When Nuno Espirito Santo was dismissed by Spurs, less than four months after taking charge of the ailing giants, a formerly highly rated coach saw his reputation plummet.

This was not solely due to the poor results he presided over in North London, though they were unquestionably poor, that must be said.

After orchestrating three straight 1-0 wins after taking the reins in August, 2021, Tottenham then endured a terrible streak that saw them lose five games in seven, conceding three goals several times over.

The mess left behind by Jose Mourinho was evidently getting messier.

Yet that notwithstanding, there was also the manner of the losses, and the ultra-conservative style of football that Santo was clearly trying to implement. Spurs were stultifying and wholly lacked any real ambition to attack or entertain. They were set up to defend yet couldn’t.

After encountering similar fare under Mourinho, and seeing their team suddenly priced up in the Premier League betting as distant hopes to finish in the top six, the Tottenham faithful quickly turned on the new gaffer, making their dissatisfaction known. 

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For a short while the ground became a hostile environment on matchdays. And more than ever, there was a notable disunity between fan-base and the board. 

Furthermore, despite winning the manager of the month merit for August, the old jibes about the ex-Wolves coach resurfaced aplenty on the forums.

He was, many claimed, ‘Mourinho-lite’ and if Spurs were going to persist playing negative football they may as well have kept the real deal.

Following an abject 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester United in early November, Santo was duly sacked and off he went to coach in Saudi Arabia, taking over at Al-Ittihad.

At one point the 50-year-old flirted with the idea of returning to Wolves but to Premier League audiences he soon became a forgotten figure.

So much so, that when Nottingham Forest recruited him just prior to Christmas – the struggling club having jettisoned the popular Steve Cooper – it felt like a blast from the past. Oh, it’s him. The guy who priorities clean sheets above all else. 

And with that in mind, perhaps his appointment made sense in the Midlands. After all, going into the festive period, Forest couldn’t buy a win and resided just one spot above the drop-zone. A clean sheet or two wouldn’t exactly hurt them.

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Of which there has been precisely none since, because this isn’t a dramatic tale of a reputation restored. Moreover, after seven games at the helm Forest have improved their league standing by just a single place.

What intrigues however is the extent in which Santo appears to have changed his managerial outlook, coming in, assessing that so many of Forest’s best players are attack-minded and utilising them accordingly.

Morgan Gibbs-White has been outstanding in recent weeks, so too Anthony Elanga and Callum Hudson-Odoi. All three are playing with a freedom that belies Santo’s repute for tethering flair. 

In the middle of the park, Nicolas Dominguez has shone, trusted in there despite hardly being a quintessential number six. 

Forest are watchable and interesting. They have scored 1.8 goals per 90 under Santo’s charge. Is this the work of a manager who has loosened up and become more attuned to rolling the dice? It seems so.

For the Portuguese coach to repair his damaged stock he must of course keep his side up this season. That’s a given. But should he do so, what’s the betting we never hear the ‘Mourinho-lite’ jibe ever again?

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.