The Internet is, on the whole, a great thing for football fans. Gone are the days when information was limited to the local paper, an hour here and there on local radio in midweek, Ceefax and tantalising ClubCall adverts. If something’s happening at your club, then the details are out there, in real time. Leaving aside the fact that if there were no Internet, there’d be no place for me to run propaganda campaigns against hopeless Welsh relegation specialist managers or cumbersome Irish full backs. The world would undoubtedly be a poorer (if less repetitive) place.
All of this does, however, mean that there’s a huge amount of misinformation out there. Depending on taste, fans tend to run with whichever most optimistic/most pessimistic story they have read in some obscure corner of the Web and run with it as unadulterated fact. The issue we’ve had this summer is that it’s not just random crackpots that have been firing out the #fakenews regarding Wolves. It’s established outlets that really should know better. Once they start to spread tales of doom (or simply the clearly untrue), mud tends to stick. If there are valid criticisms of the club to be made, then it is of course of benefit to everyone that they’re heard. Rabid, blind optimism is as unhelpful as default ultra-pessimism. But you would think the actual media would bother to check some facts first or engage a bit of logic and common sense. Responsibility to the readership and all that. Or maybe that doesn’t matter any more, I lose track.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the theories that have been flying around in the last few weeks, ranging from the easily disprovable to the purely off-the-wall. Some of this will not be new information to many of you and I’m not revealing any huge secret knowledge here, much of it is already out there in the public domain for anyone to look at. Which makes it all the more galling that journalists don’t bother. Anyway…
“Wolves are in danger of breaching Financial Fair Play regulations”
The Football League continually move the goalposts on their own sketchily created rules, but for the time being, clubs in the Championship are permitted to lose up to £39m over a rolling three year period. Wolves’ last set of published accounts (for the year ending 31 May 2016) showed a profit of £5.8m. That profit therefore goes on top of the £39m in terms of what we are “allowed” to lose at the moment. So, are we about to announce a loss in excess of that, leaving us at the wrath of the vengeful League forces who will surely immediately relegate us to the Midland Combination League as punishment for our sheer nerve in brazenly breaking the law?
The answer is, of course, no. For a start, football accounts always run around nine months behind real time. Whatever we’re doing now won’t show up on the books until some time in early 2019. When we announce our next set of accounts (normally in February), this will reflect all of last season’s business, including the injection of equity from Fosun when they bought the club from Steve Morgan.
Secondly, players are treated as depreciating assets rather than fixed-sum cash purchases. When we sign a player, the transfer fee we’ve paid doesn’t immediately disappear in full from our books, not in an accounting sense (and that is all we are concerned with here). For simplicity’s sake, let’s say we’ve paid Porto a round £15m for Ruben Neves. We know we’ve handed him a five year contract. This means that for Financial Fair Play purposes, the cost of Neves is £3m per year, plus wages. Meanwhile, any player sales do show straight on the books as money in, in full, even if (as is common) the fee is being paid in instalments. So whatever we’ve received for George Saville, Jed Wallace and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson this summer from Millwall and Reading respectively – that goes straight onto the “profit” side of our balance sheet. If it’s anywhere near £3m for the three of them, which isn’t entirely fanciful, then that’s Year One of Neves “paid for” already. There will also almost certainly be more departures to come this summer to add to what we’ve already been able to write down as transfer income.
Furthermore, these rules only really affect us if we remain stuck in this division, like some recurring nightmare of the days of Mark McGhee. I already have enough nights waking up in terror having dreamt about a Darren Ferguson-Steve Corica-Mark Atkins midfield, so let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Bournemouth received a fine of £7.6m last year for breaching the regulations when they won promotion. But they’re in the Premier League. Do you think they really care about that kind of sum now? The ends justified the means in their case. So, if we ever did fall foul of Financial Fair Play – and we aren’t anything like close to doing so at the moment – and if it were ever to have the kind of impact that would materially damage us…it would mean we’ve failed to attain promotion. Which I’m sure would be Matt Doherty’s fault. Anyway, the upshot of that failure would be that just to pick one example, Helder Costa would want to leave. We’re already fortunate that he’s giving us a second season at this level. So, off he would pop for £20m or more, not only giving us a healthy profit on what we invested but giving us a nice clean £20m entry on that “profit” side of our books…and wiping out any such “problem”.
