REACTION: MANCHESTER CITY 0-0 WOLVES (LOST ON PENS)

So close to the perfect performance…

Never mind the scoreline

You’d think after sitting through two scoreless hours, watching us lose on penalties and ending up getting home at 2.15am, I’d be less than best pleased. While the terrible logistics of exiting Manchester city centre by road and the laughable state of the M6 don’t get off the hook (Richard Branson has never had a better advert for his train company), this was a tremendous game to watch. Tons of action at either end, a tactical battle between an up-and-coming European coach and one of the world’s best, the Championship’s best taking on the best team in the country, a referee who allowed the game to flow and a Wolves team putting absolutely everything on the line. It may have finished 0-0, but you couldn’t take your eyes off it for a second. All of which makes a further mockery of Sky’s decision to show Swansea vs Manchester United – a fixture which they’ve already shown once this season, and which for the second time resulted in a stroll of an away win. Our game would surely have held more interest for the neutral and given the make up of the two teams, was more likely to provide better entertainment.

Sitting on this bloody road is about as entertaining as watching Kenny Jackett’s Wolves circa April 2016.

Wholesale changes worked out well

There appeared to be some consternation towards us making nine changes from Saturday’s victory over Preston with only Danny Batth and Conor Coady retaining their places – and were Willy Boly fully fit, it’s likely one of those would also have dropped out. With City fielding a very strong team including both Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus, our prospects at kick-off did not look good. However, every single one of those players – many of whom have had very limited action this season – did themselves proud. Of course, City had chances. They are, after all, one of the highest scoring teams in Europe. They had spells in possession where we struggled to get the ball back and some of their one touch stuff around the box is mesmerising. But we never looked overawed. It would be a surprise if any of Ryan Bennett, Jack Price or Ben Marshall started many league games this season barring a monumental injury crisis, all of them have their own natural limitations which can’t ever really be overcome, but all stuck to their task and had good games. There was an encouraging cameo from Connor Ronan who is unfortunate not to be getting much gametime given his natural ability. Kortney Hause hadn’t played a senior game since May but slotted back in to the defence and produced a number of critical, impressive interventions. We’re now in the position where we have a squad that can be relied upon – by definition, your back up players aren’t going to be as good as the first choices, yet whoever needs to slot in to this team knows their role and doesn’t look likely to let us down.

Sergio celebrates finally escaping from Danny Batth’s pocket.

Will Norris and Ruben Vinagre

Four months ago, Will Norris was playing for Cambridge United in League Two and Ruben Vinagre had never played a senior game of any description for any club. Last night, I couldn’t split them in a call for Man of the Match away at Manchester City. Norris made two mistakes, both kicking errors, both rectified by himself immediately with a smart save. Beyond that, his distribution was generally good, his command of the box is excellent and decisive and he has showcased the ability to make saves that he has no real right to pull off. Four games for Wolves (plus an extra hour thanks to two lots of extra time), two of them away at Premier League clubs, and he’s yet to concede a goal. Vinagre was up against Danilo, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker over the two hours last night. Just the £125m or so’s worth of players there. Not for a second did he look out of his depth. His engine is such that in the 115th minute he was still charging the length of the field to set up an attack for us, his skill is such that he made Walker look a chump as he outwitted him near the corner flag. These two players aren’t in our first choice XI at present; they should both be a big part of our future. Two outstanding talents (in Vinagre’s case, any option to sign him permanently should be taken up as soon as possible).

Time to break out the “sign him up” chant

So near, yet so far for Bright

There hasn’t been much for me to complain about this season; one small grumble has been the tendency of our fans to start groaning at Bright Enobakhare every time he holds on to the ball for a nanosecond too long. His raw talent is apparent, he is just 19 years of age and this was just his 19th start in senior football. Treating a young player like that isn’t called for and isn’t going to help him in his development. So it should be encouraging that he had his best game in a Wolves shirt by some distance. Playing as the central striker in place of the rested Leo Bonatini, his use of the ball was sharper and more intelligent, he dropped into midfield to show a level of responsibility not often sighted from him before, he showed impressive strength and resilience to occupy the two City centre halves and his workrate was top notch. As I say, it should be encouraging. This should have been a watershed night for him. Unfortunately, it will be remembered for him failing to put the final touch on his display as he managed to miss three one-on-one opportunities. He crafted the first two of those two chances himself, and it must be said that the first in particular was no gimme with the angle relatively tight and only a small area of Claudio Bravo’s goal to aim at. Helder Costa’s second half chance was a better opening than that. But the over-elabaration allowing Tosin Adarabioyo to get back and block and hitting the ball straight at Bravo following a run in on goal right down the centre of the pitch…they genuinely were gilt-edged. All the more so with the final chance coming right on 90 minutes. That really was the game, right there. We have to hope that he can build on this display and not dwell too much on the misses; he is clearly a confidence player and the support staff will have to make sure that he concentrates on the multiple positives from last night.

