It appears that, in terms of league position at least, Wolves have finally stagnated. After a rollercoaster three years, starting with relegation from the Premier League in 2012, the last two campaigns have seen the Midlands club finish in almost identical positions in the Championship.
It has been all-change at Wolves this summer. The departure of Paul Lambert after the conclusion of last season was the first move in Wolves making a serious statement of intent for the next campaign. It was clear that the owners felt changes were needed and on the basis of league finishes that the club wasn’t progressing.
The arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo has been met with some scepticism by Wolves fans. It is the opinion of some that Paul Lambert had done a good job of steadying the ship at the Molineux and deserved more time. One other cause of concern for Wolves fans is the lack experience in English football of their new manager.
However, the Portuguese has a reasonable managerial record and Rafael Benitez, David Wagner and Jaap Stam all enjoyed very impressive seasons, despite none of them having a full season in the Championship prior to the last campaign.
The influence of super-agent Jorge Mendes on Fosun International has justifiably caused sizeable concern for many Wolves fans since the Chinese ownership took over the Championship club last July. The influence of Mendes was clear during the departure of Lambert, following a rumoured dispute over the Scot not getting the final say over which players were signed.
A great number of players have arrived in the Black Country since Fosun took over; including many from Mendes’ native Portugal or from clubs the super-agent has had ties to.
Of all the signings to arrive since the takeover, there is one standout signing – Helder Costa. The Portuguese was signed for £13 million and became a key player during the 2016/17 campaign, collecting the player of the season award and putting in a memorable display against Liverpool in the FA Cup.
Although injury has just struck the talented winger, this could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Espirito Santo as a lengthy injury to a player is likely to tone down the reported interest in him. If Wolves are successful in holding onto Costa, he will no doubt have a major part to play in the 2017/18 campaign once he returns from injury.
Wolves have added eight new players into the mix this summer, which in itself is a large statement considering we are only halfway through July. A club that is sorting out it’s transfer business this early in the summer is giving itself the best possible chance for the players to gel and become accustomed to their new manager’s style of play.
The additions of John Ruddy, Barry Douglas and Roderick Miranda are all very good bits of business. The biggest statement of the bunch is of course new record signing – Ruben Neves. The former Porto man arrived for a Championship record fee.
The 20-year-old has two caps for Portugal and became the youngest captain in Champions League history when he led his side out against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 2015 and was attracting attention from many top clubs on Europe, including Chelsea and Liverpool, according to the Express and Star. The midfielder is a real coup for Wolves and if he performs to his maximum could propel the team into the upper reaches of the division.
This signing indicates the benefit of having someone like Jorge Mendes on board at it has given Wolves the ability to sign players that they would never have had the opportunity to previously.
Despite concerns over the healthiness of the relationship between Fosun and Jorge Mendes, it is unlikely that supporters will be too concerned as long as the side is winning games and pushing for promotion. However, the risk appears if Wolves were to fail in achieving promotion this next season as they could begin to feel the wrath of Financial Fair Play.
This may be a risk that Fosun are willing to take as they have already shown that they are not scared to spend vast sums of money on players and there is still a long while left before the window closes. The playing squad undoubtedly has talent in it and new manager Nuno Espirito Santo has made a promising start to the pre-season with an impressive victory over Werder Bremen which drew praise for his side’s style of play.
It remains to be seen whether Wolves can still be competing towards the end of a long Championship season, but early signs indicate that they could be a surprise inclusion in the promotion chase.
Three takeaways from Tuesday’s Championship action
Cardiff and Wolves extended their lead at the top of the Championship table.
Last night featured a blockbuster slate of Championship matches, with all of the top three clubs in action. Here are the main talking points from Tuesday’s fixtures…
The title race is not over yet…
Cardiff City continued their scorching hot run of form with a 3-1 win over Brentford at Griffin Park. The Bluebirds notched their seventh straight league win thanks to goals from Sol Bamba, Matthew Paterson, and Kenneth Zohore. Cardiff showed impressive fortitude to fight back from a goal down, and after conceding just five minutes in, they clinically rebounded to claim the three points.
The win brings Neil Warnock’s side just three points behind the league leaders Wolves with nine matches to play, and given Wolves’ recent slip-ups, a late title bid is not out of the question. Mark your calendars for April 6th: the matchup between Cardiff and Wolves which could serve as a battle for first position.
But the battle for automatic promotion probably is.
As much as supporters of Aston Villa and Fulham would like to believe they have a chance to achieve automatic promotion, the top two is most likely settled. With Wolves joining Cardiff in picking up maximum points on Tuesday, the gap between second and third is now seven points with nine matches to go.
With Cardiff showing no signs of letting up, it looks immensely difficult to topple the Bluebirds off their perch in second. Although Fulham is in the midst of a 15-match unbeaten run and making an impressive late charge, Neil Warnock’s side are on an 11-match unbeaten run of their own.
The Championship cements its reputation as the most exciting league in England
There is arguably no league in England that is as intriguing and unpredictable as the Championship. The vaunted status of the division was on full display Tuesday night when Queens Park Rangers shocked Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park.
