A lower league right-winger as a youth, Lage played for Praiense and Quintajense but hung up his boots prematurely after realizing he had no future as a footballer. He then decided to pursue a career as a fitness trainer and was given his first chance at the age of 21 by Jose Rocha in Vitoria de Setubal. It was a turning point in his life.
At his hometown club, he met Jaime Graca, a member of the legendary Portugal team that finished the 1966 World Cup in third place. Graca was so impressed with his knowledge of the game that he later appointed Lage as his right-hand man at Fazendense. They spent dinners writing down practices and tactical ideas on restaurant napkins.
Lage was working three times a week and earning €450 a month at lower league club Sintrense when Graca recommended him to former Benfica director of youth football Antonio Carraca in 2004.
The new Wolves boss will never forget the gesture, naming his son after Graca and wearing a shirt bearing his name in tribute to him after the Portuguese title in 2019.
“When Graca brought up his name, I had a few conversations with Bruno and I was totally sold,” Carraca recalled. “He thought about football 24 hours a day, but what fascinated me the most about him was the educational way he spoke to young people. He has this gift. He is a born leader.
No one who worked with Lage would disagree. Although reserved, he is a very nice person and has a real sense of humor. It’s no surprise that he still gets along well with the players.
He coached all age groups at Benfica, including the famous 1994 generation, which included Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and a number of other rising stars. He has developed such a bond with them that they still have a Facebook group and message each other.
“Bruno the person and Bruno the coach are a bit different,” says Guilherme Matos, a midfielder who was part of this squad. “He’s a spectacular guy, very nice and always joking, but as soon as he walks into the dressing room he changes completely, doesn’t like having fun and is very demanding.”
Cancelo refers to Lage as ‘almost a father’ and ‘the coach who made the biggest impression on him’, but they didn’t exactly start off on the right foot.
“We had practice matches during practices and Bruno liked to participate in them sometimes. He played as a striker, his favorite position, and was called Benfica’s Peter Crouch. There was that day, though, where Cancelo wasn’t particularly happy with himself for some reason – because he wasn’t playing much, had been substituted, something like that,” Matos said.
“He was a bit rebellious and so in a random fifty-fifty ball he tackled Bruno and took him down. The coach was very upset at the time – he’s a very competitive person and he felt that Cancelo intended to do it, that it was on purpose. So he sent Cancelo home immediately, but after a day or two they were talking to each other normally and had left this episode behind. It all happened in the heat of the moment. »
Back in Setubal, his family are renowned for their coaching credentials. While his brother Luis Nascimento joined Wolves as part of his coaching staff, his father Fernando Lage was a manager himself and even worked with Mourinho at Comercio e Industria. It didn’t work out for him, but they stayed in touch.
When they met in the Algarve in 2019, Mourinho couldn’t help but joke with him.
“Welcome to the club of the sick”, smiles the Special One. “Now you will know what my father [Mourinho Felix] crossed when you told me you saw him walking around the city to kill time and control his nerves during my matches. If Lage is hurting now, he doesn’t show it.