THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #12 : ROGER JOHNSON

Sometimes, the present you want doesn’t turn out to be that good

#12: ROGER JOHNSON

Signed: July 2011 from Birmingham, £5,000,000

Appearances: 72

Goals: 2

Left: January 2015, contract cancelled

He was: The worst guest imaginable

Having survived by the skin of our teeth in 2010/11, it was apparent that Mick McCarthy needed to work on our defence if we wanted to avoid that scenario again. Jody Craddock had been an excellent servant for us and despite multiple attempts to replace him – during his time here he had seen off the challenges of Darren Ward, Jason Shackell, Ronald Zubar, Michael Mancienne and Steven Mouyokolo – with him now 36, it really was time to move on. Gloriously, we survived at the expense of Birmingham City and attention turned to their very own Roger Johnson.

From the outset, I can say that right after the full time whistle of the Blackburn game on the final day, he was my number one target. I’m sure many others felt the same. We had seen him play for Cardiff and Birmingham; we knew him to be a strong centre half, good in the air and a leader. In 2009/10 he had been part of a defence that conceded just 47 goals – an excellent record for a newly promoted team – and had been sporadically touted for an England call up. He seemed to be exactly what we wanted and needed and for once the club delivered, as he signed on 11 July 2011 for a fee of £5,000,000. This looked to be the lynchpin we could base our defence around for years and he was immediately made captain, taking over from Karl Henry who had filled the role since 2007.

johnson2
The neckbeard was a bad sign from the outset.

Some things are too good to be true and this proved to be one of those occasions. Right at the outset of this series, I set up the criteria for inclusion:

– An obviously bad idea from the outset

– A massive let down relative to expectations, due to the player’s own failings

– Ditched at a large financial loss

– Negligible positive impact at any stage of their Wolves career

– Openly damaging to the club with their very presence

As it turned out, Johnson ended up fitting four of those categories. He did actually start very well, turning in decent performances against Blackburn, Fulham and Aston Villa at the beginning of 2011/12, but as the team’s form went south, so did his. He was practically unrecognisable from what we’d seen at his previous clubs. He had a really strange build for a centre half; rake thin and almost gaunt looking, this led to him being easily outmuscled. We weren’t expecting Mats Hummels type skillz on the ball when he arrived, but his distribution was shockingly poor. He was slow, he constantly made the wrong call – diving into challenges when he didn’t need to, backing off to a ludicrous extent when he should have been making a tackle – and wasn’t showing much by way of leadership. He also had a terrible tendency to show attackers inside towards goal rather than shepherding them away from the danger area; just basic defending.

With us on a run of eight defeats in ten games, enough was finally enough for Mick and he dropped Johnson for the home game against Sunderland, recalling…you guessed it, Jody Craddock. He performed reasonably well, despite conceding a very harsh penalty, but unfortunately picked up a hamstring injury in the final 20 minutes and that would prove to be his final game for Wolves. Johnson came back into the team for lack of viable options if nothing else and little had really changed; the demotion hadn’t given Johnson the kick up the backside that it was intended to, and we couldn’t buy a win, save for a Djibril Cisse-inspired implosion by QPR in January. Following Mick’s departure after the 1-5 humilation at home to West Brom, interim boss Terry Connor decided to favour a partnership of Christophe Berra and loan signing Sébastien Bassong with Johnson once again left on the bench. Our captain’s reaction to this was to get steaming drunk after we lost 5-0 at Fulham where he was an unused sub, and turn up for training on the Monday still hammered. Outstanding professionalism. He was naturally fined and only played two games for the remainder of the season, the latter one being at home to Bolton where he suffered the indignity of being dribbled past by Kevin Davies. Kevin Davies hadn’t even tried to run past anyone since about 2002. But he breezed past our Rog on his way to scoring in yet another awful home defeat. Johnson also decided to have a blazing row with Wayne Hennessey in the middle of a game, which showed us how harminous the dressing room was. Thanks, Mr Leader. As we know, we were eventually relegated by some distance.

johnson3
What a happy family we had here.

Back in the Championship, Johnson was formally stripped of the captaincy but equally given a fresh start under Stale Solbakken; bizarrely, the crowd were right behind him at the start of 2012/13, even giving him his own chant. We started the season reasonably well although there was much consternation about Solbakken’s insistence on playing a very high line with Johnson and Berra as his centre halves – akin to setting up a band and installing Ringo Starr as your singer and Liam Gallagher as your drummer, it’s just all wrong. Results tailed off and it was the same old Johnson with the same flaws. Unsurprisingly, Dean Saunders was not the man to shake him out of this funk; indeed, he was almost cuckolded by Johnson’s presence. After Johnson got sent off against Blackpool at the end of January, Danny Batth came in to the team alongside new loan signing Kaspars Gorkss. Which left Saunders with a conundrum; drop the youngster who had done perfectly well in the last three games, drop your own loan signing or leave out the senior pro? It’s best not to try to apply any logic to what Dean Saunders did; you have to ask yourself the question “if I were a dribbling idiot with the managerial capacity of an aadvark, what would I do?”. The answer to that of course is to set up in a home game where we really needed to win with a back three, which we’d never played or practiced so you avoid making an actual decision, then when you’re inevitably losing, haul the youngster off and don’t pick him again for the rest of the season. Nice one Dean. The Johnson-Gorkss axis helped us along to a whole two clean sheets in the subsequent twelve games and given that it was possibly the clunkest, slowest, least able centre half partnership that I’ve ever seen at Wolves, it wasn’t that great a shock that we were relegated. Thanks again, Dean. No really. I especially like the way you abdicate all responsibility for it now whenever you’re asked about your time here. The tint of dark humour was that on the final day, Johnson offered his shirt to the travelling fans at Brighton and no-one wanted to take it.

johnson4
No Rog, there are no members of your fan club in that away end.

When the time came to remove poisonous elements from the dressing room with the arrival of Kenny Jackett, it was no surprise that Johnson was the prime candidate and so he was sent to train away from the first team squad. Refusing to play in the U21 games – don’t want to damage that ego, Rog – he eventually secured a loan move to Sheffield Wednesday where he made a reasonably favourable impression and then incomprehensibly reappeared in the Premier League, as pint of wine guzzling keynote speaker Sam Allardyce snapped him up in January on another loan. His spell at West Ham was primarily notable for two reasons; firstly, the Hammers choosing to mark his arrival with the hashtag “#WelcomeRG” and a hilarious piece of backing off against Manchester City’s Yaya Toure on the way to a 6-0 defeat in the League Cup. He was back here ahead of the 2014/15 season and with all of the other outcasts now gone, he was training on his own in the afternoons; he saw fit to give a sob story to Soccer AM along the way, as if none of this was his fault. He refused to walk away given the money due to him which is understandable I suppose, given he must have known that he was on the last big payday of his career. We eventually came to a settlement on the remainder of his deal in January 2015 and he swiftly joined Charlton, playing 14 games for them before jetting off to the footballing hotspot of the Indian Super League and joining Pune City. He rejoined Charlton in January 2016, unable to save them from relegation to the third tier; on the opening day of this season, he reportedly told their fans to “fuck off and don’t come” in the wake of a defeat to Bury, and he hasn’t made a league appearance since. So it’s all still going well for our man.

johnson5
#pray4Rog on his 30 grand a week for doing literally nothing.

We’ve gone through a variety of awful signings in this series that were shocking for a variety of reasons. I would say that Roger Johnson is the very worst of the lot. He came for a big fee with a high reputation and an attitude to match, but turned out to be one of the very worst defenders you can imagine who actively harmed the dressing room and was the polar opposite of what we were expecting. Everything that could go wrong with this transfer did go wrong. And yet, unlike some of the previously featured characters, you couldn’t really fault the management on this one. He seemed a really obvious signing. We paid the money for him and stuck him on big wages. He just didn’t deliver, and it was down to his own attitude (and as it turns out, a massive steep decline in terms of ability which no-one saw coming).

So, there it is, the end of the series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them, although when I started I anticipated a total word count of maybe 12,000 words across the whole thing – it’s ended up being about triple that. It was hard to cut the series down to twelve so some dishonourable mentions come to the following who came very close to making the cut (and no doubt I’ll be writing about some of them in the future); <deep breath>….Kevin Ashley, Paul Stancliffe, Greg Halford, Paul Blades, Cedric Roussel, Darren Ward, Steve Corica, Steve Sedgley, Freddy Eastwood, Ronald Zubar, Nigel Quashie, Marlon Harewood, Rob Hindmarch, Mixu Paatelainen, Conor Coady, Simon Coleman, Manuel Thetis, Robert Niestroj, Silas, Temuri Ketsbaia, Eggert Jonsson and Nathan Byrne.

mo-camara
Then there’s the likes of this freak who belong in a category all of their own.

I’ll be taking a short break over the next week, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers the very Merriest of Christmases and a safe and happy 2017. I really do appreciate all the support you’ve given me since I started this blog and I hope to carry on in the same vein next year.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #11 : LEON CLARKE

Not exactly a returning hero

#11: LEON CLARKE

Signed: January 2014 from Coventry, £500,000 rising to £750,000

Appearances: 32

Goals: 3

Left: June 2015, contract expired

He was: Being re-gifted a Makita cordless power drill, minus the power pack

Back in the third tier of English football for the first time in a quarter of a century, we started the 2013/14 season with an unlikely strike partnership consisting of two players it had been thought unlikely to be at the club; Leigh Griffiths, who to this point hadn’t made a league appearance for Wolves since his arrival from Hibernian in January 2011 and had behaved less than professionally in his loan spells back in Scotland in the meantime, and Kevin Doyle, who most believed would attract some form of interest from higher up the pyramid and was surely on too prohibitive a wage to retain him in League One – in the event, no bids transpired and having sufficiently impressed Kenny Jackett with his attitude to the cause, was included in the first team squad. Those two were backed up Björn Sigurdarson and Jake Cassidy and the season started, as you might expect for a club with our resources relative to the rest of the division, with us powering along in the top three; following our home victory over Tranmere in late November, we were top of the table on 43 points from 18 games.

griff1
I don’t normally endorse the indignity of men in their 20s going for hair transplants. But by God something needed to be done.

However that progress was slowed by a run of one win in seven games through the end of November to early January and there were issues with our forward department; with his family still settled north of the border, the otherwise impressive Griffiths was making frequent trips back and forth and evidently had his head turned by interest from Celtic – he would end up making a £1,000,000 move there in January. Doyle had won the respect of many by putting in the effort levels required which many a big name wouldn’t have lowered themselves to in the division, but basically his decline that we had seen from around 2011 onwards was continuing; he was exactly the same player whichever division you put him in. Ran a lot, tried to win free kicks in an increasingly desperate manner, offered little by way of tangible goal threat and didn’t really set goals up either. He was still playing the exact same way whether his opponent was John Terry or Ian Goodison. Sigurdarson was increasingly out of favour with Jackett, making just two starts after September while Cassidy was handed three starts over Christmas and New Year but was yet to break his duck for the club – indeed, he never would – and looked short of what we required. Doyle and Sigurdarson subsequently left in January to join QPR and Molde respectively on loan and so we were looking at a revamp up front for the second half of the season.

cassidy1
Now starring for the mighty Guiseley, in case you wondered.

2012/13 loanee Nouha Dicko was brought back to the club on a permanent basis from Wigan having impressed on loan at Rotherham, scoring five goals in as many games including a brace against us in December at the New York Stadium. Jackett obviously wanted another forward in to further compensate for the departure of three senior players in that area and under the normal run of things, it would make a fair deal of sense to have a look at the current top scorers in League One and see what we could pick off; after all, with our resources and standing, we could financially outgun pretty much any club in the division at will. Under the normal run of things, this would have been fine. Given that the man with 15 goals in 23 games so far was Leon Clarke, we should have ran a mile.

For we knew all about Leon, he was our own youth product. Breaking into the team in 2004/5, he was extremely raw, a bit on the paunchy side, not exactly blessed with an amazing amount of skill or pace, having a propensity to produce some baffling misses from less than eight yards out, but initially eager, hard-working and showed some signs of being able to play some part in the Championship, scoring three goals in our final four games of the season and finishing with seven league goals in all. His two goal performance against Reading at home in December 2004 summed up the very early Leon Clarke; his goals weren’t a thing of beauty but they were caused by mistakes forced by his will and strength. Come the following season, that moderate success had gone to his head and he returned looking out of shape, having a terrible attitude whereby all that harrying of defenders and willingness to give everything for the cause had been replaced by a moon-faced blob who did at least have perfect balance, having a chip on both shoulders. When your general technique is as poor as Leon Clarke’s always has been, you can’t get away with not trying very hard. Admittedly, Glenn Hoddle didn’t exactly help matters by playing him on the left wing at points, but Hod’s gonna Hod.

hod1
“You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains”. Aside from the atrocious grammar and distasteful religious views on display there, I’d actually dispute the factual accuracy of that statement, Glenn.

