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Soaring Wolves…struggling Irons – here’s the reasons why

Wolverhampton Wanderers has often been named as one of the clubs with home West Ham either is – or should – be competing for a top seven place. However, there has been a small revolution going on at Molineux over the last two or three years and here respected midlands sports journo TIM NASH explains why the famous old club is currently soaring and his disappointment with the Hammers on Wednesday night. Tim has been covering the fortunes of Wolves for 20 years and been a supporter for four decades. Like ourselves, he now has his own website, www.wolvesbite.com, dedicated to the club. Here he tells West Ham fans why the Molineux men are where they are.
BY TIM NASH

Most Wolves fans heading to Molineux on Wednesday night might have been expecting a stern test from West Ham.

An experienced squad packed with expensive signings managed by a Premier League winner all seemed to add up to a major examination of Nuno Espirito Santo side’s credentials.

But what they got was more evidence of just how far Wolves have come under Nuno and owners Fosun with  the Hammers were outplayed for long spells.

Wolves’ 2-0 win flattered West Ham, who barely laid a glove on them.

The Irons’ performance left many thinking Manuel Pellegrini’s conclusion that his side ‘dominated most aspects of the game, especially the second half’ either showed that the the 66-year-old was either watching a different game from the rest of us or that he is taking the visiting fans for a ride.

My money is heading towards the latter, which, if true, is an insult to those supporters who paid good money travelling to watch their team on a freezing Wednesday night in the midlands.

Over the last 12 months, Wolves have joined West Ham in that middle bracket of teams aiming to get into the top six and challenge for Europe.

It doesn’t take much to agree they may have overtaken them.

Ruben Neves

Wolves finished seventh, were FA Cup semi-finalists and qualified for the Europa League in their first season back in the Premier League when the Hammers were 10th and five points behind.

Now the gap has widened. Wolves are fifth and West Ham 15th, while the points difference is seven.

This is despite Wolves having played four more games than any other team in the top flight because of their Europa League exploits that have carried them to the knockout stages, and with the smallest squad.

So how have they done it?

You have to look back to when Fosun bought the club from Steve Morgan for a £30m investment in July 2016 (Our Note: presumably so cheap as at the time Wolves were a Championship club).

The Chinese investment conglomerate owns companies worldwide; its chairman Guo Guangchang is worth an estimated £4.8 billion.

They own a 20 per cent stake in Gestifute agency, the company of Jorge Mendes, the super agent.

To say Wolves have benefited from Mendes’s elite client base would be an understatement but he is not on the payroll and the club stress he only advises.

Fosun’s investment – somewhere in the region of £228m and upwards on transfer fees alone in three and a half years – quickly changed the parameters of the club, but they didn’t get it right immediately.

After sacking the popular and admirable Kenny Jackett, Nuno is their fourth head coach after the short lived reigns of Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert.

Chaos reigned under Zenga, while as it was put to me at the time, Lambert had identified a British target to come in at say, left back when Mendes could offer him 100 left backs from all over the world.

Lambert wanted his target because he knew him, but Wolves with Mendes’s vast contacts book were now thinking much bigger. There was only one winner.

Nuno was Mendes’s first client as a player and the pair have been close ever since.

A case can be argued that along with Fosun’s investment, there have no bigger influences on Wolves’ success than Mendes and Nuno.

One opens the door to signings that would never have been within Wolves’ reach before – a prime example being the luring of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota to play in the Championship – the other has transformed the playing fortunes of the club.

Even before Nuno, under Fosun, the club’s transfer record was broken twice – £7m for Ivan Cavaleiro and £13m for Helder Costa, both clients of Mendes.

Since then it has been smashed on three more occasions, for Neves (£16m in July 2017), Adama Traore (£18m in August 2018) and Raul Jimenez (£32.6m in July 2019).

But the signing of Jimenez, who has scored 15 goals this season in all competitions, is the only time a fee of more than £18m has been paid (Patrick Cutrone could become a £20m deal).

The other significant arrivals have been £15m for goalkeeper Rui Patricio, 31, £18m for wing back Jonny Castro Otto, 25, £10m for centre back Willy Boly, 28, £14m for forward Jota, 23, £12m for centre back or midfielder Leander Dendoncker, 24, £16m for Cutrone, 21, and £16m for Pedro Neto,19.

Arguably the best value for money signing was Joao Moutinho, who cost £5m from Monaco, in July 2018.