Villa sat in third and had just come off a brilliant, comprehensive 4-1 thrashing of Wolves on the weekend. QPR, on the other hand, came into the match mired in lowly 16th position. Yet Rangers embarrassed the Villains on their home pitch and raced out to a 3-0 lead. That’s just the magic of the Championship.
Here we go again? Wolves linked with £26.7m Talisca deal
The Brazilian is a long-term target of Wolves and has been in fine form for Besiktas.
In the summer of 2016 it looked as though Wolves were all set to sign Anderson Talisca from Benfica.
A Bola reported that the deal was nearly done, claiming Talisca would be signing in a then-Championship record £20 million deal – pending a work permit.
A deal for the Brazilian international, once dubbed the ‘next Rivaldo’, would have been a sensational coup for Wolves but it never came about. Rumours of work permit issues abounded, but it seems Talisca preferred the move to Turkey and European football.
Now it seems Wolves will be coming back for the Brazilian in the summer.
A report from Milliyet in Turkey has highlighted how Wolves could be making a move for the striker in the summer.
They claim that Besiktas have until the 31st May to exercise a €21 million (£18.7 million) move to sign the player, a fee they are trying to lower.
The report then makes it clear that Wolves could swoop after that clause expires. It is suggested Wolves, who have high-profile links with Talisca’s agent Jorge Mendes, could make a €30 million (£26.7 million) bid for the player. Such a move is dependent on Wolves winning promotion to the Premier League, which is looking increasingly likely.
Of course, Wolves fans will take the report with a pinch of salt. Fans at Molineux got excited for Talisca’s arrival previously, before nothing came about.
Talisca has been in great form for Besiktas this season, especially in the Champions League and his arrival would be a coup for Wolves.
If Talisca did arrive he would join the likes of Ruben Neves, Helder Costa and Diego Jota in making high-profile shock moves to Wolves and would be a fantastic addition ahead of a Premier League return.
The Nuno Revolution: Why this Wolves side are one of the best in Championship history
It is fair to say that Wolves have dominated the Championship ever since the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo as manager this summer, replacing Paul Lambert.
Whilst Lambert did a steady job at Molineux and stabilised the club after a difficult period under Walter Zenga, it was clear that the Chinese owners, Fosun International, themselves having only taken over in the summer of 2016, wanted a marquee name to push them onto the Premier League.
Chairman Jeff Shi is highly ambitious and wants to push the club on towards the Champions League in the future, and Nuno, who managed Porto in the competition last season, was their number one target.
However, the events that have occured since the Portuguese’s appointment has been nothing short of remarkable.
They have had money to spend, but they have recruited quality top division talent from other leagues, rather than following the blueprint other clubs aiming for promotion typically follow: recruiting proven Championship players.
Perhaps the biggest coup of the summer was signing Portuguese international Ruben Neves from Porto for a fee of £15.8 million.
Whilst the fee was high, Neves is only 20 years of age and captained Porto just two seasons ago. He has been one of the Championship’s best players since joining, netting his latest goal – a free kick from just outside the area – in Wolves’ 3-0 win over Brentford on Tuesday evening.
Nuno also secured the signature of Atletico Madrid winger Diogo Jota on loan, a deal that could be made permanent this January. The Portuguese winger has netted 11 goals since his arrival at Molineux, just one behind the club’s top scorer Leo Bonatini.
Bonatini was also signed on loan, from Saudi Arabian club Al-Ahli, and it is believed the club can make his move indefinite in the current window, with the Birmingham Mail reporting a fee of just £5 million would be sufficient to secure his services in the long-term.
If there is any weakness in the squad, it is up front, with Bonatini and youngster Bright Enobakhare the only players who are truly comfortable playing in a central role.
However, there have been substantial contributions from other areas of the pitch. Ivan Cavaleiro has weighed in with seven goals and wing-back Barry Douglas, who is pivotal in providing Wolves with width and crossing ability, has contributed four, with a further nine assists.
With all this attacking talent at Nuno’s disposal, Wolves look simply unstoppable, sitting on top of the Championship by 12 points over second-placed Derby with 61 points from 29 games.
During the festive period, known for its challenges, the Midlands club won three and drew on one occasion, with those dropped points coming via a late equaliser scored by Millwall.
They have not lost a game since the 29th October – a 2-1 defeat to Ian Holloway’s Queens Park Rangers – and have only tasted defeat three times all season – one of which came against 3rd placed Cardiff.
When signing players from big clubs as a lower division side, there is always a worry that the players may think themselves too big for the club. However, this has not been the case at Wolves.
Neves was tracked by Chelsea and Liverpool before his move to Molineu, according to the Mirror. Although it is unclear whether that interest was concrete as of last summer, he was obviously convinced by the long-term project that is now underway at Molineux.
Do not be surprised to see the club pushing for the upper reaches of the Premier League in the next few years, even if promotion is not achieved by the end of this current campaign, with extra funds to be surely made available to Nuno.
New owners in the Football League are generally ambitious but it seems that Fosun International will stop at nothing to realise their dream of elite level football, having recruited experts to oversee recruitment in what will be a pivotal month.
With one of the most talent-packed squads in Championship history, that dream may not be too far away.
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