Having scored one goal in 23 appearances by the turn of the year, discontent at Clarke’s performances was understandably growing, yet this hadn’t really translated itself to much by way of open barracking at games; Leon appeared to be hearing things by this stage as he saw fit to celebrate a tap-in during an FA Cup tie at home to Plymouth by giving a “shush” gesture to the crowd. Very good, Leon. It reminds me of when Stewart Downing did similar to Liverpool fans having notched a mighty 0 goals and 0 assists in his first season there. He made one further appearance for us that season, a week after that incident at home to Luton, where this time he was jeered and rightly so, before being packed off on loan to QPR (one game and swiftly sent back) and Plymouth (where I believe he picked up the not exactly affectionate nickname of “The Fridge”) for the remainder of the season.

clarke2
Bellend.

Mick McCarthy showed some early faith in him during the first half of 2006/7, Leon making 22 appearances up to the turn of the year and scoring five goals, including a brace in consecutive home games against Sheffield Wednesday and Southend. However, despite initially appearing to believe in his ability, Mick lost faith rapidly and despite having started four straight games over the Christmas period, Clarke was placed on the transfer list in early January 2007. Wednesday had obviously been impressed by the goals he had notched against them in October and signed him on 15 January 2007 for a fee of around £250,000. His early Wednesday career was largely spent out on loan at Oldham and Southend where his goal return was decent – 11 goals in 21 games across the spells at the two clubs – and this would establish a pattern for the rest of his career. Leon Clarke is a reasonably proficient goalscorer in Leagues One and Two. If you give him enough chances, he’ll probably get you goals at that level. He is not, and never has been, a Championship standard striker – indeed, only once has he ever bettered that debut tally of seven goals from 2004/5 (and even then, only by one goal, in 2008/9). Having left Wednesday in 2010 – the end of his spell there being notable for him breaking his own foot after kicking an advertising hoarding, good work again Leon – he did extremely well for Chesterfield, Scunthorpe and later Coventry in the third tier; he failed to score a single goal for QPR and notched just one for Preston when playing in the Championship.

clarke3
Dat physique.

So not only did we know all about Leon Clarke the man, we had ample evidence that he was only ever going to be of use to us while in League One, where we had no intention of staying for any longer than one season. And by now, he was a couple of weeks shy of turning 29, there wasn’t much prospect of any of that changing. Nevertheless, we pressed ahead with the deal and after a minor stand-off where Clarke reportedly refused to play for Coventry while the negotiations were ongoing, he rejoined the club on 30 January 2014 for a fee of £500,000 with a further £250,000 payable upon our promotion back to the Championship. Oddly for a signing commanding that kind of fee, he was only handed an 18 month contract which seemed to speak volumes about the club’s feelings regarding his long term prospects.

By this time Dicko had already made an extremely favourable impression in his early games and would finish the season with 13 goals in just 16 starts for us; we had also switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation which coupled with Dicko’s form, meant opportunities for Leon to break into the team were limited. He made just four starts and nine substitute appearances for the remainder of that season, scoring once off the bench in a win at Swindon in March. We romped to the title with a tally of 103 points – an achievement worthy of respect even allowing for the fact that we should never have been playing at that level, and we all know which Welsh dunderhead I point the finger at for that state of affairs – and so we had signed a player in Clarke to help us get promotion from League One, only for us to not require his help at all in the event. As insurance policies go, this one seemed a remarkable expensive example.

macken1
The Whitmore Reans Jon Macken, if you will. Without the ability.

Ken’s attempts to sign Chris Wood from Leicester in August 2014 fell flat and so we were left for the first half of the 2014/15 season with Leon as our only real backup to Dicko, as Doyle was sent out on loan again to Crystal Palace and Sigurdarson was reunited with Stale Solbakken in a season-long loan to FC Copenhagen. Dicko adapted well to the higher division, continuing to play the lone frontman role with distinction, his pace and ability to stretch and single-handedly occupy central defenders being a key feature of our play. With the best will in the world, Clarke was never going to be able to do this. Not only did we know that his record in this league was poor, he’s as approximate a direct replacement for Dicko’s style as Danny Dyer would be for Benicio del Toro. When he started games, we had no ability to press from the front, to hold the ball up, to knock the ball into the channels and his basic footballing ability has always been on the rustic side. His work ethic was, I suppose, marginally better than it had been back in the glory days of 2005, but still wasn’t anything like up to scratch – if you were to compare him with say, Clayton Donaldson at Birmingham, the difference is night and day. Goals from the bench in wins at Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday (from a combined distance of about three yards) were very welcome but he failed to start a game for us after the 5-0 demolition job at Derby in November 2014 – Danny Graham arriving on loan shortly afterwards – and the arrival of Benik Afobe in January 2015 coupled with the return of Doyle from his loan spell spelt the end for Leon’s second spell at the club. He was loaned out to struggling Wigan in February for the remainder of the campaign – a spell they unilaterally terminated a month prior to their eventual relegation, such was his impact – and we released him at the end of his contract. 2015/16 saw a familiar tale where Clarke dropped down to League One to play for Bury and scored 15 goals in 32 games for a middling team, before making the move to Sheffield United where with one goal in 13 league appearances to date he er….splits opinion among their fans. In as much as half think he’s hopeless and half think he’s useless.

sheffield-united-fans-007
Looks like the team news has just broken and our hero is in.

A common theme through the series has been poorly-thought out signings which appeared to make little sense and went against everything that we, as observers, could make out from all the evidence available. Leon’s return here is one of the very worst of them. Having long since drifted into the realm of a lower league journeyman, we were signing him at a point whereby he’d conclusively proven where his limit was and where there was no real prospect of him improving. We were buying him for a level where we always knew the likelihood was that we’d be leaving within a matter of months and barely used him for that purpose anyway. This might have been ok for a quick, convenient loan signing or a cheap punt on a veteran, but we were spending (by League One standards) a hefty enough sum on him. In an era where we made many of our signings with a view to their future value, banging £750,000 on a 29 year old striker who ran like he was wearing carpet slippers a size too big just sticks out like a sore thumb. His failure to have any impact for us in the Championship was entirely predictable and there were enough people still at the club from his first spell here that should have been forewarning the manager that this was not a good idea. Who knows, maybe they did and Ken ignored them. There aren’t many sure things in football, but it always looked a safe bet that we’d signed an absolute pup from day one here. Because we’d already had a sneak two and a half year preview of the product.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #10 : ROBERT TAYLOR

The definitive by-word for utterly squandered transfer spend

#10: ROBERT TAYLOR

Signed: August 2000 from Manchester City, £1,550,000

Appearances: 12

Goals: 3

Left: August 2002, contract cancelled

He was: Ideal for dressing up as Father Christmas

Following a narrow failure to make the playoffs in 1999/2000, preparations for the following season began with us continuing to work on the basis that we could only spend what we brought in through player sales; Sir Jack Hayward still being a year away from sanctioning one last final push for the top flight. This limited our finances to the point where we initially couldn’t offer new contracts to either Steve Sedgley or Scott Taylor – we did eventually sign them up, but needn’t have bothered in the event as both had played their final game in professional football owing to injury by the autumn. We were also unable to sign Coventry pair David Burrows and Paul Williams on free transfers; something of a bullet dodged on both counts. Interest in Ade Akinbiyi from Premier League Leicester City became apparent over the summer and after their initial £4,000,000 bid was rebuffed – a bid which Sir Jack was apparently keen to accept initially, only to be talked down by newly-arrived CEO Jez Moxey, presumably on the basis that once we’d given Bristol City their share in the form of a sell-on fee, this would leave us breaking approximately even on what we’d paid for him less than a year earlier – a deal was eventually concluded for £5,500,000 at the end of July. Akinbiyi had been our top scorer in the previous season with a respectable strike rate of close to a goal every other game and was our main focal point, but that level of money back in 2000 for such a limited (in the grand scheme of things) player was too good to turn down, especially given the lack of external funding into the club. A year previously we had sold Robbie Keane for £6,000,000 to Coventry City and used the money to bring in Akinbiyi, Michael Branch, Ludo Pollet, Michael Oakes and George Ndah; notwithstanding that Ndah quickly picked up a serious injury thanks to a scandalous challenge from West Brom’s Matt Carbon, this had worked out well for us overall to rebuild a thin squad, even if it did mean losing our jewel in the crown along the way (ultimately, good players aren’t going to stay in the second tier forever, let alone future stars like Keane). Unfortunately, we didn’t really have the talent spotting staff at the club at the time to mean that we could embark on a policy of losing our better players every year and seamlessly replacing them in the same way that say, Southampton have done over the past few seasons. At some point, lightning was going to fail to strike.

ndah1
A genuine shame that he never got to fulfil his potential.

Colin Lee signed Temuri Ketsbaia from Newcastle for £900,000 – another player who might have made it into this series if we weren’t constraining it to a dozen names – and wanted to bring in another forward as our resources up front were extremely light; with Havard Flo frozen out of the picture after falling out with Lee regarding the treatment of a knee problem, Michael Branch was left as our only senior out-and-out striker (and as it turned out, his Wolves and indeed overall footballing career had already reached its high watermark). He identified Robert Taylor as his target. Taylor had been the main man for Tony Pulis’ Gillingham team in 1998/99 when they came within seconds of beating Manchester City in the Division Two playoff final and after starting the following season with 18 goals in 19 games for the Gills, City themselves signed him in November 1999 for £1,500,000. He scored five goals in 12 games for City as they finished second behind Charlton Athletic and returned to the Premier League after four seasons away, but evidently he wasn’t in contention for them a level higher – Joe Royle taking the maverick step of deciding that some guy called George Weah was a better bet – and was up for sale just months after arriving. Both Wolves and Portsmouth entered acceptable bids and after talking terms with both clubs he chose to come to Molineux, arriving on 15 August 2000 for a fee of £1,550,000.

taylorsigns2
Keep smiling boys, I know how this one turns out.

The problem with this signing was that after Sky fetishised their fixtures in the manner they do with all big clubs who drop down to the second tier, most Wolves fans had seen Taylor play a few times for City in their promotion run-in – as well as his debut when we beat them 4-1 at Molineux in December 1999 – and he really didn’t look up to standard. If we’re being kind, we could say that he didn’t look like much of an athlete. To be more blunt, he looked like some massive fat guy who’d wandered on to the pitch by accident. It was hard to see how a man of that ahem…build could replace the powerful and strong running Akinbiyi. He could hold the ball up after a fashion and his goals for Gillingham indicated that he could strike the ball reasonably well, but general consensus surrounding him was extremely pessimistic. In the 28 and a half years of purgatory that I’ve spent watching us, I’ve rarely known us be chasing a big money (relative to the time) signing and for most of our fans to openly hope that we don’t attain the target. Fans absolutely love new signings, even when we don’t really need them and they’ll often voluntarily blind themselves to a player’s shortcomings, at least until they start showing themselves up for what they are in a gold shirt. So it really is unusual for them to emphatically not want us to sign someone.

taylor3
Makes you wonder why Zlatan bothers with all that kung-fu stuff.

He made his debut at Stockport in a 1-1 draw where Ketsbaia scored his second goal in as many games, which turned out to be the falsest of dawns. Our form early on was stodgy and Taylor embodied that; the impressions that we’d picked up from his pre-Wolves career were turning out to be accurate and there was an early portent of things to come as he missed fixtures at Portsmouth and Gillingham in the early weeks through injury. He got his first goal in a League Cup win at Oxford but a shocking home defeat to Tranmere encapsulated everything that was wrong with him and us. We lacked the departed Keith Curle’s leadership at the back, we were desperately short of quality in midfield, this game remains to this day, over 16 years on, Tranmere’s last away victory in the second tier (and that will likely stretch for some time to come) as they were a desperately poor team who were relegated out of sight and it was borderline impossible to see how Taylor was going to work out for us, even at this early stage. Our lack of central midfield quality – funny how I keep mentioning this, despite the series spanning over three separate decades – was masked to an extent in 1999/2000 by us frequently knocking the ball into the channels for Akinbiyi to chase, often outmuscle defenders in the process and win us some cheap territory. Taylor resembled an arthritic, overweight 50 year old stumbling out of Wetherspoons and half-heartedly chasing after the last bus when we tried that tactic with him. We just weren’t set up to even get near making this work – even if we did give him some service that he could hold up (supposedly his strong point), where were the runners from midfield supposed to be? We didn’t have that style of player around to play off a big man (or a very big man in this case).