There is not a problem at all regarding Financial Fair Play at present
If we ever do find ourselves in trouble in this regard, it will be a long time in the future
If we are spending the kind of sums that we currently are and yet fail to ever get promoted, there is clearly something seriously wrong here that would be a lot more concerning than breaking some fairly tame and toothless regulations
If the time ever does come when this is a concern, players will be leaving us anyway. Not because we need the money to make the accounts look nice, but as a natural consequence of us failing to reach our goals. But happily it would solve this hypothetical problem at the same time
“Wolves have spent all their budget and cannot afford a striker”
This was being widely flashed around when we completed the signing of Neves. The narrative being that we’d reached the end of the line in terms of what the owners would fund themselves this summer and everything else had to be sourced through selling players. This didn’t ring true then and has since been blown out of the water with us signing Diogo Jota on loan with a view to a permanent deal from little known Champions League last four regulars Atletico Madrid. Handy really, as there isn’t a queue of clubs willing to hand us £10m in a double swoop for Joe Mason and Lee Evans.
Whatever people think of their tenure to date, Fosun are not stupid enough to do one or both of the following things; a) spend all our money on one player when there are still areas that desperately need addressing, b) look at our strikers’ pitiful returns from last season, sell one of those strikers and then refuse to bring in anyone else whatsoever to add to those attacking resources. I appreciate that Jeff Shi and Guo Guangchang probably aren’t China’s answer to Jonathan Wilson and Gary Neville, but I’m sure they understand that you need to score goals to win football matches. This is comfortably the toughest area to recruit and it may take some time. We may be waiting for our target to be allowed to leave his current club, which can’t happen until they in turn have signed their own new forward. We have to get this right; just look at the strikers we’ve signed in the last two years. Adam Le Fondre, Grant Holt, Joe Mason, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Paul Gladon. It doesn’t make for particularly pleasant reading. It would be easy enough to go and sign a striker right now, but there seems little point in doing that and ending up with another player who isn’t really up to scratch, purely to bulk out numbers. There will be at least one arriving, that much is an inevitability, and everything else about our transfer business suggests that they will be an exciting acquisition. Flapping around as if we’re not going to sign anyone is just perverse and defies logic.
To return to the budget issue, just like any other club that isn’t managed by Harry Redknapp, we have to keep an eye on the wage bill. We can’t allow it to spiral out of control and it’s pretty obvious that Neves and Jota haven’t come here to play for bus money and all the Wagon Wheels you can eat. However, we have plenty of headroom. We are not working from a base where we were already running a very high wage:turnover ratio and are piling a further load on top of that. For many years, we have run in an extremely conservative manner where that is concerned; indeed, many would argue that policy was the root of our failure to consolidate a Premier League place under Steve Morgan’s ownership. There is a degree of speculating to accumulate at the moment as the rewards should we reach the Premier League are obvious – Fosun also didn’t buy us to spend years and years mooching around the middle of the Championship. At this point, there is little reason to suspect they will allow our wage bill to spiral out of control. We’re also investing in genuine assets with a tangible value rather than chucking dead money at old players. On which note…
“Wolves’ backing is unfair and skews the division”
We have, of course, got obscene wealth behind us relative to our current status. I wouldn’t sit here and deny that we’re spending big in an attempt to gain promotion in the quickest time possible. Of course we are. However, we most certainly are not the only team splashing the cash in this league. Following relegation from the Premier League, Aston Villa proceeded to spend around £33m net of sales on new signings. That’s right, they went DOWN and went on to spend £33m more than they brought in. That’s not in any way normal. This summer they’ve gone down the road of bringing in “experience”, which invariably is just a polite word for “old players who aren’t wanted elsewhere any more”. The likes of Glenn Whelan, Ahmed Elmohamady and in particular John Terry will be on huge money by Championship standards and have zero resale value. It seems strange for the media to largely ignore what’s going on down the A38 – which is accompanied by a soundtrack of “Dr” Tony Xia tweeting bizarre equations which make him look like a Casio calculator on the blink, making up fictitious bids for Villa’s players and openly criticising players and other clubs – while it’s us that come under scrutiny and criticism. Maybe that’s the benefit of having a Proper Football Man like Steve Bruce as your manager. In terms of skewing the division, we briefly mentioned Bournemouth earlier on; when they went up, they reported annual losses of over £30m and a wage bill that was approaching three times their entire turnover. If that isn’t “skewing the division” then I’m not sure what is, but again, it all seemed to go under the radar.
