. Matheus Nunes, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho make up the midfield trio. Goncalo Guedes, Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence appear the likeliest front three.

This is an important phase of Lage’s career at Wolves. His first season tailed off after a promising beginning and he has been backed in the transfer market to the tune of about £100million, with Guedes, Nunes, Nathan Collins, Boubacar Traore and Sasa Kalajdzic arriving at Molineux this summer.

When Kalajdzic sustained a serious injury on his debut against Southampton, Wolves moved quickly to bring in Diego Costa on a deal until the end of the season, and the former Chelsea forward has an outside chance of being included in the squad against Guardiola’s men. Yet with this investment comes pressure to deliver. Lage spent much of last season stressing the need for a bigger squad. Now he has one, chairman Jeff Shi and the owners will expect results.

Though Wolves have played reasonably well this term, six points from six games is a modest haul, especially when their opening fixtures looked relatively kind. The challenge for Lage is to find a new gear and facing City should at least bring happy memories of his time at Benfica, when he worked with some of Portugal’s finest talents.

New Wolves recruit Diego Costa could be involved for the match against Manchester City 

‘When you look back, the generation who were born in 1994 were fantastic,’ Lage told The Big Interview podcast. ‘Ederson was our goalkeeper at Under 17 level and part of a long list of players.

‘Then you have the generation born in 1997, with (Paris Saint-Germain midfielder) Renato Sanches and Ruben Dias.

‘When I returned to Benfica to take charge of the B team and then the first team, I knew there were players in the B team who would be capable of stepping up. It’s still going now.

‘It’s the machine (at Benfica) — every time the machine continues to produce players.’

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have benefited greatly from that machine. Just for once, though, Lage will be hoping it malfunctions when he faces his former pupils.

Bernardo Silva worked closely with Lage during his early years in the youth set-up at Benfica

Ruben Dias is another of Lage’s proteges that he could come up against in Saturday’s game

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