A familiar pattern emerged where Taylor would start missing games for weeks on end with vague sounding muscular problems and save for another League Cup tie, this time at Grimsby where he scored twice, when he did play, he didn’t look remotely like scoring and he certainly didn’t look like he belonged at this level. Players, like managers, often have very defined ceilings. There was good cause why Taylor had reached his late 20s before anyone gave him a go in this division; he was effective lower down the pyramid but his basic physical conditioning was so lacking that you couldn’t see how you could set a team up to cover all that – and nor was he good enough in the first place to be treated as a luxury where everyone else had to be shuffled around to accommodate him. Neil Emblen was genuinely a better option up front which is incredibly damning – a bit like being informed that Paul Shane is a better singer than you – and he was also being shown up by a then 19 year old Adam Proudlock, considered so far away from first team readiness at the start of the season that we loaned him out to Clyde, and yet he had now comprehensively and deservedly leapfrogged Taylor in the pecking order. And it’s not like Proudlock himself was a lean mean striking machine.

proudlock1
Who said being a fat guy with a mullet means that darts is the only sport you can play?

The end for Lee came after our home defeat to Birmingham City on 17 December 2000. It wasn’t only our form which led the board to this decision – sitting as we were in a deceptively high 16th place, one point above the relegation zone and having won five of our 23 games – but also that in the previous week, Lee had seen fit to phone Radio WM directly after an hour-long ‘fan’s forum’ with Moxey and thought it a wise decision to correct what he saw as some inaccurate statements from the CEO and to assert that he personally had not wanted to sell Akinbiyi. I’m not that sold on the idea of contradicting and tacitly slating your boss live on local radio, especially when your own current performance is pretty dreadful, but what do I know, I’m not a football manager. While it was true that it was a club decision to go through with the sale of Akinbiyi – and the right one, in isolation – and Lee was perfectly at liberty to disagree with that stance, no-one made him spend nearly half the money on Ketsbaia and Taylor. One was a 32 year old where it quickly became apparent that Lee had no idea where to play him – he was on record in the autumn when Ketsbaia had been dropped to the bench that he wasn’t in the team as “he doesn’t fit our system at the moment, he’s not really a central midfielder and he’s not quite a striker”, as if anyone who’d watched him play for Newcastle in the previous three seasons didn’t already know that – and then he took a massive gamble on a 29 year old striker despite some clear and obvious concerns about his suitability. On numerous levels, Lee’s position was becoming untenable and we sacked him on the Monday following the Birmingham game. As for Taylor, it was the end for him too. A calf problem ruled him out of the games over the Christmas period and this went from a predicted absence of a couple of weeks, to a month, to eventually the rest of the season. We were told at one stage by the club that he was having trouble returning to training because his calf muscles were too big for the skin surrounding them. I kid you not.

taylor4
That massive arse is too big for the shorts surrounding it, while we’re at it.

By the time the 2001/2 season rolled around, Taylor was nowhere near new manager Dave Jones’ plans as he had signed Cedric Roussel in early 2002 and was actively chasing other forwards – Nathan Blake and Kenny Miller would arrive in September. It was obvious by now that we saw Taylor as a very costly mistake of the previous managerial era and just wanted rid of him at all costs, and so he was sent out on a succession of loans to QPR, Gillingham and Grimsby over the course of the season – in the latter spell he did manage to score once against Rotherham which proved to be the only ever league goal he would score in his post-Man City career. An Achilles injury ended that spell at Blundell Park but Grimsby weren’t deterred and after we came to a settlement on Taylor’s deal in August 2002 – over 18 months since he’d last played for us and with almost two years of it left to run – they signed him on a four month contract. He lasted a whole 20 minutes of his second spell with the Mariners before going off injured again and was released shortly afterwards. At the end of February 2003 he signed a deal to the end of the season with then fourth tier Scunthorpe and played eight games without scoring; that was the end of his professional career. In all, he’d played 36 league games for five different teams in the three years since his move to Molineux and scored one goal. I think it’s fair to say Man City got the better end of that deal. Post-playing career, he moved back to his native East Anglia and had spells managing such illustrious names as Watton United, King’s Lynn, Dereham Town, Diss Town, Mundford and Swaffham Town. Who knows, maybe he’s a man after my own heart and was embarking on an Alan Partridge-inspired managerial career. He has since moved into the world of football agency where I’m sure he’s well placed to tell his clients how to wing it for years.

taylor5
Word is that at one of those clubs, his first act was to sack the existing first team coach. He said “Diss Town ain’t big enough for the both of us”. I’m here all week.

Robert Taylor was a terribly thought through signing; to spend that level of money on a 29 year old and hand him a contract until he would be 33 seemed wildly optimistic on Colin Lee’s part before we even consider that hardly anyone thought Taylor was actually any good at all. Sometimes you can have preconceptions about a player and they prove you wrong. Taylor was the polar opposite of that, he was everything we suspected he was with a fragility that made Matt Murray look like Ironman by comparison. It’s a multiple whammy of a shocking signing – someone of completely the wrong age, of dubious talent, who is nothing like the guy he’s supposed to be replacing and ended up contributing absolutely zero. I actually had quite a lot of time for Colin Lee in his first 18 months as Wolves manager but he practically undid all that good work with one buy. As he’s never even threatened to get a job as big as this ever again, he not only wasted our time and money but also torpedoed his own career as well. Sometimes, it’s deeply impressive in a perverse way just how badly wrong managers can get it.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #9 : STEFAN MAIERHOFER

You can’t be that fundamentally bad at football and play in the Premier League

#9: STEFAN MAIERHOFER

Signed: August 2009 from Rapid Vienna, £1,800,000 rising to £2,800,000

Appearances: 10

Goals: 1

Left: August 2011 to Red Bull Salzburg, approx £1,000,000

He was: A novelty gift without the novelty

Our return to the Premier League in 2009 precipitated a raft of transfer activity in the close season, but with our strength in the Championship overwhelmingly being going forwards – our 80 goals scored being comfortably the highest tally in the division in 2008/9 – it was decided that we would make just one major acquisition in the striking department, the club record signing of Kevin Doyle from Reading. The idea seemed to be to partner him with last season’s top scorer Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and to have Andy Keogh, Chris Iwelumo and Sam Vokes providing the back up options. Theoretically, that gave us a wide variety of differing styles of forward to choose from, albeit that all barring Doyle had no experience in the Premier League and therefore had everything still to prove. Those plans were rocked when Iwelumo broke his foot on our pre-season tour to Australia and he was ruled out for three months. At this stage, we determined that we would need a replacement for him who could perform a similar role. However, the season kicked off with no further signings made up front, which meant unexpected game time for Keogh as Ebanks-Blake picked up a hamstring injury in the opening day home defeat to West Ham.

doyle1
There was a time when Kevin Doyle was really rather good, and didn’t just run towards the corner flag and fall over.

Rapid Vienna came to the West Midlands in late August as they took on Aston Villa in a Europa League qualifying tie, eventually knocking out the hosts at Villa Park on away goals. 6’7” Stefan Maierhofer came on in the second half and caused the home defence problems, having a goal disallowed and generally unnerving them with his unorthodox presence. This seemed to spur us into action and we signed him on 31 August 2009 for an initial fee of £1,800,000, with a further £1,000,000 payable should we secure survival in 2009/10. He was coming off the back of a 27 goal season for Rapid, so had some form of record behind him as well as being a big galoot.

The problem with all of this was that no-one seemed to have watched him particularly closely – giving Villa a bit of a fright is of no great stock in itself, I’ve seen Marlon Harewood score a hat-trick against them in the past – and the deal smacked of us panicking right at the end of the transfer window. Had we scouted him properly, we’d have seen that he didn’t really look much of a footballer at all; he was very slow, his basic technique was poor and he was as ungainly as you’d expect from such an oddly proportioned chap. Also, being tall doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re any good in the air; there had long been talk that Steve Morgan was keen on us signing “someone like Peter Crouch”. Crouch is around the same height as Maierhofer, but he’s never been someone who you’d think would be competent at dealing with balls hammered miles above his head in the way you might play to a Niall Quinn or a Duncan Ferguson – he has never been that kind of player. And so it followed that Maierhofer was no good in the air either. He couldn’t jump, he never looked to get a run on a centre half, he got routinely beaten in aerial battles by defenders way shorter than him and in any case, this isn’t how we best used Iwelumo in 2008/9 so the comparison point seemed odd. It wouldn’t have taken many (or perhaps, any) proper viewings of him to see that this wasn’t a great idea.

FBL-ENG-PR-EVERTON-WOLVES
He looked as comfortable in possession as Nigel Farage does in the company of Romanians.

He came off the bench to score on his Wolves debut at Blackburn – stabbing a loose ball in from a Matt Jarvis corner, a mere consolation as we were 3-0 down at the time with two minutes to go – but it seemed very quickly that Mick McCarthy had seen enough to be wholly unconvinced; he was confined to brief substitute appearances where he uniformly failed to impress. He couldn’t help us hold the ball up if we were looking to see out a narrow win, he didn’t offer any kind of tangible goal threat and more often than not, caused a Marouane Fellaini-style panic in our own defence if we brought him back to defend set pieces. I’m sure we’ve all played in five a side teams where some guy turns up who hasn’t played before, and immediately looks like he’s never kicked a ball. Maierhofer was the professional equivalent of that. He was sent off at Everton in one of his substitute appearances following a clash with Tim Howard and made just two starts, both at Old Trafford, one in the League Cup and one in the league. The latter was the infamous game where we made a host of changes to our team in anticipation of our upcoming six pointer at home to Burnley, although it should be pointed out that of our starters against United, Marcus Hahnemann, Michael Mancienne, Ronald Zubar and Kevin Foley would be regulars for much of the remainder of the season, which made a bit of a mockery of the Premier League deciding to fine us. Maybe they did it because we started Matt Hill and Maierhofer, which probably is going a bit far. Maierhofer was replaced after 54 minutes by the now fit Iwelumo and by now enough was enough for Mick. With us moving to a system playing one up front in January, there were fewer opportunities for the supporting cast to Doyle and it now seemed that the Austrian was very much at the back of the queue, as he wasn’t even getting on the bench now. Iwelumo was sent on loan to Bristol City in February 2010 to regain some match sharpness and having notched a couple of goals for the Robins, we recalled him once the initial month had passed and being the charitable sorts that we are, sent them Maierhofer instead in March. He made just three appearances for City, notable only for him having to go in goal for the closing stages of their game against Nottingham Forest – always the equivalent of a dog in the playground at the best of times, let alone when it’s some giant beanpole going between the sticks to add to the visual comedy. His goalscoring (ie none) and goalkeeping (one clean sheet out of one, you can’t argue with that) exploits failed to impress Gary Johnson and he cut the loan spell short in mid-April.

FUSSBALL - CCFL, Briston vs Newcastle
Sadly I can’t find a picture of him in goal, so you’ll have to make do with one of him doing some kind of preposterous warm-up.

Unsurprisingly, he was told that he had no future at the club in the summer of 2010 – when we had to pay the remaining £1,000,000 to Rapid on account of our 15th placed finish, taking his fee close to £3,000,000 in the process – and was loaned out to 2.Bundesliga outfit Duisburg for 2010/11, scoring eight goals in 27 appearances for them and by all accounts, being reasonably popular with their fans. No permanent deal was in the offing and he returned to Wolves ahead of the 2011/12, making a surprising return to the matchday squad for the season opener at Blackburn and coming on for Stephen Hunt in injury time. This proved to be his final appearance for us as he was sold a fortnight later to Red Bull Salzburg for around £1,000,000. He had a handy first season for them, scoring 14 goals, but was more of a fringe player in 2012/13 and ended up joining 1.FC Köln – then in the second tier – in January for the remainder of the season. He scored one goal in 14 appearances there and a spell out of the game followed – which would become a running theme in his late career. His Facebook feed at the time seemed to indicate he was trying to become a model at this point, which seemed an amusingly deluded career path. He ditched the Derek Zoolander act in March 2014 when he returned to England and joined Millwall to the end of the 2013/14 season. He helped them to Championship survival, scoring two goals in 11 games but a long-term stay at The Den was ruled out by his wage demands and his reported desire to find a Premier League club. Good luck with that one Stefan. The likes of Chelsea and Arsenal managed to resist the temptation to snap up a 32 year old striker who had more in common with Stephen Merchant than Steve Bull, and he ended up signing a short-term deal with Wiener Neustadt in November 2014 before rejoining Millwall in January 2015. This time he couldn’t help prevent relegation as he scored one goal in 10 games before spending yet more time out of the game, remaining unattached until February 2016 when he joined Slovakian team AS Trencin, going on to win their domestic league and scoring twice in 10 games along the way. He remains a free agent presently; given how many times he has reappeared out of nowhere over the past few years, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he’s retired from playing.

hoff4
Try as he might, Stefan couldn’t hear any further modelling work coming through.