Nuno gets it right…again

The pedigree of Nuno wasn’t in question before he arrived at Molineux. You don’t manage Valencia and Porto in your early 40s if you’re an absolute chancer. However, there are many cases of highly-fancied foreign coaches not being able to implement their ideas in English football and while some of the criticism of his appointment in the summer was ill-informed and even at times xenophobic, some caution was understandable. If anyone still held any doubts whatsoever about him, they should have comprehensively been extinguished last night. This was Manchester City’s form from the beginning of September going into the game: 5-0, 4-0, 6-0, 2-1, 5-0, 2-0, 1-0, 7-2, 2-1, 3-0. It’s fairly ominous, to say the least. Most managers – let alone managers in charge of a Championship team – would have simply parked the bus, setting up a wall of players across the pitch and hoping to keep the scoreline down to a respectable level. This was not how we played. While we did sit deep at times – Ryan Bennett in particular played as more of a conventional right back rather than the normal wing back role that is occupied by Matt Doherty – there was always an attempt to play our own football and an increasing threat on the break. To reiterate – we carved out four clear one-on-one chances. Away from home. At the team who will probably win the Premier League and even have a chance of winning the Champions League. The way we reverted into our shape whenever we lost the ball was incredibly impressive for this is how City often kill teams; by making a turnover of possession become a goal inside seconds. There was little opportunity for them to do that here as no sooner had they got the ball back, all the space had been filled back up by a gold shirt. Our manager completely matched Pep Guardiola last night. That should be an unthinkable thing to say. We had Pep worried to the point where he had to bring on around £200m worth of players in Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Leroy Sané. For all the many, many, many merits of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, Nuno was our best acquisition of the summer and by some distance too. Thankfully he appears to be fully immersed in our project and so the prospects of him leaving for a vacant Premier League job seem, at present, to be remote. We’re very lucky indeed to have him.

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ASSESSING AUGUST

Looking back over the first month of the season

First up, my apologies that there’s been no content of late. I just needed a bit of a break and then it made little sense to publish this piece before the transfer window closed. But anyway, I’m back now. May the world rejoice.

So, let’s break down how we’ve started the campaign:

Results

You can’t really complain about running at two points a game. It takes a fairly freakish set of circumstances for that not to be top two form over the course of a season. It’s even more impressive when you consider who it is we’ve played; most would have Middlesbrough, Derby, Hull and Brentford pegged as top 10 teams at least, and Cardiff have won every single game to date somehow (as much as I dislike Neil Warnock, he deserves great credit for what he’s done in South Wales. The knob). Faced with a tough start, we’ve come up with the goods so far. Cardiff was deeply disappointing – it’s fair to point out that the refereeing in that game was criminally poor, but that’s not what cost us the game – but every other result has been a good one. Brentford may be struggling at the moment but in time I believe that will be seen as a decent point. We’ve also beaten yet another Premier League team away from home with literally a reserve team. Even allowing for the excitement surrounding our new signings, it’s been a better start than many could have envisaged.

“Another one nailed off the ball! Get in”

The New Arrivals

What has been encouraging is that the vast majority of the new signings have fitted in straight away. Ruben Neves is a magician and has no business playing at this level; the same applies to Diogo Jota who will light up this league. Leo Bonatini looks to be a solid striker with a technical base that will allow us to play off and around him. Willy Boly is a man mountain at the back, although does have a slight penchant for the odd girly flick to put us in trouble, while John Ruddy looks like the keeper we’ve needed for the last five years and will be pushed hard by the very promising Will Norris. Barry Douglas is an actual left back and again, has strong competition from the exciting Ruben Vinagre. You might slightly quibble that Roderick Miranda has occasionally looked a little uneasy (although he’s been fairly decent overall), reports from his previous clubs on last minute arrival Alfred N’Diaye are mixed, Ryan Bennett looks…clunky to say the least, and we’re yet to see anything from Phil Ofosu-Ayeh who arrived with a slightly iffy injury record and is apparently yet to join full training. Overall though, this window represents exceptional incoming business with far from a huge outlay by current standards. By and large, they look players willing to accept what the Championship has to offer and to face that challenge head on. Admittedly we might need to wait until the temperature drops below 10 degrees to see what they’re really made of. Except Glasgow-born Douglas of course.