A ‘try before you buy’ policy has also worked well, and avoided any breach of Financial Fair Play rules.

Costa, Boly, Jota, Jonny, Dendoncker and Jimenez all signed on loan before joining permanently, allowing them to settle in first before committing to a fee.

West Ham have been accused of having an ageing squad. By and large, Wolves buy assets.

You could argue there is no sell-on value on Patricio and Moutinho for example, but they generally snap up young and hungry players anxious to improve whose value on the balance sheet exceeds what was paid for them.

Nuno’s input cannot be understated. Within a month of his arrival, he had established a new style of play that has formed the foundation of every game played since: 3-4-3 with the occasional tweak to 3-5-2.

Anyone saying his success is down to money should look at the improvement he has brought to those players who were already at Molineux.

Conor Coady was a midfielder-cum-right back who cost £2m in 2015. Nuno turned him into a sweeper to sit between two centre halves. He had never played in the role before but has now reeled off 88 consecutive league appearances.

Matt Doherty, a Mick McCarthy signing costing £70,000 way back in 2010, was a versatile right back who had been playing as an emergency left back for 18 months.

Under Nuno, the 27-year-old has developed into a flying, goalscoring right wing back who scored eight goals last season.

Nuno insists on having a small squad, which means it helps if players are versatile.

Each of the current three halves – Dendoncker, Coady and Romain Saiss – has been a career midfielder.

Doherty, who can also operate at right-sided centre back, and Jonny can switch flanks, Traore can play wing back, winger or striker, and Jota can play winger or striker.

Another key to their success is fitness. Wolves had a target of 95 per cent availability of their first-team squad under Jackett. It’s now 98 per cent. There were no serious injuries last season and only Boly of the senior squad is out long term this time, with a broken ankle.

They have had the smallest squad in the Premier League for the last 18 months, with just 18 players supplemented by Under-23s.

Yet their powers of recovery are remarkable. This requires a fierce belief in the head coach’s methods, but because of the success he has achieved, everyone is behind it and united in their conviction.

Wolves are very much a team. Whether West Ham are as united, s an issue on which the jury is out at West Ham.

About Hugh5outhon1895

Hugh Southon is a lifelong Iron and the founding editor of ClaretandHugh. He is a national newspaper journalist of many years experience and was Bobby Moore's 'ghost' writer during the great man's lifetime. He describes ClaretandHugh as "the Hammers daily newspaper!" Follow on Twitter @hughsouthon
 

25 comments on “Soaring Wolves…struggling Irons – here’s the reasons why

  1. We are a club without an identity or a long term plan and therefore no ethos.
    Wolves are one of many clubs who do and everybody, from top to bottom, works towards those ideals.
    Until such time as we get owners who care about the long term ideals of the club, we will continue to remain a rudderless ship in an ocean of mediocrity.

    • Very significant they were bought for £30 million when in Championship and as I wrote a few weeks ago that’s where investors are looking. Not in over price PL outfits. That gravy train has slowed to a stop

  2. Wolves are clearly a well run club from bottom to the top. Nuno has introduced a playing style and he has used Mendes’s contacts to attract the players that can thrive in his system. As you say the versatility of each player is a real asset for such a small squad. But what do West Ham want? a continuation of a playing style which was the blue print of Ron Greenwood back in the early 1960’s when they were every neutrals favourite team or a team capable of winning trophy’s and finishing regularly in the top six? I can remember how Leeds United were the most consistent side in the old first division but were a cynical, nasty side. West Ham often struggled under Greenwood after an initial success of winning the FA cup and European cup winners cup but they played football that was pleasing on the eye and gave me some wonderful memories. Personally I don’t care about finishing in the top half of the table season after season or winning cups I just want the football back. Wolves are lucky they have both but it took them a long time for it all to fit together.

    • Well said Allan. I agree with every word. Wolves, a once great club, spent a long, long time in the wilderness! This re-emergence has taken a lot of years and a great many more tears.

  3. As a Wolves fan, i still see the likes of West Ham and Everton at about the same stage of squad development as us.

    The difference is that Wolves seem to have bonded and built up a massive amount of team spirit and all the players have bought into what Nuno is trying to do whereas Yourselves and Everton don’t appear to be anywhere near us in that regard.

    Also the 228m spending does not include money back for players sold. must be around £50m+ qso far so spending is most likely around £175m in total over the 4 years which when you consider the value of the squad we have now works to amazing value.