Besides which, in an era of Premier League financial dominance, where any kind of prolonged stay in the top flight allows even historically small clubs to amass great sums of wealth and large parachute payments often lead many to conclude that the top flight will effectively become a closed shop at some point – witness Newcastle running a Premier League wage bill last season and the money Middlesbrough are currently spending despite selling no-one of any note to date – is it not better for the game as a whole that clubs presently outside of that circle are also able to compete? Unlike other clubs, past and present, we are not owned by a fly-by-night individual with dubious credentials as to how this is all being funded (hello again, Dr Tony. We must stop meeting like this). We are owned by a huge corporation with assets that run into the worth of tens of billions of pounds. We can afford what we’re doing.
“Jorge Mendes controls Wolves’ transfer activity”
Despite the board stating upon the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo that this is not the case, the innuendo continues to swirl that Mendes is using the club merely as a vehicle to park his players. The reality of the situation is this; Mendes has a material interest in making sure that his clients are well settled and find good moves. He has ties to our owners (there has never been any secret of this whatsoever). He can provide us with access to players that we would otherwise have absolutely no chance of attracting. He is not our Director of Football, he is not an employee of Wolverhampton Wanderers, he does not sit on our board and many of the players we are signing have past connections to our current Head Coach just as they do Mendes. It’s not necessary to like his involvement here or in football generally. The genie is very much out of the bottle though and like it or not, that’s the way the sport is now.
The immediate consequence for us is that we will begin this season with all of Helder Costa, Ruben Neves, Ivan Cavaleiro and Diogo Jota in our squad. In the Championship. Will Mendes want his pound of flesh in the future? Quite possibly. There may well come a time when these players are spirited away at his behest. But then again, we don’t really have any right to own them as it is, in an organic footballing sense. If they are attracting admiring glances from elsewhere, that means they’re doing well for us, which should in the process mean that as a whole, we are doing well. As someone who’s watched dozens, nay hundreds of execrable players pass through our doors over the last three decades, I’m not going to complain about being able to watch that kind of quality every week, even if some of it is only on a short term basis. Players don’t generally stick around for that long anywhere these days regardless of where they’ve come from or who represents them. Besides which, if people think that other clubs don’t operate in a climate whereby managers, Directors of Football and owners have their own preferred agents to deal with, they’re kidding themselves.
“Nuno and the players don’t have the required Championship experience”
If anyone could quantify what the mystical quality of “Championship experience” is for me, I’d be eternally grateful. Dave Edwards has it in bundles. Anyone fancy having him as a mainstay in central midfield next season? Grant Hanley is as ready made a “Championship experienced” player as you could get. Just won the league as well. I don’t recall reaction to his potential signing had we retained Paul Lambert being that favourable. In fact, by dint of playing loads of games for us over the last two seasons, quite a lot of the squad that finished 2016/17 have this fabled quality. Yet everyone knows we needed to clear them all out. Many players who have hundreds of games behind them at this level have that CV because they aren’t good enough to progress any further. That’s not to say that no-one who has that kind of career can be an asset, or it’s impossible for them to improve, but when you’re talking about “Championship experience”, you’re normally talking about players of relatively modest ability. We already have plenty of those. Our best player by a country mile last season was Helder Costa who was a completely new arrival to England, let alone this league with its apparently unique demands that are not replicated on any level in any other division in the entire world.
Personally, I’m not bothered where players and managers come from or where they’ve been before. I simply care if they’re good enough. Recent history suggests that on the managerial front, it’s far less of a factor than has been made out in the past. Rafa Benitez had never managed in this league before last season and won the league (so he should have, but that’s another argument). Slavisa Jokanovic has a promotion and a playoff finish to show for his 18 months in the Championship. Carlos Carvalhal has back to back top six finishes behind him. David Wagner led Huddersfield from lower mid-table nobodies to the Premier League. Now, it’s fair to say that this isn’t necessarily a portent to anything. There’s no guarantee that Nuno will work out here. There are certain adaptations that he will need to make; evidently the club trust him to do so. We don’t know if all our new signings will work out. There are examples of highly rated players and managers simply not grasping what is required in this division. Our old friend Stale Solbakken would be one of them, although there were a litany of factors behind his failure that don’t simply come down to “he doesn’t understand the Championship”. We’ll simply have to wait and see how this pans out. The notion that you can only succeed in the English second tier with a battle hardened manager with years of experience at this level, leading a mainly British squad that has spent the best part of a decade battling it out against Charlton, Hull and Birmingham is outdated. This is a physically demanding league, but not an overly complex one.