Maierhofer’s signing was a mark of inadequate scouting and frantic transfer activity with time running out; it’s also an odd signing in that it seems to have been one of the very few during Mick’s time here where he didn’t play much of an active role. There are footballers who don’t look the greatest aesthetically, but they get the job done. There are players who help you play in a less than pretty way, but they’re effective at what they do. There is still the time and the place for a big man up front in English football. Unfortunately Maierhofer just wasn’t ever going to be up to the mark, aesthetics or otherwise; frankly, he simply isn’t a very good footballer, and it’s not even especially hard to work that out. If Jermain Defoe picked up an injury ahead of next month’s transfer window, Sunderland presumably wouldn’t look to sign any old 5’7” striker to replace him and so us buying Maierhofer primarily on the basis of his height rather than his actual ability was never likely to end well. You can get away with looking a bit gangly and awkward in the Premier League, but you can’t get away with not being able to control the ball and if you’re signed as the “big man” option, it would be helpful if you could head the ball. Big Stefan could not, as he resembled a less mobile and a slightly stretched out version of Christophe Berra playing up front. All round, he has to go down as one of our most poorly scouted signings with an extremely low return on our investment; a net cost of £1,800,000 for 180 minutes of league football.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT: #8 : TONY DALEY

Megalomania in managers is generally not a good thing

#8 : TONY DALEY

Signed: June 1994 from Aston Villa, £1,250,000

Appearances: 27

Goals: 4

Left: June 1998, contract expired

He was: A Christmas bottle of Martini that was smashed in the handover

As we’ve discussed previously, there was a time in the mid 90s when there was great optimism surrounding Wolves; we had effectively a new ground, state of the art for its time, we were spending a lot of money in an attempt to reach the Premier League and we had a charismatic, local owner who was putting everything behind us to propel us back to where we belong (although this is an odd concept for someone like me who’s watched us for nearly 30 years and frankly, there isn’t that much there to make a fuss of). So it followed that we made a real push for promotion ahead of the 1994/5 season, Graham Taylor being heavily backed and given the success of Blackburn and Newcastle on their trajectory into the top flight, it seemed that anything was possible. Taylor decided that his team would play with genuine width and made noises about that being the major strength of our all-conquering 1950s side – which was a bit of an easy popularity play and not really relevant 40 years on, but was well received in any event. Make do and mend options out wide such as Kevin Keen, Mark Rankine and Paul Birch that had been employed in the last couple of seasons would be a thing of the past, we were going for out and out wingers. Accordingly, Taylor snapped up Steve Froggatt and Tony Daley from his former club Aston Villa to play on either side.

froggy1
Froggy with a shocker of a centre parting. And that’s not even close to the worst haircut in this article.

Froggatt hadn’t actually played for Taylor at Villa but Daley certainly had, being a key player in their title challenge in 1989/90 and being capped seven times by him for England, including two games at Euro 92. His reputation was as an extremely quick winger with at times dazzling skills, aligned with the trademark inconsistency that you associate with such players. He made 28 appearances for Villa in 1993/4, including starting their League Cup final victory over Manchester United, but he was perceived to have gone stale there and was no longer part of Ron Atkinson’s plans in B6. The deal was done in June 1994 and he signed on for a fee of £1,250,000.

euro92
One of the great teams.

Any big money signings during this period came with a sense of great anticipation and Daley was no exception; we wanted to see what a player with a decent top level pedigree and still only in his mid 20s could do for us. What we didn’t know at the time – and what is reasonably common knowledge now – is that our medical staff advised Taylor not to sign him. More than once. And yet, he still did it. Loyalty to players you’ve managed in the past is one thing but to disregard the advice of qualified professionals in an area where you have zero expertise is something else instead. Inevitably enough, he picked up a knee injury in pre-season and we would have to wait until October to see him. In the meantime, Mark Walters arrived on loan from Liverpool to fulfil Taylor’s wish of effectively playing 4-2-4.

taylor1
Not a doctor.

Daley eventually made his debut on 22 October 1994 with a 15 minute substitute appearance at home to Millwall. He came on with us 3-1 up and this seemed to be a routine enough run out just to get him out on the pitch and into the swing of first team football. There was an almost hushed awe among the crowd when he came on…which swiftly transformed to concerned yelps when he worryingly leapt up in seemingly sharp pain as he went to take his first touch in a gold shirt. He limped through the rest of that game – which we contrived to draw 3-3 in the end and it signified perhaps the start of the subsidence of our title challenge, which I’ll perhaps write about at another time – but was unsurprisingly ruled out of our next game, a League Cup tie against Nottingham Forest. Not long after, it was confirmed that he’d suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury and was ruled out for the season.

He returned for the 1995/6 season, though Taylor urged caution on the immediate prospects of his recovery and that of the similarly stricken John de Wolf. Caution or not, he gave us a star turn on his first Wolves start, tearing former England right back Gary Stevens to shreds in our opening day 2-2 draw at Tranmere. Unfortunately, this proved to be a bit of a false dawn. After this game, he really wasn’t doing much at all for us. Sure, he was still quick, but that didn’t mean he was using that attribute to hurt teams. There were flashes here and there, a couple of goals, a good performance against Derby, a couple of assists against Grimsby, a truly ludicrous haircut, but overall he looked like a common-or-garden right winger at this level who could shift a bit. Certainly not a £1m+ signing from the Premier League. With us hovering just above the bottom three, Taylor was sacked and Daley featured less under his successor Mark McGhee.

daley2
I wasn’t kidding about his haircut.

We toured Austria and Germany ahead of the 1996/7 season but it turned out to be a cursed trip; both Adrian Williams and Daley sustained serious knee injuries within days of each other. This looked terminal for Daley’s career – the second such injury in under two years for him and his recovery from the first one hadn’t been especially convincing. There was no prospect of him playing any part in that season, but nonetheless he worked his hardest and managed to back into our squad in January 1998. He made three substitute appearances against Norwich, Darlington and Sheffield United – the latter being most notable for a terrible miss on his part and this proved to be his final game for Wolves. We clearly felt that he was finished as a footballer at this level and he was released at the end of his contract in the summer of 1998 after just 27 appearances in four seasons.

daley3
More ludicrous hair.

Taylor showed further faith in Daley by handing him a one year deal at Watford where he made little impact, save for a goal at Birmingham in a Watford win which was part of a run where they overhauled us for the final playoff place in 1998/9. Six months at Walsall followed where he made seven appearances and he rounded off his career with two and a half years in the Conference at Forest Green, making 67 appearances along the way before retiring in 2002. He subsequently became qualified as a fitness coach and joined Sheffield United in this position in 2003, leaving them in 2007 and returning to Wolves where he remains to this day. Having survived numerous backroom revamps and changes of manager, he appears to be well regarded in this field as sports science becomes an ever more integral part of the game.

daley4
Tony looks on anxiously as Mike Williamson attempts a return.

I said at the outset of this series that I’d try not to include players who had their Wolves career predominantly ruined through injury, such as Geoff Thomas or George Ndah. But Tony Daley is an exception, through no real fault of his own. It’s a lesson in managers knowing their boundaries. The medical staff are there for a reason; if they make the wrong call, then they pay for it, as Barry Holmes did in 2008 when it was revealed that Stephen Ward had been playing for the best part of a year with a knee condition that was one hefty challenge away from wrecking his career. It isn’t the manager’s domain to be ignoring their advice and playing with the club’s money in that way. As I say, it isn’t really Daley’s fault that he’s included in this series – though had he made 127 appearances rather than 27 of the general quality that he served up, he might have made it here in his own right – but he does need to be included as he was a waste of money that had we all known what the club had known at the time, we could all have foreseen from day one.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #7 : JAMIE O’HARA

From prospective hero to worse than zero

#7 : JAMIE O’HARA

Signed: January 2011 from Tottenham, initially on loan then permanent £3,500,000 deal in June 2011

Appearances: 56

Goals: 8

Left: August 2014, contract cancelled

He was: Like the Royle Family Christmas specials, great at first and then worse than torture

The strange dichotomy of Wolves’ 2010/11 season will forever remain a puzzle; how could it be that we were able to perform creditably and even pick up results against the best teams in the league, but would so frequently fail to turn up and collapse to terrible results against the filth in the bottom third? We had survived in the previous season largely on true grit alone – Jody Craddock being second top scorer tells its own story – but that approach can never last for particularly long, it simply isn’t sustainable to have a playing style which leads to you scoring 13 goals at home all season. We were trying to play a little more football now (while still being recognisably a Mick McCarthy team) and while it was easier on the eye, we were coming unstuck. Mired in the bottom four from late September onwards, it was apparent that we needed something a little different. Nenad Milijas was still extremely hit and miss while David Jones had contributed strongly to the second half of 2009/10 and kicked this season off with a stunning goal against Stoke, but his influence on games was waning and more pertinently, what had at one stage seemed to be an imminent signing of a contract extension had dragged on to the point where it was now in serious doubt that he would stay – in the event, he didn’t, he left on a free at the end of the season.

As the January transfer window opened, Jamie O’Hara emerged as our primary target. He had been very highly rated at Tottenham at one stage, making 25 appearances for them in 2007/8 and picking up seven England U21 caps. He fell out of favour when Harry Redknapp Lambeth-walked his way into White Hart Lane and joined Portsmouth on a season long loan in August 2009. Pompey’s prospects for this season were always grim given their ownership shenanigans and how an expensively assembled (by Redknapp) squad had been dismantled when the money ran out, but O’Hara never went through the motions as you might expect a young player on loan from a top six club to do in such circumstances. Right to the end he gave it everything he had and was rewarded with Portsmouth’s Player of the Year award – along the way impressing at Molineux in their 1-0 win which happened to be their very first points of the season after opening the season with seven straight defeats. Incidentally I think that may have been the day that I worked out that I really do hate Greg Halford. O’Hara struggled with a back injury in the latter stages of the season but played on in a determined effort to feature in the FA Cup final; on his return to Spurs, he was ruled out for several months and spent the first half of 2008/9 working his way back to fitness. On the face of it he seemed ideal for us; some extra class in midfield, the knowledge that he’d already played for a team in a relegation fight and not hidden away while doing so, plenty for him to prove and with him initially only being a loan signing, we weren’t going to be shelling out a hefty fee and wages on a player with the large risk that we would be a Championship club in a matter of months. The deal to loan him for the remainder of the season was done on 30 January 2011.

halford1
There’s an entire thesis there for body language experts in one photo.

He made his debut as a substitute against Bolton three days after signing – a game memorable for Ronald Zubar showing that if he put his mind to it, he could slide passes through to Daniel Sturridge just as well as Steven Gerrard – and then went into the starting line up for the remainder of the season (barring the home game against Tottenham where he was ineligible). He made a big impact early on, including goals against West Brom and Blackpool. It was in the latter game where his general play was most to the fore; in a game where we absolutely needed to win, we were 1-0 up against ten men but had a very nervy start to the second half. O’Hara was outstanding in galvanising the team and dragging them through a sticky patch through the force of his own will as much as anything and eventually we ran out 4-0 winners. Results were up and down as they had been all season – big wins over Manchester United, Aston Villa, West Brom and Sunderland going hand in glove with horrible defeats to Newcastle, Everton and Stoke – before we memorably secured survival at home to Blackburn on the final day, O’Hara scoring the first goal in reply to Rovers’ 3-0 lead before Stephen Hunt completed the job (in as much as you’ll ever settle for losing by one goal) right at the death.

joh2
This alone should have been the catalyst for hero status.

There was almost universal approval for his permanent signing as it was clear there was no real future for him at Spurs; indeed, there would have been mass uproar had we let him slip through our fingers and join a rival. The deal was done on 21 June 2011 which looking back in isolation now, seems perfectly standard – around a month after the end of the season, well in advance of pre-season. However at the time there were daily gnashings that the deal was dragging on and much fretting that the club would let this one get away. We were later told by the club that any perceived slow progress was due to O’Hara being subject to an extended, stringent medical. We spent £3,500,000 on him and he penned a five year deal; it seemed an extremely astute piece of business. He was definitely on another level to our signings in the previous two seasons and in O’Hara’s case this meant off the field too, as he came with an obligatory celebrity wife. Now this kind of thing is of absolutely no interest to me – football is not an extension of Hello! Magazine, however much Ashley Cole might want it to be – but apparently it does matter to some people. Did this represent Wolves moving on a step now, from Mick’s old guard which still included cheap and cheerful signings from as far back as 2006/7 in the form of Karl Henry and Stephen Ward; grounded lads who would run through a brick wall for you but hit a brick wall of their own through the constraints of their own ability, and moving on to a different class of footballer?

joh3
Yours for just £2.50, photos of reasonably famous footballers walking down the street.