Two top notch signings.

Credit is also due to the club in bringing in £8.5m for a raft of unwanted and unsuitable players, a figure well above what anyone could have envisaged when the 2016/17 campaign drew to a close. If nothing else, you’d hope it would end any flapping about Financial Fair Play for now (to reiterate, we aren’t in any danger of breaching that at all).

The System

As we all know, we’ve shifted to a 3-4-2-1 system this season with Conor Coady at the heart of the back three, wingbacks pushed high up the pitch and two inside forwards playing behind a lone central striker. As we have seen, results and performances have generally been good so far. I do, however, have some concerns about the current set-up:

  1. While this may be a vision of Nuno’s that he’s had for some time, he has never played three at the back with any regularity at any of his previous clubs. Indeed his past experience of playing this formation extends to one league game and two cup games at Valencia. Furthermore, very few of our players have much, if any, prior experience of playing in such a shape. This means that everyone is learning on the job as we go, in a division where three at the back predominantly tends to be an early season experiment which gets ditched before the leaves have started falling. It’s not to say that it won’t work, and early signs aren’t bad at all. But what we don’t have here is a situation where a manager has come in and decided to play in a way that he has stuck to for years at all his previous clubs; this is an experiment on his part.

  2. Even in the past two seasons when we’ve been absolutely diabolical at Molineux, plenty of bottom half teams have come here and set up for a point. Now that we have upgraded our squad to the point where we should be expecting a top six place as a bare minimum, this is going to apply even more. With that in mind, do we really need three centre halves, two career full backs (no matter how much they are pushed on – and Matt Doherty is not a proper attacking option on the right hand side in any case) and two central midfielders who by inclination will tend to sit rather than push into the attacking third? That’s seven players who you could nominally describe as defensively minded. I certainly have no problem with clean sheets being a highly valued currency – and five inside a calendar month is encouraging – and I wouldn’t expect us to be ripping teams apart 4-0 and 5-0 with any regularity. However, when the onus is on us to attack, it does seem a little like defensive overkill in terms of balance. We may well need some flexibility in this respect and Saturday’s match at home to Millwall will be a good test of how we approach a game against opponents who won’t be looking to go at us from the off.

    Not that I believe that the seasons will follow the same path (and we certainly have a far better squad and manager than we did then) but we ended August 2005 with a league record of P6 W3 D2 L1, playing possession heavy football with a new formation and looking well set for a promotion push. Then the rest of the season happened. Now, Nuno isn’t Glenn Hoddle. He isn’t relying on the current day equivalent of Darren Anderton to be our creative force. Nor is he that likely to stick Bonatini on the left wing. But the point is that if we set up in this way, we have to be very careful that we’re not easily nullified. Allowing for the fact that we have played one heavily fancied team and one team with a 100% record so far, we have not created much at all in our two home league games to date. If that pattern were to continue, then there would be cause for concern.

  3. This leads in to the worry that the formation doesn’t allow us to get all of our attacking players on the pitch at the same time. There are three spots and when everyone is fit, all of Leo Bonatini, Helder Costa, Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro, Bright Enobakhare, Ben Marshall (if he is not employed in the right wing back role), Michal Zyro and Donovan Wilson will be vying to fill them. Of course, none of those players are going to play every game and having the likes of Cavaleiro waiting in the wings represents strong strength in depth. You do wonder, however, if there might be certain games where we’re better off ditching a superfluous defender in favour of getting an extra attacking option on the pitch. Jota in particular seems to have the skillset to flourish as a number 10 just as much as he’s an incredibly exciting option from slightly wider. We’ve already felt compelled to send Jordan Graham out on loan as he’s unlikely to get games in one of the inside forward positions; we could do without others becoming disenchanted because the preferred shape doesn’t allow them enough game time.

The End of Edwards

So finally, it’s over. Almost ten years of watching Dave Edwards has come to a close. Let’s get a few things out of the way first up; no-one at all would ever criticise Edwards’ effort, desire, ability to get the absolute maximum from his ability or affinity to the club. He’s clearly a very, very nice guy who does some fantastic work off the pitch and would never have caused a minute’s trouble for anyone even if he’d been forced into a peripheral role this season. He probably does deserve a testimonial despite falling just short of a decade’s worth of service. It’s nice to have that kind of character in football. All of that is inarguable.

