One of the big questions in the lead up to Nuno Espirito Santo’s appointment as head coach at Tottenham Hotspur, as well as in the immediate aftermath, was who would make up his team of assistants and backroom staff. Now we have our answer. Tottenham tweeted today that Nuno is bringing three of his squad from Wolves along with him —
✍️ We can confirm the appointments of Ian Cathro, Rui Barbosa and Antonio Dias to Head Coach Nuno Espírito Santo’s coaching staff.— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) July 3, 2021
Notably missing from that list, however, is Ledley King, who was appointed to Jose Mourinho’s assistant staff last year as a defensive coach. Ledley is instead returning to his previous role as club ambassador, and will not have coaching responsibilities. Ryan Mason, meanwhile, has returned to his previous job as Head of Player Development in the Tottenham academy.
So we have three assistants — Ian Cathro, Rui Barbosa, and Antonio Dias. Great! But who exactly are they and what do they do? Tim Spiers wrote an excellent breakdown of Wolves’ coaching staff a year ago that gives some insight as to what they may bring to Spurs. To the Athletic (£)!
Ian Cathro is the sole non-Portuguese member of Nuno’s staff, and is arguably the most important, carrying the title of Assistant Head Coach. A Scotsman, he’s probably best known in his own country for his disastrous spell as manager at Hearts of Midlothian that lasted only seven months before he was sacked, and that saw him tarred with the descriptor of “a laptop manager.” But Cathro also has experience as a top assistant for Rafa Benitez and Steve McClaren. Cathro has worked with Nuno at Rio Ave and Valencia, in addition to Wolves.
Cathro and Nuno have an important bond over the way they want football to be played. He’s reportedly loves the training pitch and working directly with players, and Nuno has described him as a “genius”.
Antonio Dias is Nuno’s fitness coach and has been with Nuno for every stop in his managerial career. The Athletic describes him as one of the best in his area in the world, and is chiefly responsible for getting Wolves’ fitness levels to such a high degree that they could overachieve with a smaller squad than most Premier League sides, and without picking up nearly as many injuries.
Barbosa is Nuno’s long-time goalkeeping coach, having worked with him at Rio Ave and Porto. He’s considered a player’s coach, a practical joker who quickly earns the respect and admiration of the players on his teams. It’s also probably a mark on his favor that Nuno has entrusted the keepers to him, as Espirito Santo himself was once a keeper.
Notably missing from Nuno’s Wolves squad is Rui Silva, Espirito Santo’s previous chief assistant. Silva operated more as a link between the playing staff and Nuno; he had more administrative responsibilities and was less of an on-pitch tactical coach. In this role he served as a buffer between players and staff who wanted to approach or speak to Nuno about various issues; those people would need to go through Silva first.
It’s curious that Nuno decided to move on without Silva, who along with Dias has been part of his staff from the beginning. I haven’t yet seen anything about why Silva was not included or if they decided to part ways prior to the Spurs job, but negotiations over number of staff members has been part of the hiring process for several candidates now. It’s possible that Nuno was only able to bring three assistants along and these were the ones he chose.
Notable from the Athletic write-up is the close bond that Nuno formed within his staff. That bond is evident both on the sidelines during matches (Nuno’s assistants were known for a huddled celebration after every goal) to activities and bonding exercises with the players during and after training. Wolves observers have described a “siege mentality” among the squad and coaching staff and it’s clear Nuno and his team have worked to develop an “us versus them” mindset that only works if everyone is on the same page. That’s been something notably missing over the past couple of years at Tottenham. Hopefully Nuno bringing along elements of his tight-knit staff to Spurs will foster something similar.