The answer to that question was no as O’Hara was one of only two permanent signings made that summer (and there’ll be more on the other one later in the series, unsurprisingly enough). As a team we started 2011/12 well with seven points from three games, although even in these opening fixtures – which saw us all too briefly on top of the Premier League – O’Hara seemed oddly subdued and didn’t have the same influence in these games as he had in the previous season. Maybe this was due to us moving back to 4-4-2 rather than the three man midfield that we’d largely used in the final months of 2010/11 and he was adjusting to new and different requirements. The team’s form subsequently fell through the floor and as the weeks went on (and we stuck rigidly with 4-4-2) it became apparent that O’Hara was being used as the deeper of the two central midfielders. This brought up two key tactical issues; firstly, O’Hara either couldn’t or wouldn’t do the defensive elements required from someone playing in that role and just wasn’t endowed with the necessary anticipation, a prime example being Emmanuel Adebayor’s goal for Spurs at Molineux where Scott Parker ran straight off the back of him. Being played in a deep role also detracted from his goalscoring ability; having scored important goals for us in the previous season, we had all hoped that would continue and we’d have a reliable threat from that area of the pitch. Secondly, O’Hara being the deeper of the two central players meant that in turn we had Karl Henry playing as the more advanced midfielder. In the Premier League. You can imagine how well that went.

anderton1
O’Hara playing deep brought back harrowing flashbacks of this fiasco.

Teams began to carve through us with ease and run straight on to a struggling back four (and once again, this season we’ve seen a repeat of this narrative). O’Hara’s mobility was also now being called into question – he didn’t look in especially good condition and he wasn’t getting around the park as he had during his loan spell. The sight of him slapping the Molineux turf in frustration became commonplace – that Jamie Pollock-style faux passion is all well and good and might impress some people, but I’d rather have not had him sending the ball sailing out of play half a dozen times a game with failed Hollywood passes or having opposition attacking midfielders run rings round him in the first place. He went on a mini-scoring run in late October/early November where he scored three goals in four games (albeit one of them in the League Cup) and we hoped that this was the sign of both he and the team turning things around, but it wasn’t to be. In mid-December he was ruled out with what was initially reported as a calf strain but subsequently turned out to be double hernia surgery – any easy conflation to make – and missed nearly two months. He returned for our win at fellow strugglers QPR where we were greatly abetted by a foolish first half red card for the home team – another familiar tale – and was then included in the suicidal final midfield ever sent out by Mick McCarthy at Wolves in the 5-1 home defeat to West Brom. Doyle-Edwards-O’Hara-Jarvis. Just look at it. A centre forward, two blokes who can’t tackle (Edwards has improved his defensive work in recent times, but back in 2012 he offered very little in this respect) and an out and out winger. It was no wonder we got torn apart and as we will all sadly recall, Albion could easily have scored a dozen times. Mick was sacked and O’Hara played in the first three games of the risible Terry Connor era, including one of the worst Wolves performances in the last 30 years – an honour for which there is some serious competition – namely the 5-0 defeat at Fulham. It seemed very much like the club had given up on the season and O’Hara swiftly followed suit, declaring himself unfit for the remainder of the campaign in mid-March. We were, of course, relegated out of sight and left to rebuild in the Championship.

The hope was that if O’Hara stayed at the club – and he was definitely one of those who unlike Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis, hadn’t made an inestimable case for another Premier League club to snap them up – he would prove himself to be a cut above in the Championship, which theoretically of course he should have been. New manager Stale Solbakken appeared to be reasonably upbeat about his prospects but after just 45 minutes of pre-season action, he broke down again and was set for more hernia surgery. This ruled him out for four months and by the time he reappeared as a substitute in our horrendous Christmas and New Year displays against Peterborough, Ipswich and Crystal Palace, we were deep in a malaise where it seemed matters were coming to breaking point between the squad and the manager. He started our FA Cup defeat at then non-league Luton – so many times that season you thought “this must be the nadir” and then something even worse would happen – and Solbakken was sacked to be replaced by professional moron Dean Saunders. O’Hara was on the bench for Saunders’ first game at home to Blackburn and set up our equaliser with virtually his first touch after coming on, producing a long, raking cross from near the halfway line for partner-in-crime Roger Johnson to nod home. This seemed to cement the idea in Saunders’ tiny, tiny mind that O’Hara would be our playmaker, free to use his range of passing in a Xabi Alonso style. But O’Hara was never really that kind of player, even at his best. And we’d already tried this once, the previous season, with stunning results. He still had no aptitude for the defensive side of the game so the best solution would have been to get him high up the park where his lack of mobility – even more accentuated since his injuries through 2014 – would be less of a factor and we could take advantage of his decent technique and finishing ability. Being as this represented somewhere near common sense, there was no hope of it happening under Saunders.

joh4
He was also growing his hair in the style of one of those mid 90s troll figures, which was unsettling.

He continued to be deployed largely in a deep-lying role which of course, meant one of Karl Henry or David Davis playing far too advanced given their limited ability on the ball. The exact same issue as during 2011/12. Why had Saunders not looked at this structure being palpable nonsense in the previous year and why was he persisting with it now? On occasion, in some kind of bizarre attempt to confuse the opposition, he’d start O’Hara wide for 10-15 minutes before switching him back to a central position. It had to be seen to be believed, genuinely some of the most crackpot management I’ve ever seen at any level. Meanwhile O’Hara himself was frustrating our fans with his attitude, on big money and not delivering, coasting through games without really having any impact and not showing any fight as we hurtled towards the bottom three. He was sent off for a petulant shove in the dismal home defeat to Huddersfield in April; when his three match ban expired, Saunders thought it a wise idea to start him in the de facto dead rubber on the final day at Brighton (we had a purely notional chance of staying up by then). Predictably we lost 2-0 without too much of a fuss, O’Hara sarcastically gave the travelling fans who were aiming their ire at him a thumbs up, and we were doomed to playing in the third tier for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. Good times.

joh5
Note to footballers – this is NEVER a good idea.

Mercifully Saunders was swiftly sacked and Kenny Jackett succeeded him; understandably enough, he decreed that there needed to be a fresh start at the club. As you would expect, O’Hara was one of those singled out for the double relegation and told to train away from the first team squad. This represented some downward trajectory for him; rising Premier League star to League One outcast in two and a half years. He only had himself to blame for this to a large extent; he hadn’t made the best effort to keep himself fit, he hadn’t really had a go at changing his game when he was asked to play a different role, his play was sloppy, slovenly and counter-productive a lot of the time and his general attitude did not give off the impression that this was a man we could trust to scrap with all his might for Wolverhampton Wanderers. He was included in the U21 squads early in the season, presumably trying to get him in the shop window, and scored three goals in ten appearances at this level. At the start of November, he was oddly brought back into the first team fold – hard to see why as at the point at which he did return, we had lost one game all season and were on a run of five wins in six. Nevertheless, he came on for seven minutes at home to Stevenage, where he got a mixed reception – probably better than he deserved – and then 33 minutes at Carlisle where descriptions of his athletic ability were not flattering. A caravan being towed uphill was one that I seem to remember. He was patched back out of the squad just as swiftly as he’d been brought in, packed off to Los Angeles (reportedly at his own expense) for an intensive fitness programme as Ken was by now quite open that O’Hara was simply not where he needed to be if he wanted to play in his team. Given that Kevin McDonald was a regular in our team at the time, the bar wasn’t exactly set impossibly high in that respect. As it transpired, he never played for us again. A trial at Blackpool in January 2014 came to nothing and there was no appetite on the club’s part to return him to first team duties, so he remained frozen out until we finally reached a settlement on his deal on 28 August 2014.

joh6
Looked more like George out of Rainbow than an elite athlete.

He did eventually join Blackpool on 5 November 2014 on an initial short term deal which was later extended to the end of the season. The 2014/15 campaign was already a write off for the Seasiders – they were bottom of the table after 16 games when O’Hara joined and already nine points short of safety – as the Oystons had cast the club into a cycle of no funding with the Premier League funds siphoned off elsewhere, leaving them with a squad made up of youth players and ultra-cheap free agents. He did, to his credit, at least put the effort in while he was at Blackpool, even if there was no realistic prospect of them getting out of that mess. He played against us at Molineux in mid-January where, in an oddly passive first half from us, he didn’t do too badly. In as much as if you don’t put any pressure on him at all, he looks like a decent enough if fairly unremarkable footballer. If you do pressure him as we did after half time, then he’s of very little use at all. 28 appearances and two goals at Bloomfield Road were enough to persuade Fulham to sign him in the summer of 2015 on a one year deal. He went on to be a regular for them in 2015/16, making 39 appearances in all, and received some good early reviews, but it was a familiar tale as time went on. Teams worked out how Fulham were using him fairly quickly and soon enough he was having no impact as the Cottagers struggled along just above the relegation zone for another season. Released in the summer, he subsequently joined Gillingham in August 2016 on a two year deal, only to unilaterally walk away from the club on 30 September 2016 after just three substitute appearances totalling 93 minutes. It was revealed a week or so later that he’d left of his own volition as he was carrying a foot injury which was more serious than first thought, and didn’t want to burden the Kent club with his wages while he would be unavailable to play for the foreseeable future. So fair play to him for that, I suppose.

He was such a let down of a signing for us, especially as we’d all seen what he was capable of at the highest level, albeit briefly. It’s telling how the trajectory of his career went – and arguably where his priorities were focused for too long – that of the the 16 entries currently on the first page of Google News results for “Jamie O’Hara”, nine of them are about his ex-wife. Was it his fault that he got injured a lot? Not really, though he evidently didn’t do everything he could to get himself into the best possible shape that he could. Was it his fault that Wolves as a whole voluntarily threw themselves into a spiral of appalling decisions for 18 months or more? No, but he became a symbol of those poor decisions and our decline, rightly or wrongly. The biggest crime was that he was, at one stage, an extremely talented footballer who could have been pushing for full England honours at one stage, and he seemed to give up on being the very best he could very quickly. There is no one single factor which caused our double relegation, and you certainly couldn’t say it was all Jamie O’Hara’s fault. Being a passive presence who drifted through games, ruling himself out of contention quite publicly in what was still a theoretical relegation fight, not having the wit or guile to work out that what he was doing on the pitch wasn’t helping us, a refusal to work on the weakest areas of his game, deciding that Twitter was an appropriate medium through which to tell the world how tough it is being a professional footballer, thinking it was a good idea to grant a bizarre interview with Tim Nash to give “his side of the story” while he was still contracted to the club – well, pretty much all of that is his fault. When you’re being paid as much as Jamie O’Hara was and you’ve been earmarked as the star of the show, that just isn’t good enough.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #6 : DARREN FERGUSON

A tale of sloth, indulged for years

#6: DARREN FERGUSON

Signed: January 1994 from Manchester United, £250,000

Appearances: 151

Goals: 10

Left: June 1999, contract expired

He was: The embodiment of trying to run after a three course Christmas dinner

For a while in the mid 90s, Wolves were perceived to be a moneybags club in the second tier, with resources (and attendant expectations) way above the scale of most of our competitors. If the start of that status can ever be pinpointed then it is probably at the start of the 1993/4 season; Sir Jack Hayward was seeing his vision of a redeveloped Molineux take shape with the new Billy Wright stand opened in time for the season opener against Bristol City to add to the year-old North Bank and the rapidly under construction South Bank which would be complete before Christmas. Sir Jack pumped appreciable funds into the playing squad for the first time in his tenure during this summer with the ground now close to finished, as Kevin Keen, David Kelly and Geoff Thomas all arrived along with veteran Cyrille Regis and there was a palpable sense of optimism around the club. With ambitions this time around most definitely focused on promotion to the Premier League, we made a reasonable enough start but were dealt a crushing blow in our eighth game of the season when Geoff Thomas sustained a bad knee injury thanks to rent-a-thug Lee Howey. A run of two wins in eleven games (incorporating eight draws – some prototype Glenn Hoddle football more than a decade before he actually pitched up here) left us mired in the familiar ground of mid-table by the time we reached Christmas 1993.

geoffthomas1
Ah, what could have been. He looked genuinely brilliant early on. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you he was rubbish because of that shot for England against France, he really wasn’t.

With Thomas now confirmed as being out for the season and Paul Cook flattering to deceive as ever – if a Wolves player’s reputation has ever been skewed by misty-eyed nostalgia, it’s Mr “one very good game followed by four appalling ones” – Graham Turner looked at bolstering our central midfield. In January 1994 he signed Chris Marsden and Darren Ferguson for £100,000 and £250,000 respectively. Both went straight into the team as we beat top of the table Crystal Palace for the second time in back-to-back Saturdays at Molineux, having also knocked them out of the FA Cup the previous week before the pair’s arrival. Ferguson was much the higher profile of the two signings, arriving as he did from reigning Premier League champions Manchester United. Although I’m sure even at that stage he knew that he was destined to be known as “son of Alex” for the rest of his life, he had played enough games in the 1992/3 season to win a Premier League medal of his very own. With this top level experience behind him and just about to turn 22, there did theoretically seem plenty of scope for him to develop at Wolves and make a career in his own right.

ferguson2
There it is, proof. He really did play for Man Utd in proper games and everything. Mind you, so did Andy Goram when he was about 47.