Unfortunately, none of that in itself wins you any points at all over the course of a season. Not only did Edwards have no role whatsoever fit for him with the way we are set up to play under Nuno, but he didn’t even fulfil the brief given to him under much more traditional and prosaically “Championship” managers that we’ve had here. The Express & Star’s piece on his departure took a snipe at fans who “wouldn’t ignore what he couldn’t do”’; I’m not sure how we’re supposed to ignore the fact that a central midfielder can’t pass or tackle. The official site ran a saccharine-infused piece describing him as a “special player in a workmanlike McCarthy team” despite him averaging fewer than 20 starts a season under McCarthy and that team containing some of the best attacking players I’ve ever seen play for us in my 30 seasons of attendance. He didn’t have the ability to play in central midfield as his work in possession was so poor. It’s no coincidence that results slumped under Paul Lambert when he inexplicably restored Edwards to the number 10 role in February of this year. His infrequent runs of goalscoring were welcome, but there were at least an equal number of runs where he’d score at a rate of around 1 in 20 and contribute nothing else.

Had we been more brutal and ruthless in terms of squad management in the McCarthy days, his time would have been up upon promotion to the Premier League, or at very latest following our first season at that level. There have been many, many games where his deficiencies have cost us, no matter how much running he did. Most teams put their most creative and technically skilled player at number 10; we put our least creative player there, month after month under both Jackett and Lambert. This was a day which should have come long ago and the surprise is not that Nuno – unencumbered by existing staff members who might have sung Edwards’ praises – had no use for him, but that it’s Reading who have signed him despite playing perhaps the most possession heavy style of any team in the entire division. But that really is their problem, not ours.

He’s a great guy. I can easily name you 50 Wolves players I’ve disliked more and double that number who’d have had better careers here if they’d adopted Dave’s work ethic. I wish him every success, except when he’s in direct competition with us. But please, spare me the rose-tinted stuff. I didn’t enjoy watching him play and nor did thousands of others.

Captain, Leader, Pointer. I’m sure we’ll survive without him.

The Striker Shortage

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Paul Gladon, Andreas Weimann, Joe Mason, Nouha Dicko. All first team strikers for us at various points last season, all no longer at the club. After a season in which not one of them scored more than three goals for us, it would be fair to say that a clearout was necessary. Of course, everyone hoped that we would sign more than one dedicated central striker to replace them, but our bid to bring in PSV’s Jürgen Locadia fell through at the last minute and any secondary targets failed to arrive.

The club don’t escape criticism here. Locadia was by no means the only player in the world that we could have signed and to leave the signing of a player in such a key position so late in the window always had an element of playing with fire about it – while accepting that strikers do tend to be the most difficult players to sign. We had ample opportunity to bring someone in and failed to do so.

Some of the criticism however is wide of the mark. Of those players listed above, surely only Dicko would class as someone who fans would actually still want at the club. Dicko himself had shown this season that he was a deeply imperfect fit for the role required from the central striker now and his inability to hold the ball almost contributed to us dropping points against Middlesbrough. He has rarely looked anything like the player he was before his devastating injury two years ago and picking up £3.5m for a striker who has scored four goals since May 2015 is not to be sniffed at. It doesn’t seem that likely that he’s going to be back to his best any time soon and the manager clearly didn’t fancy him as a serious option. His judgement has to be trusted. It is also better for us to stick with what we have than just sign anyone to be seen to be doing something. Every time Jordan Hugill was mentioned as a potential target, a chill ran down my spine in a manner I’ve not experienced since I saw Steve Corica’s name on the teamsheet every week. Dwight Gayle and Jordan Rhodes are fine goalscorers at this level but are they really equipped to do what we would need them to do? I would suggest not.

This is where just signing anyone gets you.

Of course, we are now crossing our fingers that Bonatini can build on his promising start and stay fit. There is some scope for Cavaleiro being able to play centrally, but at the moment we’re guessing whether he will or won’t be able to perform effectively there. It’s a state of affairs which could end up costing us dearly and I reiterate, a situation the club should not have allowed us to get into. But time will tell. If we are indeed loitering around 9th place come Christmas, it won’t be because we sold Nouha Dicko.

On we go to two eminently winnable home fixtures against Millwall and Bristol City; check back here next week for reaction to both games.