“Jordan Graham has had a fall out behind the scenes”
A minor point here perhaps but I’m getting thoroughly tired of the constant rumours about young Mr Graham and his supposed attitude. It’s true that he stalled and eventually failed to break through at Aston Villa because of his failings on that part. It’s also true that he was disciplined by the club last season (along with Kortney Hause). But it seems that every time he misses out on a squad, or is on the bench, or sometimes just at random, there’s someone who knows someone who knows someone who assures us that Jordan has fallen out with the manager. He even had to take to Twitter himself to scotch such talk when he missed the tour to Austria owing to a minor knock – Occam’s Razor would suggest that the club are being cautious with a gifted player who is still on the comeback trail from a very serious injury. But no, there has to be something else. Always. It was forever the same with Wayne Hennessey for some reason, I think I counted five separate occasions where he apparently wasn’t in the team because he’d fallen out with Mick McCarthy or wouldn’t sign a new contract. Of course serendipity dictated that he did eventually fall out with Kenny Jackett…but that’s another story.
It might turn out that Nuno doesn’t much fancy the way Graham plays, or doesn’t feel that he can fit him into his system, or we already have too many players to operate in the front three and he can’t force his way in. If that does turn out to be the case then it will be a real shame; the number of assists he has produced in his brief (to date) Wolves career showcases the talent he has. But there is nothing to suggest that he’s a habitual problem behind the scenes. It’s needless tittle-tattle and not helpful in the slightest.
“With four managers in a year, Fosun are just another trigger-happy foreign owner”
Obviously, you don’t really want to be making multiple managerial changes in less than 12 months. Not only does it suggest a large amount of instability at the club, but it also means that you’re frequently getting it wrong when you pick the man to lead the team. However in this case, it’s a context free statement that doesn’t really give the whole picture. This is all old ground but nevertheless:
Kenny Jackett shouldn’t really count in this discussion. He barely lasted a week under Fosun. He took charge of a grand total of 0 games (we played one friendly while he was still here after Fosun took over, and handed control to Joe Gallen). He was the incumbent manager following a takeover and was moved on when they decided they wanted their own man, having very little left in terms of personal credit after a poor season. So far, so normal. It’s actually far less common for new owners to retain the existing manager.
Fosun clearly courted Julen Lopetegui throughout the takeover process but as it dragged on for weeks longer than anticipated, he somehow got attracted by the prospect of working with Isco, Cesc Fabregas, Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio. I can’t think why anyone would want to do that. Nevertheless, we had to deal with that snub very quickly as the season was quickly approaching. Inexperienced as they are in the world of football, they went with someone known to them and a famous face in Walter Zenga. Everything about Zenga suggested that he would be a short term appointment, right down to him being handed a one year fixed term deal. Despite a few encouraging early results, it was evident at a reasonably early stage that he was never going to be the man to take us up and the board took the decision – amid dubious off-field conduct – to remove him from his post. I’m not really sure where the controversy lies here. We needed someone extremely quickly and we decided when the dust had settled that we required something different. Or maybe we should have just carried on with someone with very few credentials to manage at this level and who had a record of rapidly declining results.
Paul Lambert came in and after an indifferent start could be summed up as follows: good run, awful run, good run, poor run. There simply wasn’t enough there to suggest that he’d come up with a formula – with six months to do so – that would have us competing at the top end of the league. There were far too many poor displays and puzzling decisions to allay doubts and the opportunity was there to go for a perceived upgrade. So we took it, knowing that Lambert just hadn’t shown enough. We could of course have kept a manager over whom we had serious doubts and allowed him to waste time and money taking us down a course we didn’t really want. In the process wrecking another season. Or we could have made a clean break, which we did.
Yeah, Nuno is number four. We’ve just appointed him. We haven’t sacked him.
There are definite criticisms to be made of Fosun’s first year in charge but it’s not one that’s entirely dissimilar to any number of other foreign owners who have since gone on to make a success of their time in English football. They have had to learn on the job and work out what is effective and what isn’t. Nuno is their man and they have given him ample resources so far, and we shall see how it pans out. As my crystal ball is currently away for repair, I don’t know for sure what will happen. But if we do fail and Nuno becomes another casualty, it won’t be because of a trigger-happy mentality. Barring an absolute disaster, I fully expect him to be given at least a full season.
I think that wraps most of it up. As I said at the outset, none of this should be remotely controversial; what baffles me is that newspapers and high profile websites choose to run with articles that patently are based in falsehood. It’s all easily checkable and a lot of it relies on a simple assessment of what the most likely scenario is. But hey, I guess that doesn’t get as many hits or sales.
Now, let’s get back to action, starting on Saturday at home to Leicester in our final friendly. There’ll be a report of some kind up on Sunday or Monday. I promise not to be too horrible about anyone.
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