It quickly became apparent that Ferguson’s Manchester United heritage was a straightforward case of nepotism; he didn’t look anything like a top level player and wasn’t really having any kind of noticeable impact on games. Specifically he looked slow in both mind and body, had no particular range of passing and it was hard to see what he was actually contributing. This didn’t go unnoticed by the fans and he began to attract boos within his first couple of months at the club. Our season itself rapidly turned sour after that win over Palace on Ferguson’s debut, as four defeats in five league games – including a home Black Country Derby against West Brom – and a cup exit at Hoddle’s Chelsea spelt the end for Graham Turner’s seven and a half year tenure at the club. Former England manager Graham Taylor came in as his successor and oversaw a small upturn in form which led to the season quietly petering out in 8th place. At this point, Ferguson really needed to do more to stake a claim for a place under the new manager as he hadn’t offered anything of note so far. It would probably have been fair to cut him a little slack at this stage; after all he was still a young player adapting to a new division, playing with an entirely different calibre of team mate than he was used to, trying to settle into a new club where there had already been a change of manager within his first couple of months. Although he certainly was nothing like a Man Utd player – more David Bellion than David Beckham – maybe there was still a chance for him to make an impact at this level. Let it never be said that I can’t be optimistic every now and then.

In 1994/5 he was in and out of the team for the first half of the season with Geoff Thomas still suffering from some injury issues, but was more on the fringes by the turn of the year with two from Neil Emblen, Gordon Cowans and Mark Rankine being preferred. And if Mark Rankine is a better central midfielder than you, you really should be reassessing your choice of career. The season ended in heartbreaking playoff failure at the hands of Bolton and by this time we could make a proper assessment of where Darren Ferguson stood as a footballer. It’s fair to say that it was not a favourable one. For a start he never really looked fit, struggling to get around the pitch and having fairly obvious weight issues, which is always unacceptable in a professional. But I could forgive a bit of tubbiness if he were offering much of anything. As it was, he offered about as much as Sid Owen did to the world of music. It was still hard to work out what he was actually supposed to be in the team for. He couldn’t dictate play with his passing. He couldn’t run with the ball (or indeed run full stop). He was criminally lazy. After 18 months at the club, he had failed to score a single goal. So we can say that on the attacking front, he was sorely lacking. Any thought of playing him deeper in a two man central midfield was comprehensively ruled out due to him being hands down, the worst tackler I have ever seen in a Wolves shirt. In all his time here, I’m not sure I saw him win ten tackles. He’d either just let his opponent breeze past him – and once he was gone, Ferguson certainly wasn’t catching him – or commit a foul in some kind of petty manner. Everyone used to have a giggle at Paul Scholes never being able to tackle at any stage of his career. Oh Paul, what are you like, hacking away at your opposite number’s shins. But that is Paul Scholes, who was one of the best footballers in Europe for over a decade, who brought so, so much to every team he played in. When you are Paul Scholes, you can get away with tackling being a bit of a write off. When you are Darren Ferguson, chubby United reject who is struggling to hold down a place in an already mediocre second tier midfield, you cannot.

scholes1
Not Darren Ferguson.

Ferguson was in and out of the team again in 1995/6 – being pushed down the pecking order by fellow Tat member Mark Atkins – and it was apparent by this stage that we’d bought someone who didn’t really have any further development in him, what we saw was what we had, and he was never likely to be able to hold down a regular place in even a moderate team in this division. At his absolute best he was just about average for this level; more frequently he was a waste of a shirt. An XL shirt at that. He did at least get his first goal for the club in a League Cup victory over Coventry at the end of November 1995, a mere 22 months after his debut. He was more out of the picture in 1996/7; having scored a fortuitous goal at Swindon at the end of September and followed it up with another at home to Bolton in the very next game – move over, Frank Lampard – he picked up a red card in injury time of the latter game for a petulant swing of the arm and after his suspension didn’t feature at all in the league for five months. Mercifully he seemed to be on his way out of the club with his contract up in the summer. He made his way back on to the subs bench in March 1997 and got back into the starting XI against QPR at the end of the month. From thereon he got a run of games and performed reasonably well by his own standards, scoring a fine free kick in a 4-1 win over Southend and started both legs of the playoff defeat to Crystal Palace. Somehow, off the back of those nine fairly unremarkable games at the end of the season – a run in which the team’s form stuttered to such an extent that we missed out on automatic promotion, so he can hardly be said to have had a key influence on proceedings – the club decided to hand him a new two year contract. There are many decisions in this series that are beyond comprehension and this is up there with the very strangest. He had never been a prolonged regular here, nor had he had any real impact when he did play. He’d had three and a half years to make his case and had fundamentally failed to do so. It finally looked like we were to be rid of a cumbersome burden on the team and the wage bill…and yet we kept him hanging around. As you can imagine, I was well pleased with this decision at the time.

ferguson3
Yes, that’s kind of what I felt like doing.

For the first time in his Wolves career, he did actually become a first choice in the opening half of the 1997/8 season. Nothing had really changed, he picked up yellow cards on a regular basis but did little else and fell out of contention through January and February 1998, eventually spending three months out of the team and only reappearing on the final day dead rubber at Tranmere. This was the season when Carl Robinson made his first team breakthrough; he was no world beater at all, but he looked an immeasurably better player than Ferguson, with an actual goal threat and the semblance of a work ethic just for a start. It was hard to see why we’d extended the latter’s career here when we knew that Robinson was at the club and ready to start playing at senior level. Ferguson made just two league starts in 1998/9 to make a further mockery of that two year deal; it was a contract penned in 1997, and then through the whole of 1998 he made a mere six league starts. We packed him off on a six month loan to Sparta Rotterdam in January 1999 – a relief, as if he wasn’t at the club, then we weren’t going to be tempted to extend his deal again – where he scored one goal in 14 appearances and then finally, his contract expired and that was that. He was gone, at last. Five and a half years of frequent on field anonymity and questionable professionalism at an end.

In the summer of 1999, he moved on to Wrexham (at the time in the third tier) where he remained for the next seven and a half years as they flitted between the bottom two divisions, eventually playing over 300 games for them and scoring more than 50 goals. In truth this was, and always should have been, his natural level; you can see how the small amount of technical ability that he had would make him look reasonable playing further down the pyramid, it was higher up that said technical ability was nothing out of the ordinary and everything else about him showed him up as a bit of a chump. By now into his mid 30s, he applied for the vacant Wrexham manager’s job in January 2007 but failed to attain it, the post instead going to future Wolves assistant manager Brian Carey.

ferguson4
And I had the nerve to call him out for being a bit of a porker. Sorry Darren. As you can see, he was a lot of a porker.

Instead he left Wrexham on 20 January 2007 to become the new manager at Peterborough United. After a 10th placed finish in those first four months in charge, his first full season in charge ended with automatic promotion to League One, finishing in 2nd place. Remarkably, back-to-back promotions followed as they finished 2nd in League One, above the likes of Leeds and this was a major feather in Ferguson’s cap. For a time, he was being talked of as a future managerial star. However, the swift rise through the divisions and the size of the club relative to their peers in the Championship probably conspired against the Posh, and Ferguson left the club by mutual consent on 9 November 2009 with them bottom of the table on 11 points from 16 games. In January 2010, he became the new manager of Preston North End with them in 16th place and eight points clear of safety; he directed them to a 17th placed finish and seven points clear of the drop zone. There was no such serenity in the following season as, deeply unpopular with supporters, Ferguson was sacked on 29 December 2010 with Preston bottom of the Championship on 19 points from 22 games. This was beginning to give off the strong impression that like all managers, he had a very definite ceiling; his being League One.

He was out of work for a matter of days as Peterborough reappointed him as manager on 12 January 2011. Taking over with them 5th in the table, the old adage of “never go back” did not apply in this instance as he maintained that playoff position, finishing 4th and scoring 61 goals in his 24 games in charge, before defeating MK Dons and Huddersfield Town in the playoffs to secure an immediate return to the Championship – passing Preston on the way. Ferguson finally had a bit of success in the second tier in the 2011/12 as he managed to secure Posh’s safety, albeit by a narrower margin than seemed to be the case at first glance – they finished 10 points clear of Portsmouth who occupied the final relegation spot having been deducted 10 points for going into administration. Without that deduction, the margin for Posh would have been just two points, but survival is survival. He couldn’t repeat the trick in 2012/13 and they were relegated in 22nd place along with Wolves – their 54 points is a record tally for any relegated team, which I’m sure was of no consolation. Peterborough finished 6th in League One in 2013/14, albeit well short of the points totals of the five teams above them, and were defeated in the playoffs by Leyton Orient.

wolves-boro
We gave them a tasty beating along the way too. Back in the days when we used to win home games.

A bright start to 2014/15 was wiped out by bad form from October onwards and Ferguson once again left London Road by mutual consent on 21 February 2015, leaving them 15th in the table. He took the vacant job at Doncaster Rovers on 16 October 2015 with them sitting in 20th place in League One and an initial new manager bounce saw them climb to 11th by early January. A horror run of four points from a possible 48 followed which mired them back in a relegation fight and they were eventually relegated to League Two. The Doncaster board kept faith with Ferguson and his first piece of business was to sign Tommy Rowe on a free transfer following a successful loan spell (amongst the detritus of relegation) and the expiry of his Wolves contract. There is a small parallel between the two’s careers, as Rowe himself is too good to be playing in League Two at this stage of his career, but is not really a Championship player (thankfully we only gave him two rather than five and a half years to prove this). Rovers currently sit in the top three of League Two and appear well poised for Ferguson to earn the fourth promotion of his post-playing career. He probably has a managerial career in Leagues One and Two available to him for as long as he wants, but he is highly unlikely to get another chance any higher than that unless he takes and keeps a team there.

But back to his time at Wolves, which is the real focus here. He was a perfect symbol for our lack of serious attention to having a proper central midfield right through the 1990s – a state of affairs only really corrected when Dave Jones bought Alex Rae and Colin Cameron in 2001. A symbol of low energy and low end product, his attitude was frequently extremely poor and he had nothing like the talent to back that mindset up. That we kept him on for an additional two years after three and a half years of persistent non-achievement was borderline certifiable – in fact we released Gavin Mahon during his time at the club and he went on to be ten times the Championship midfielder that Ferguson ever was, as well as playing in the Premier League. There are footballers who take their ability and extract the absolute maximum from it; Dave Edwards would be a good example of this, whatever I think about the merits of him being an automatic choice as we enter 2017. That Ferguson ended up spending his theoretical peak years drifting along in the bottom two tiers says a lot about him. He never gave the impression that he was ever interested in working on his game; why should he, after all he is Darren Ferguson. His father is one of the greatest managers in world football of all time but he proves that nepotism can blind all – it was extremely hard to take his claim in his autobiography that dear Darren was “the best footballer at the club” in his time here seriously. But still, that nepotism and the semblance of a left foot got Darren a long way. A long way further than his talent or dedication ever deserved.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #5 : TOMASZ FRANKOWSKI

We didn’t just damage ourselves, we wrecked his career

#5: TOMASZ FRANKOWSKI

Signed: January 2006 from Elche, £1,400,000

Appearances: 18

Goals: 0

Left: August 2007, contract cancelled

He was: The bottle of Advocaat that some joker brings to a Christmas party

I’ve often said that unless there are serious extenuating circumstances, the minimum aim for Wolves in the second tier should always to be to make a serious challenge for the top six. 2005/6 was no exception as Glenn Hoddle prepared for his first full season at this level since 1992/3 with Swindon Town. We made a reasonably good start, always being in and around the playoff picture, but a run of two wins in twelve games – peppered with draws, as ever under Hoddle – between the end of September and mid-December undermined this progress. It was apparent that Hoddle was keen on adding a striker to the squad – at the end of the summer transfer window we had bid around £3m for Derby’s Grzegorz Rasiak, only for him to join Tottenham instead. The popular Vio Ganea had come back from a long term knee injury and shown some good signs, but Hoddle was indelibly wedded to a 4-3-3 system at this stage and ever the expert on man management, had gone on record as saying that he was dubious that Ganea could play that role as well as questioning his general fitness. Carl Cort was being bizarrely deployed on the right of that front three and in any case picked up an injury in mid-October which would keep him out for three months – as it happens, post-injury he would go on to score a mere two goals in the remainder of his Wolves career. Despite having scored 38 goals in his previous two Championship campaigns, Hoddle also thought it was a good idea to predominantly use Kenny Miller in wide areas. As a hangover from the Dave Jones days – if Hoddle was the king of dreadful man management, then DJ wasn’t a bad Prince Regent – when Miller had fallen out of favour in the Premier League and asked to be transfer listed, there was no prospect of the Scot signing a new contract and with his deal set to run out in the summer of 2006 it was clear that he needed to be replaced soon. Indeed a pre-contract deal between Miller and Celtic was announced on 19 January 2006.

blackadder-princegeorge
It’s rumoured that Dave Jones’ personal version of the “Macbeth” curse is “Igor Balis”.

