Jose Sa insists Wolves ‘family’ can help club into the top four as he reflects on breakout season 


The best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season says he prefers to play as a striker and spent much of his early football life at right-back.

Welcome to the world of Jose Sa, the man named the best signing of last summer by Gary Neville, who is pushing Wolves towards the top four.

When Sa moved to Molineux from Olympiakos for £6.8million, to replace Roma-bound Rui Patricio, the transfer barely registered with Premier League supporters. Seven months later and Sa is impossible to ignore, thanks to his role in a team who have conceded only 17 goals in 23 league matches, but also for his flamboyant personality.

Jose Sa has been a shining light for Wolves after signing for just £6.8million 

The goalkeeper is a key reason why Wolves have kept so many clean sheets this term

The goalkeeper is a key reason why Wolves have kept so many clean sheets this term 

As he arrives promptly for his first UK newspaper interview, Sa’s easy manner and a sharp sense of humour are immediately apparent. Asked about his goalkeeping idols, the 29-year-old jokes: ‘Iker Casillas, Petr Cech, Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer are the best of the best – after me!’

Yet Sa had no plans to emulate them when he was a defender for his junior team, Palmeiras, based in Braga in northern Portugal. All that changed one weekend when Sa, aged 10, was asked by his coach and mentor Jose Carlos Antunes to deputise in goal because the team’s regular ‘keeper was absent.

‘When I play with friends, I don’t like going in goal, I like to score – I go up front and run,’ smiles Sa. ‘And then I was a right-back for my local team Palmeiras when I was much younger.

‘Before one game my coach, who is now my parents’ neighbour, came to me and said: ‘Could you go in goal because we don’t have a keeper? I think you can be good.’

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‘I was 10 or 11 at the time and I don’t remember anything about the game, but the following season I remember we had a good team and we were champions. It was at that stage I started having trials with other clubs.

‘My parents supported me all the time, though as a goalkeeper they had to spend more money on me because you have gloves, boots and everything else.

‘My father gave me everything I needed and said to me: ‘One day you will pay me everything back!’

‘Times were different times back then because I had two or three pairs of gloves and two boots per season. Now I have a big box full of new gloves and change them every three games.’

Sa wanted to be a striker as a child but filled in as a keeper when a team-mate was absent

Sa wanted to be a striker as a child but filled in as a keeper when a team-mate was absent

Whichever pair Sa has chosen, they have served him well. Replacing Patricio, still Portugal’s first choice, appeared a difficult task, yet the early signs indicate Wolves have found an upgrade.

Sa shares Patricio’s shot-stopping ability but is far more comfortable with the ball at his feet, enabling him to play as a sweeper behind Wolves’ higher defensive line and also contribute to attacks.

Indeed, his favourite moment this season was not his spectacular save from Bruno Fernandes that preserved Wolves’ 1-0 win at Manchester United on January 3, but his assist for Raul Jimenez’s winner at Southampton on September 26.

Results like those have carried Wolves to within six points of a Champions League spot – and they have two games in hand on fourth-placed Manchester United.

It has been a fine first season for boss Bruno Lage and Sa believes Wolves’ secret is the ‘family’ atmosphere at the club. Sports stars often speak glibly about team spirit but at Wolves, the pack mentality feels genuine. Midfielder Ruben Neves turns 25 next month and the players have already planned a fancy dress night, with ‘Las Vegas Casino’ as the theme.

Sa, pictured here with Conor Coady, says the family atmosphere at the club drives them

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Sa, pictured here with Conor Coady, says the family atmosphere at the club drives them

‘The environment here is amazing,’ says Sa, in impressive English. ‘There are a lot of Portuguese players and because we are outside our own country, people like Ruben, Joao Moutinho, Pedro Neto – they are our family.

‘We are like a pack and this is one of the reasons we are doing well. If I make a mistake, my friends are there to help me. If one of them makes a mistake, I try to help them.

‘Could we play in the Champions League? Of course. If nobody leaves, if the club bring in one or two more players, yes, with this squad we can do very good things.

‘We are under the radar but that is normal because in England people always push ‘The Big Six’ and their players. But we do our work and we are there, in a good position.

‘Can we stay under the radar? I don’t care. Sometimes I like it when people don’t talk about me, though of course it’s nice when they do because it’s a sign you are doing a good job.

Sa spent three seasons with Olympiakos before moving to Molineux in the summer

Sa spent three seasons with Olympiakos before moving to Molineux in the summer

‘If Gary Neville says I am the signing of the season, it makes me very happy. He is one of the biggest names, a very important person in English football. It gives me power to work harder and do better.

‘I hate losing. When I lose after making a mistake, when I go home to my wife I don’t talk to her. I stay on the couch and sometimes I get headaches, because I’m thinking of what I could do better.’

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While Sa can stay on the edge of the limelight in the West Midlands, this was not the case at either of his former clubs.

Porto are 29-times champions of Portugal and operate under fierce scrutiny, and the spotlight shines even brighter on Greek giants Olympiakos.

Sa still speaks some Greek thanks to his three years in Athens though no memory is as clear as the 16 days in February 2019, when Olympiakos were knocked out of the Europa League and domestic Cup, as well as losing to PAOK in the league. 

Gary Neville described the goalkeeper as 'the signing of the season' earlier in the campaign

Gary Neville described the goalkeeper as ‘the signing of the season’ earlier in the campaign

The combustible Evangelos Marinakis, who also owns Nottingham Forest, had seen enough.

‘He was a good person who helped me a lot, but after the cup defeat by Lamia, a small team, he came to the dressing room with 15 fans,’ recalls Sa ‘The fans were going crazy. They had red eyes and were almost crying. They said we had to honour the shirt and give more.

‘Here the fans are calmer and they respect you a lot, though at Olympiakos the people loved and supported me, even when I had a bad phase.’ Sa has already gone a long way to earning similar status at Molineux.



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