    Personally just think a manager with a plan that the players can get behind 100% is all you need to be knocking on the door of europe.

  4. Wolves also have harmony throughout the club including the supporters, who have no silverware demands, just expectation. we are also the fittest team in the premiership if you look at our late goal record; thought west ham were huffing and puffing in the last quarter. And it’s no good just changing the manager; it’s deeper than that.

  5. Blah blah. Well I fell asleep in the middle of that. The answer is more money basically. Yes, wisely used, but more money. The modern gravy train that football has become. It would be nice if the clubs that have it don’t try to complicate it or try to make it sound glamorous.

    • Wake up Hammers64 and smell the coffee; you’ve spent more than Wolves over the last 2 seasons, and Wolves players are worth 3 times what we paid for them, Jiminez, Neves, Moutinho, Boly for example. Whereas yours are all worth less: Haller, Anderson, Yarmelenko etc.

    • Hammer 64 – I totally disagree with you. It isn’t more money. In actual fact, Fosun have only put £75 million into the football club in addition to the initial cost when they purchased Wolves. The difference is, that Fosun are not in it for a quick fix but are prepared to wait until the club is established as a Premier League and European Football regular before realising their investment. Player purchases for the 2018/19 & current seasons were financed by bank loans secured on Premier League Revenue for both seasons. We spent £87 million on players in 2018/19 our first season back in the PL & according to our chairman we still made a £25 million profit. Costa & Cavaleiro were purchased for a combined total of £20 million, while in the Championship, but are now deemed not good enough to take the club further. However, due to the fact we purchased them at a relatively young age, they will be sold this summer for a total fee of £27 million. This season, we spent £87 million, £49 million of which was on Jiminez & Dendonker. The rest went on players for the future like Netto, Jordao & Cutrone all of which will increase in value. Wolves in the past have acquired PL players who are either coming to the end of their careers or have been injury prone. Our former owner Sir Jack, was correct when he said he had been used as a cash cow. This is no longer the case. What should concern you, is that if Wolves can realise a profit of £25 million on gates of 30k, what’s happened to the money West Ham have made from their move to the Olympic Stadium. It certainly hasn’t been spent on the playing squad.

    • Shame that. It was a very authoritative piece from which we can all learn. NO it’s not simply about money. The idea that there are simple answers may have helped into the Championship for so many years and beloved of those who think such one word arguments solve all ills. They don’t- remember Leeds for example

  6. Just wish our Board could read and learn from an article like this.

  7. Their keeper cost more than our back five on Wednesday and their agent can access players in loans and transfers well below market value; but its not about the money LOL

  8. More money has absolutely nothing to do with the differences between our squads, as mentioned above. Do Brighton have more money than West Ham? Palace? Sheffield United? Even Leicester? No, they clearly don’t. But they all have an identity this season in how they play. As Mr. Whyte mentions above, we want to see our team play a certain way. I, for one, wouldn’t want us to play as Palace do, eeking out victories and over reliant on one player (although right now Antonio could become our Zaha, in terms of reliance at least). But there is an identity to them.

    Where i disagree with Mr. Whyte however is that i DO want to see us in Europe, win a cup more than once every 40 years and generally finish as high in the league as i feel we should.

    Any club like Wolves, who have a manager with access to players that without Mendes probably wouldn’t be at the club, can consider themselves fortunate. Any team is only as good as the manager that coaches them to play the way they do, regardless of players, and Wolves had a few in a short space of time before chancing across Nuno. But then, as luck would have it, they struck gold. Is Doherty naturally better than Fredericks? Maybe, maybe not. Is Jimenez better than Haller? Maybe, maybe not.. Coady better than Rice? Same answer. But are they coached better? Instructed on their specific roles in a more detailed way? Set up with an identity to play with variations on the same theme more cohesively? Probably yes. Likely Brighton and Sheffield United too.

    West Ham do have an identity right now. It’s 4-2-3-1. It’s not running hard enough. It’s not being efficient. It’s not being aggressive. And It’s just not getting us results. Maybe certain identities take longer to establish. Maybe it’s as simple at Wolves as having a core of Portuguese players and a Portuguese manager. Who knows. But it certainly has nothing to do with money.

    • Wolves are better everything full stop. Owners, board, manager, backroom, atmosphere, fitness, injury prevention, teamwork, transfers, tactics, fans, ground location. And you are actually comparing Haller to Jiminez?? Haller looked a bit lost and has 4 goals; Jiminez led the line like a proper centre forward – he has 13 goals for club and country this season.