Hoddle initially targeted Izale McLeod from MK Dons and after tortuous negotiations a bid of £600,000 rising to £1,400,000 was agreed, but having become frustrated with MK’s valuation – unlike them to know the cost of everything but the value of nothing – we had moved on to an alternative and cancelled the deal. That alternative was Tomasz Frankowski. He first arrived on the radar of English fans (and, I suspect, Hoddle himself) by scoring for Poland against England at Old Trafford in qualification for the 2006 World Cup, during which he was Poland’s top scorer. He was prolific for Wisla Krakow in domestic Polish football, scoring over 100 goals for them in seven seasons before making the move to Elche in the Spanish second tier in the summer of 2005. He had made a good start there, too – eight goals in 14 appearances. Negotiations were once again protracted with Jez Moxey personally making more than one trip over to Spain before the deal was eventually completed on 25 January for a fee of £1,400,000.

As we have seen so often already in this series, alarm bells were ringing about several aspects of this deal before he’d even kicked a ball for us. That fee seemed very steep for a player of Frankowski’s age (31 when he signed for us) and profile relative to the market at the time, and was sure to represent dead money with no prospect of getting much of it back at any stage. Secondly, as we have already mentioned, Hoddle had cast aspersions on the ability of Vio Ganea to play as a lone striker. That was a subject which was very much up for debate at the time – personally I felt he was doing well enough and it was impossible not to like the guy – but if that was the manager’s opinion, then fine. That’s what he gets paid for. But why, if that is your viewpoint – and you are presumably making it from the position that Ganea lacked the physical attributes and ability to hold the ball up to be effective in that role – are you signing a striker who is actually shorter than Ganea and a mere year younger? All the reports we had suggested that Frankowski was very much a ‘poacher’ type forward…so exactly the same as Ganea. He was also absolutely nothing like either Rasiak or McLeod, Hoddle’s previous two striker targets, so this approach seemed entirely haphazard. Thirdly, our parachute payments following our relegation from the Premier League in 2004 were due to run out. We knew very well that there would be very limited or no external funding from Sir Jack Hayward in the future – understandably so, he had more than done his bit and was into his 80s by now. This money was all that we had left. Using all of it on an unproven player in this league and indeed English football as a whole, with no resale value, when we were already resigned to losing our best forward for nothing in a matter of months – it was all just massively reckless. We were gambling everything on this transfer working out immediately.

goforbroke
Along with shilling Shredded Wheat, this was clearly a favourite in the Hoddle household.

Frankowski made his debut as a second half substitute against Manchester United in the FA Cup, with the game already gone and us 3-0 down (kudos to Hoddle for sending us out against United with a central midfield of Darren Anderton, Paul Ince and Mark Kennedy – feel the raw pace and energy there from three men with a combined age of 101). He almost made an immediate impact – having a snapshot from the edge of the area whistle inches wide. Had that gone in, then who knows. Regardless of the merits of the Polish top flight and the Spanish second tier, you don’t score the volume of goals that he had over the previous few years if you’re an absolute no hoper. Unfortunately it didn’t go in and from there on in, he paid the price for our torpid football. Any striker would have struggled in this setup under Hoddle as the emphasis was on tepid possession in worthless areas, there was a lack of pace throughout the entire team and whoever was tasked with playing as the sole striker was left totally isolated, with the wide players stuck right out on the touchline. Our toothless approach is best summed up by the statistic that between 22 November and the end of the season, we scored 0 or 1 in a game 21 times out of 27 games. Imagine an entire Formula One race behind the safety car and you have a reasonable approximation of what it is like to watch a Glenn Hoddle team.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Monaco Grand Prix - Sunday - Monte Carlo, Monaco
Though Glenn would probably employ Maureen from Driving School to do the honours, talent spotting ace that he is.

As time went on, there were no goals (and precious few opportunities to score) for Frankowski and pressure on him continued to grow. After all, he was our last hope, “the missing piece of the jigsaw” as Hoddle himself had put it (NB Glenn – if a piece of a jigsaw is missing, you’ve just lost it somewhere in your house. You already own it. You can’t nip down to WH Smith and buy one jigsaw piece. An excellent metaphor once again, it’s easy to see why ITV employ you). His general play wasn’t terrible in of itself – he cleverly won a penalty at home to Cardiff which demonstrated that he wasn’t just a tap-in merchant – but as previously stated, physically he simply wasn’t compatible with this role. If we really did have to play this way, we needed a strong front man – a Chris Martin of his time, let’s say – who could bring others in to play. Frankowski was never going to be able to do this and in any case, we rarely if ever got players up to support the striker anyway. Not surprising when your central midfield is largely made up of footballing geriatrics. The league position remained fairly constant during this period, bobbing between 7th and 8th but this was deceptive, we were rapidly falling well behind the points tallies of those sitting in the top six. A run of seven points from seven games in March and April sealed our fate and by Good Friday we were mathematically out of playoff contention.

At teatime on Good Friday itself, with the earlier results in the day confirming that our season was effectively over, we played Watford at Molineux in a televised fixture. Moxey had delivered some fairly pointed criticism in Hoddle’s direction in his programme notes and the atmosphere was now firmly against the manager, although the South Bank singing “Paul Ince for manager” during this game wasn’t their finest hour. Back to the action (such as it was) on the pitch and Frankowski set up an early goal for loanee Jérémie Aliadière with a nice through ball. At 1-0 up he was played clean through, just inside the Watford half and onside. 40 yards or so to run, just Ben Foster to beat. It seemed then and we can pretty much definitively conclude now, that on a run of 13 games and counting without a goal, he had too much time to think about it. He did the right thing, ran in on Foster, offered a little dummy, started to sit the keeper down…and hit it limply straight at him. That was it, his Wolves career and the narrative surrounding it all settled there and then, inside around six seconds. His confidence was visibly totally gone after that, he was more or less walking around in a daze which everyone could see except Hoddle who didn’t replace him until the final 18 minutes of the game. He started the final two games of the season against Brighton and Norwich without really threatening to break his duck in either of them and finished the season with 0 goals in 17 games.

franky2
Yeah, exactly.

A summer of turmoil followed. Ganea, Miller and Aliadière all left upon the expiry of their deals to leave our striking options looking extremely thin. Clearly all our money had been exhausted and we would be very much cutting our cloth from here on in. The anticipation initially was that Hoddle would be sacked after an exhaustingly dull season which had ended in failure, but it transpired that we couldn’t afford to do so; his one year rolling contract entitling him to a level of salary which would be beyond our means to cover while also looking to source a replacement. The underwhelming Ki-Hyeon Seol and prize asset Joleon Lescott were sold, while experienced players in the form of Kennedy, Ince and Colin Cameron also left with no further contract being offered – not that any of those three were any particular loss at this stage, but it was leaving us with precious little depth and none of this money recouped and saved appeared to be available. We weren’t signing anyone. Through all this time Frankowski was still here, reputation and self-belief shattered, a £1,400,000 asset that was practically worthless now. When I say “still here”, I mean that in a literal sense too as his terrible time here had led him to miss out on Poland’s World Cup squad, despite his exploits in qualifying. There was finally some good news on 1 July when around ten minutes before the England vs Portugal game was due to kick off, Hoddle resigned as manager. The whole summer had been a cowardly act on his part, he obviously knew the financial situation but was refusing to do anything to source players within our new budget – all he had done in two months was agree new deals for his backroom staff (including his since sadly deceased brother) and oddly agreed to offer Denes Rosa a three year deal rather than the two year contract which had already been provisionally arranged during his loan spell. But he was gone, and we could all rejoice. Mick McCarthy arrived around three weeks later and it was never likely that Frankowski was going to be his cup of tea. Jay Bothroyd, Craig Davies and Jemal Johnson were signed to boost our threadbare forward department and pushed Frankowski well down the pecking order. He was on the bench as an unused sub for our league opener at Plymouth and played 65 minutes of our League Cup tie at Chesterfield. Mick had evidently seen enough and loaned him out for a year to Tenerife in the Spanish second tier.

Three goals in 19 games at Tenerife were insufficient to earn him a permanent deal there and he returned to Wolves for pre-season training ahead of the 2007/8 season. He was challenged by Mick to earn his move elsewhere, but unfortunately picked up a knee injury and eventually we came to a settlement on his deal on 31 August 2007 (his representatives finally seeing sense having spent the summer refusing any such talks). He spent six months out of the game before joining MLS outfit Chicago Fire, yet only scored in one of his 17 games (a brace) and was subsequently released to free up salary under the league’s rules. He returned to Poland in December 2008 and joined Jagiellonia Bialystok, his first and hometown club. He had a late career flourish back home – notching a better than one in three record in this spell and finished as top scorer in the league in 2010/11. He retired at the end of the 2012/13 season after becoming the third highest scorer off all time in the Ekstraklasa.

franky3
And he did all that despite having to borrow clothes from Ronald McDonald’s wardrobe. Well done Frankie.

This was just a terrible use of resources all round from Hoddle. Frankowski was obviously not going to be a better fit for his preferred system than anything we already had, but he persisted both with the deal and the same tactics. He didn’t even try to get the best out of the player, he just picked him every week and hoped for the best. To use all of our remaining money on this endeavour was, as stated, incredibly reckless and a clear sign that Hoddle had no intention of staying here if we didn’t go up in 2005/6 – what did it matter to him if there was no money left after this transfer, he wasn’t going to be here to deal with the fallout anyway. His sheer arrogance, self-centred nature and total failure to understand what was required in this league were made clear for all to see in this episode. As for the player himself, it is hard not to feel sorry for him. Even in a good team under a good manager there’s a fair chance he simply wasn’t good enough, given his age, natural limitations and lack of exposure to English football, and he really didn’t show enough in his games here to suggest that his failure was entirely down to the massive egotist in the dugout. But this move ruined his one and only shot at going to a World Cup, stopped his career dead for three whole years and means that he’ll always be a punchline in this part of the world. Thanks very much Glenn. Thanks for everything.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #4 : MARK ATKINS

In the same bracket as World Cup winner Roque Junior

#4: MARK ATKINS

Signed: September 1995 from Blackburn, £1,000,000

Appearances: 155

Goals: 12

Left: June 1999, contract expired

He was: A box full of coffee-flavoured Quality Street

As was to become a familiar theme for around a decade for Wolves, we failed to gain promotion in 1994/5 despite heavy investment on the squad. Our falling short could in part be attributed to serious injuries to a number of key players, all set to return for the following season, so in theory only small tweaks were required to the squad to enable us to make a further challenge for the big prize. Having signed in December 1994, Don Goodman had struggled to earn a regular place up front, unable to dislodge the partnership of Steve Bull (when available) and David Kelly, and was therefore consigned to an unfamiliar right wing berth in his first six months at the club. However, he began the 1995/6 season as first choice alongside Bull and started off extremely well; this in turn pushing the previous season’s top scorer in Kelly back down to the bench. As the opening month of the season went on it was apparent that Kelly would be the odd man out and the decision was made to sell him on. As negotiations progressed with Sunderland on a deal worth around £1,000,000, the projected funds were made available to Graham Taylor to add to the squad as he saw fit.

In yet another familiar scene, central midfield had probably been our weakest area in 1994/5. Gordon Cowans had made a surprisingly decent contribution since signing in December 1994 but with him turning 37, his days were clearly going to be short-lived. Mark Rankine had finished the season in central midfield (around four half-decent games right at the end somehow convincing the Official Supporters’ Club to name him Player of the Year – this was possibly even more of a farce of an award than Matt Doherty winning it last season. I’m still fuming about it now, 21 and a half years on) but was unable to retain his place and was sold on to Preston North End early on in the season.

rankine1
Player of the Year. I ask you.

Meanwhile a division higher, reigning Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers had their own version of the Kelly/Goodman issue rearing its head; David Batty had missed virtually the entire title winning season and this had allowed for Mark Atkins to play a regular part, however the clearly superior Batty was now back fit and firmly in possession of the shirt. This left Atkins out in the cold and with the money available to spend with the Kelly deal now done, Taylor decided to snap him up for around the same fee. On the face of it, it appears to be reasonably sensible management. Sell on a striker (soon to turn 30) who you aren’t really using and is currently at a high value thanks to last season’s exploits, and bring in a midfielder where you’re presently weak, all at a net cost of virtually nothing. As ever, the devil is in the detail.

There were two main issues with this transfer. Firstly, back in 1995, not only was the state of British indie music immeasurably better, but £1m was still a sizeable amount of money in footballing terms, especially in the second tier. Rather than spending all that money on one player, we should have been looking to sign two or three, possibly of a younger profile, possibly from a lower level, and look to develop them. This is fairly standard procedure for us and many clubs these days but back then the principle seemed to be completely lost on Wolves. Secondly, what we were lacking in central midfield (and had been for some time) was individual quality, we had a handful of competent players (plus Darren Ferguson) but no real spark. We also didn’t really have a dedicated defensive midfielder at the time – although Neil Emblen was a converted centre-half, he always looked better when driving forward and didn’t ever have the discipline to be used as a holding player. Anyone watching Atkins at Blackburn would have known that he filled none of these gaps. He had very, very simple instructions in an extremely well-drilled team – give it to someone better. That someone better in this case generally being Tim Sherwood who may (in fact, does) come across as a total buffoon nowadays, the epitome of the Proper Football Man who doesn’t have time for ‘analysis’, ‘tactics’ or ‘using the English language correctly’, but back in the mid 90s was a very good Premier League midfielder. We were bringing Atkins in at a fee and with a status as a current title winner that meant we were expecting him to be the star. To take the division by storm. Like if someone had hired Tony McCarroll after he left Oasis and made him lead guitarist and singer. It just wasn’t ever going to happen, that was not his skillset. Moreover, with the state of our midfield, there was no-one “better” to give the ball to.

tony-mccarroll
Having the same haircut as David Starsky is rarely a characteristic of successful drummers.

Atkins’ first season at Wolves was utterly nondescript on a personal level, as he looked every inch an uninspiring central midfielder with no stand out skill whatsoever. The team as a whole struggled badly; when you have a manager who plays primarily “results first” football as Graham Taylor did throughout his entire career, when those results turn bad and there is no style or pattern to fall back on, things can get ugly very quickly. Taylor was sacked in November with us 18th in the league on 18 points from 16 games, a long way from where we were expected to be, although he did on departure make the puzzling boast that he left us “still in all three competitions”, as if not getting knocked out of the FA Cup when we hadn’t entered it yet was an achievement. Mark McGhee took over during the following month and while Atkins still got his fair share of games, the arrivals of Simon Osborn and Steve Corica meant he was by no means guaranteed a shirt. Wolves limped to 20th place in the end and this dreadful finish – which would turn out to be our lowest for nearly two decades until a certain Welshman got involved, let’s call him Dean S. No, that’s too obvious. Let’s go with D.Saunders – would inevitably lead to changes in the squad for the following season, making Atkins’ position ever more precarious.

corica1
Alarm bells really should be ringing if this bloke is getting a game ahead of you.

What you should always remember about football managers is that most of them aren’t really capable of original thought. Frequently, they see a good idea somewhere else and they copy it. Arsenal had a lot of success back in the early 90s with near post corners flicked on, and suddenly everyone was doing that for a couple of years. Jose Mourinho builds a system of only playing one up front, as the (as then) best manager in the world is doing it, everyone else does it. Even if they don’t have Didier Drogba up front to make it work. So with Euro 96 dominated by 3-5-2 systems, it was of no great shock to see Mark McGhee decide that he’d copy that approach at Wolves for the 1996/7 season. In anticipation of this, he signed Adrian Williams and Keith Curle to play at centre-half, only for both to pick up injuries in pre-season. McGhee was committed to playing in this way so brought Mark Venus back into the first team fold after it initially looked like he was on his way out of the club, and decided to employ Atkins as a sweeper in that three man defence. It must be said that he didn’t do a terrible job in that role, but realistically it was as low pressure as it gets. The bulk of the actual defending was left to the two genuine centre-halves and given his ability on the ball, he was hardly going to be striding forward out of defence or launching attacks with pinpoint passing in the way that say, David Luiz currently does for Chelsea. Essentially, he was just an extra body with a bit of aerial ability in there to facilitate us playing with wing-backs. When Curle returned in the second half of the season he switched between this role and midfield as McGhee started to mix and match between a back three and a back four. Once again we missed out on promotion with a playoff defeat, this time at the hands of Crystal Palace, though Atkins did manage to score in the ultimately fruitless home leg of the tie.

mcghee2
It might be cynical on my part, but I don’t necessarily believe that this brains trust came up with tactics all on their own.

He was used very much as a utility player in his final two seasons at Wolves, deployed at times as an orthodox centre-half, back as sweeper, in his natural central midfield role and most often in his final months at the club, at right back. He became our very own Jack of all trades, master of none as he would fill in semi-competently in all these roles without ever looking anything like a serious long-term option wherever he was playing. He was released at the end of his contract after the 1998/9 season and his decline in stature was marked out by him only being able to secure a three month deal with fourth tier York City for the following campaign. When that deal expired, he dropped further, into the Conference with Doncaster Rovers where he stayed for 18 months. The summer of 2001 saw a move to Shrewsbury Town where he saw out the final two seasons of his professional career in the fourth tier though it was rounded off by relegation from the Football League in 2002/3. He played one further year of non-league football for Harrogate Town before retiring as a player in 2004. His post-playing career has been dominated by a six year spell between 2008 and 2014 as manager of Matlock Town.

atkins2
Premier League winner in 1995, relegated to the Conference in 2003. A similar career trajectory to Noel Edmonds at the time.

Although Mark Atkins was not a complete disaster of a player – in as much as did contribute along the way in a fairly unspectacular manner – his signing was a criminal use of the money available to us and endemic of the way in which Wolves would simply chase “names” in the mid 1990s rather than using effective scouting or accurately focusing on where and how we needed strengthening. There were so many players that we missed out on during this period because all of our focus was on the same areas, the same profile pursued time and time again with the same results. Our central midfield needed a lot of things back in September 1995. It did not need Mark Atkins.

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS TAT : #3 : TONGO DOUMBIA

An object lesson in reserving judgement

#3: TONGO DOUMBIA

Signed: August 2012 from Rennes, initially on loan then permanently for £3,000,000

Appearances: 35

Goals: 2

Left: August 2014 to Toulouse, approx £1,000,000

He was: A toy which seemed amazing on Christmas Day but had broken before the decorations came down

Our relegation from the Premier League and indeed total capitulation from February onwards (both on and off the field) in 2012 led Wolves to decide that a fresh new approach was required after Mick McCarthy’s long tenure, one which inevitably led to the squad being built very much in his mold. We were not going to plump for more of the same with one or two tweaks here and there; instead we were doing what all slightly odd people do at a hotel breakfast buffet and going Continental. Stale Solbakken was appointed as manager – kudos to the Express & Star for their sheer professionalism in running a front page article cheerfully confirming that they didn’t know who he was, always good to see that level of research amongst paid journalists – and it was apparent that our eyes in terms of future signings were very much in Europe rather than relying on a predominantly British and Irish core as Mick had. As I said yesterday, if you follow Wolves for long enough, the same storylines will eventually keep cropping up. The large scale rebuild took in all areas of the team including central midfield, where with Jamie O’Hara crocked and Nenad Milijas on his way out of the club, a partner for reinstalled captain Karl Henry was required.

continental-breakfast
Bacon, sausage, egg, mushrooms or this stuff. It’s a real tough one.

The focus of our transfer business quickly settled itself on Ligue Un and Tongo Doumbia was identified as the man we needed in the middle of the park. After signing for Rennes in 2009, he became a first team player during the 2010/11 season and picked up Europa League experience in the following year after a sixth placed finish. Given that the attention of Wolves fans isn’t generally placed on fairly middling top flight French clubs, it is always a case of relying on second and third hand reports when a player such as this is signed. Some told us that he was extremely highly rated and was even a possible target for Arsenal (although I tend to think that this is on the same level of when we were told Richard Stearman was attracting the attention of Liverpool, as a right back no less). Others were more critical of his attitude. What we did know is that he’d had some kind of a fall out with Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti and it was that status which had led to him being available to us. On 1 July 2012 he signed a one year loan deal with a view to a permanent move. At least the basics surrounding him looked good; the right physique, top level and European experience and the right age with him just about to turn 23.

doumbia2
The writing should have been on the wall really with the state of that shirt. Thanks Burrda.

Doumbia went straight into the team at the start of the season and initial impressions were very good indeed. He was strong, quality on the ball, had a decent level of mobility, notched a goal in an early appearance at Ipswich and could do a destructive job when required. Essentially, it looked like he was everything that Seyi Olofinjana should have been nearly a decade previously. As we found ourselves in 3rd place in early October, it looked as if we’d found a bit of a gem. Given that our central midfield over the last quarter of a century has generally been about as inspiring as dining at Little Chef every single day, this was most encouraging. As Wolves fans, we should all be more than aware that nice things don’t tend to last. And so it proved.

The bright start to the season (in results terms at least) tailed off from mid-October onwards as we went on a run of three points from nine games and sank into the lower third of the table. As the team’s fortunes suffered, so did Doumbia’s. Having compared him favourably to good old Seyi early on, he quickly acquired the very same tendency to completely disappear in matches for 20-30 minutes at a time; seriously, you could forget he was even on the pitch. While it can’t have been easy moving to a new country with a limited grasp of the language and being in a dressing room which was already starting to show splits between new and old with the latter camp becoming more open in their dissatisfaction with Solbakken’s methods, there’s no real excuse for Doumbia totally going into his shell on a matchday. His head always dropped when we fell behind in games and his form never looked like recovering. Pretty much all of the positive aspects of his game dropped off one by one until he eventually became just a space filler in midfield, an empty shirt, a traffic cone style presence in an overall struggling team.

doumbia3
Earphones over a hood, about as good an idea as playing Carl Cort as a right winger.

So with all that in mind – and signs of this were apparent fairly early on, certainly during October – it made no sense whatsoever that we should seek to activate the permanent element of his deal on 13 November, handing over £3,000,000 for his services. It was a decision which was utterly incomprehensible. Here we had a player who was struggling to adapt with elements of life in English football, on and off the pitch, whose performances were already dropping off in a manner not seen since Segundo Castillo turned from Patrick Vieira into Patrick Stewart over the course of a few weeks and when we weren’t committed to making the permanent deal at any stage. We didn’t have any deadline in the middle of the season to acquire him at a set price and we really could just have waited to see if he recovered form at all. Had we gone down a kneejerk route of snapping him up after his first month when he looked one of the better midfielders in the division, in an attempt to ward off other suitors, then this would have been understandable if misguided. To spend that amount of money on someone who was already tailing off was borderline lunacy. A fortnight after penning that permanent deal, he was given time off for non-specific mental and physical “tiredness” which meant he missed our game at Bristol City (as it happens, our first win in nearly two months). So not only was his form not good, we were having to take the step of completely withdrawing him from contention for a short period. Within a month of signing him.

Sometimes a relegation can seem a little unjust on a club. Let there be no sense of that when it comes to Wolves in 2012/13; we got exactly what we deserved. The Solbakken experiment was canned after less than six months and if signing Doumbia permanently in the circumstances above seemed a nutjob decision, appointing Dean Saunders as our new manager in January 2013 swiftly eclipsed it for sheer madness. Doumbia featured in 11 further games under the worst manager in British football in the last 30 years – Saunders will get a blog all to himself one day, such is the scale of his idiocy that it might have to be split into chapters – and we sank to relegation with the Mali international providing an aptly plodding final few displays devoid of any heart or fight. We were back in the third tier of English football for the first time in 25 years, less than 18 months after picking up creditable draws at Arsenal and Tottenham in the Premier League. If you actively set out to destroy a club then you’d struggle to emulate what Steve Morgan’s floundering ownership served up in 2012 and the first half of 2013.

saunders1
I don’t know if it comes across in my writing, but I’m really not tremendously keen on this utter, utter moron. It’s a bit cryptic at times, I’ll grant you.

Kenny Jackett took over in the summer of 2013 and it was apparent that this squad, a mish-mash of assorted unintegrated imports and an old guard that was by this stage, looking very old, needed serious structural work as we approached the challenge of facing up against the might of Colchester and Tranmere. Though Doumbia avoided the brutal (but necessary) action of Jackett insisting that certain first team players train away from the rest of the group and the manager did initially say that he would take a look at him, a couple of friendlies were enough for Jackett to make up his mind and by the eve of the season Ken was openly telling the press that Doumbia was very much the last resort when it came to central midfield places. You would have to doubt whether he would have been up for third tier football in any case, even if he had been given an opportunity. On 7 August 2013 he was sent on loan to Valenciennes for the season where he did a neat Roger Johnson impression as they were relegated to Ligue 2. On the day he left, photos circulated on social media of him smoking a shisha pipe which pretty much summed up his priorities as a professional footballer. He returned to Wolves for pre-season training ahead of the 2014/15 season but was clearly well out of the picture and on this occasion he was indeed placed into a special (I use the term advisedly) group of senior players training on their own. On 29 August 2014 he left the club permanently for Toulouse in a deal thought to have been worth around £1,000,000. He has since made around 50 appearances for them in the last two and a half years, recently making a comeback from a seven month lay off due to a back injury, though his time back in France has been most notable for receiving an eight month prison sentence (commuted to wearing an electronic tag) for driving offences in 2015. That tag might have come in handy while he was at Wolves so we could work out if he was actually still on the pitch or not.

doumbia4
He did well to avoid a prison sentence just for wearing double denim.

Tongo Doumbia is, in terms of natural ability, more than capable of playing in the Championship as an absolute minimum. In terms of attitude, he is almost certainly destined to never live up to what he might have been. He serves very much as a lesson in researching what players are like away from the pitch as well as what they can do on it and above all to hold back on making a full judgement on players where possible. What they can offer on a good day is not necessarily the whole picture.