      • In a way what i’m saying is the majority of players aren’t that much better or worse than each other. If Haller was at wolves and Jimenez at West Ham, Haller would probably have those goals instead. It’s the way the team are set up to play to each of the players’ strength. That’s the point I’m making, albeit not succinctly!

        • Maybe, but if Wolves rest Jiminez, we’re not the same team as any replacement isn’t up to his standard; same would apply if Haller was at Wolves; he just isn’t as good. True, Jiminez would struggle at West Ham as the rest of your team isn’t on the same level IMHO. I honestly struggle to think of anybody that would get into this Wolves team from any other premiership team; Van Dyke, Mane and that’s about it. We have a Carlsberg Goal Keeper in Rui Patricio (probably the best keeper in the World), fantastic captain and leader in Coady, fantastic attacking wing backs, great midfield and then there’s Jiminez and Traore – he’s worth 2 players on the pitch alone.

  9. Really good article if hard to swallow, Wolves are a great club with a long history, so its great to see them doing well. The gap is massive, we have to admit apart from a fantastic fan base ,west ham are a very poor outfit , the owners are at the limit of what they will ever do, the squad has decent players but always under achieve , the stadium while fantastic is not a football venue, however can`t blame the fact we are not at Upton Park as we have not won anything there for 40years and most of the team are not eastenders so it means nothing to them.the Manager has not been any better than the last four or five. We are where we deserve to be in the PL 15th with 14 better teams above us and a few below who may well beat us. I am looking at yet another season of poor football, and its another wasted season in our clubs history. With Gillingham in the FA Cup i see another banana skin looming.Whereas Wolves have ticked all the boxes and good luck to them

  10. Couldn’t agree more with the article, MP is acting as a shield for his teams lack of passion, we have quality in several positions but Rice aside we are like the quality street this yule time, frequently left with a soft centre. I was all for MP but he seems to have lost his way and the team have also, there appears never to be a plan, we don’t play in triangles, never have men running in behind, always cut in from left or right wing, its as predictable as it gets. As an opponent just sit deep and have players that can break at speed you will open us up easier than a poorly wrapped christmas present. All I want this Christmas is to see some passion and a united team COYI !!!

  11. You are the one kidding yourself Baronardup. We were in for both Dendoncker & Jiminez. Perhaps they decided Wolverhampton was a nicer place for a rich young man to live? The money is not the only thing but it is the factor that makes most of those things you mention possible. It is not your brilliance as a club that means you recruit Neves & we get Jack Wilshere. When did a side truly short of cash when the PL? Or even the old Div 1.. Probably Ipswich in the early 1960s. It’s Ok. I don’t want my club financed by a Chinese billionaire. Enjoy it while you can but just embrace the old Harry Enfield geezer ‘I an considerably richer than you’. Not a good look but you win plenty of matches so suck it up.

  12. Ironically while Wolves were in the championship and before Nuno was appointed, the job was offered to Sam Allardice. He turned it down saying he felt he was still capable of managing a premiership club.

  13. You are probably right that Wolves appear in better shape on most of those things Baronardup but you are confusing cause & effect. The money is by far the biggest factor because it makes possible most of the other things. It enables you to improve scouting networks & thus recruitment. You can recruit younger players before they cost a fortune. It also means fewer injury prone players. All clubs now know the benefit of personalised training, diet etc but more money means more can be devoted to that area too. You can also be more choosy regarding ‘problem players’ = less need to take a punt on ‘difficult’players. The most direct line that all the research into footballing success suggests is that more money leads to the ability to recruit the best players. Therefore you win more games, which definitely improves team spirit, the attitude of the fans etc. Most of the things you mention follow from the success and the money rather than causing the success. Money does not guarantee success but lack of it pretty much guarantees lack of success.

  14. And Wolves play Portuguese Football. Maybe they could win Euro 2020!!!

  15. Wolves should be careful. In Portugal the Gestifute agency and Jorge Mendes are regarded as a player transfer machine. They place promising players in a smaller club and take a cut of the transfer price. If the players do well, the agents quickly find a bigger club who will pay a bigger transfer fee, and the agents take another cut.

    I would not be surprised if some of Wolves’ most successful stars have not moved on in a season or two. It is very hard to keep a squad together in a system like that unless you have very deep pockets.

  16. They have!

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