Oscillating Wildly is a “pay-as-you-feel” website. The content will never disappear behind a paywall. However, if you enjoy my work and would like to help me continue to write – as this is essentially my main focus now – please consider making a small donation via the button near the top of the page. If you want to and can, that’s great. If not, then no worries.

SOMEBODY IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET

Serious business

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.

“International Striker signs”, they said. Thanks ClubCall.

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.

Bod reacts to moving to a ground where a B&Q warehouse is the nearest attraction.

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”.

To summarise:

  • 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.

Come on Championship clubs. I can do you a highlight reel of er, six goals.

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.

He is available on a free and has played for lots of clubs, which is a good thing, or so says Big Kevvy T.

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.

I’ll give him some small credit for this one.

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.

Turns out he probably can do it on a wet Wednesday in *insert grim, inevitably Northern ground here*

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.

Don’t let me down, man.

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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ALL CHANGE (AGAIN): LAMBERT LEAVES

Six month tenure ended this morning

How has it come to this?

The story regarding Paul Lambert’s future at Molineux first broke three weeks ago, with the narrative being that Lambert himself was considering his future as a result of a disagreement regarding transfer policy; specifically that Jorge Mendes, rather than Lambert, would be placed in charge of recruitment this summer. However, this is a question of performance and competence rather than any kind of clash behind the scenes regarding our future strategy on signings. That story in the Telegraph was planted by either Lambert himself, or someone close to him, in an attempt to limit any damage to his reputation when he already knew that his position was seriously under threat, or even that his fate had already been decided. It’s much better for his future career prospects if a picture can be painted that he was sawn off by the powers that be rather than dismissed for poor results. It might well be that he would prefer more autonomy than we are set to offer to any Head Coach, but that isn’t the reason this has happened. There has not been a breakdown in relations or a critical rupture regarding how the football side of the club is operated. Fosun have reviewed how the team has performed since the Scot arrived and they deem it to be unsatisfactory. They aren’t sufficiently convinced that he is the man to take us forward from here and so he has been sacked. It’s a fairly standard, straightforward, footballing matter. As much as some elements of the media would wish it to be otherwise.

Mentioning no names.

How to assess Lambert’s time in charge?

It wouldn’t be fair to paint Lambert’s time here as an unmitigated disaster, but he simply hasn’t done enough to further his cause. His immediate brief was to avoid relegation – a state of affairs that we shouldn’t even have been remotely considering after we’d made the investment we had in the summer – and we ended up doing that with a degree of comfort, though for a time in February and March our prospects looked bleak. Beyond that, there wasn’t all that much to suggest that he could take us beyond severe inconsistency and overall mid-table returns. Fosun will have expected him to pull us out of a relegation scrap (which he did, through December and January) and keep us well away from the bottom end of the table, even though a push for the top six was already all but unattainable by the time he arrived. Sinking back into the mire through the late winter was not on the agenda. Our five successive league defeats included shocking performances against Burton, Wigan and Birmingham and the general paucity of our play – as well as picking up 0 points against teams who ended up finishing well below us – will not have escaped the attention of the board.

Grim home defeat to an awful team, in front of a 2/3 full stadium with Dave Edwards flapping his arms about. That’s basically 2015-2017 at Molineux.

The FA Cup run was a welcome surprise, particularly coming almost a decade since we’d had any kind of progress in any cup competition. To beat good Premier League teams on their own patch, and deservedly so, will live long in the memory. When we won at Anfield it genuinely seemed like we were on to something under Lambert. However, perversely the run didn’t help him out in the long run. He somehow got it into his mind that the tactics that had beaten Liverpool would serve us well going forward. Yet this was never likely to work; we played that way in that specific game knowing that Liverpool would be relentlessly attacking us, we would need to soak up that pressure and play exclusively on the break. With the best will in the world, Burton and Wigan are never going to face up against Wolves, home or away, and adopt that approach. The upshot of which was we spent a month playing very little football at all, continually looking for an early ball forward which proved fruitless as the forwards were surrounded by defenders who hadn’t pushed on, there was no space in behind to exploit as there had been against Jürgen Klopp’s men. Predictably enough, it didn’t work. Had we not scored two late goals at Brentford in March – a game which, in fairness, we fully deserved to win – then there’s every chance he might not have seen the season out, although it’s hard to think who we could have appointed at that stage.

Basically, you’d have been into the realms of this idiot.

In general there were few clear signs of how Lambert wanted us to play. It’s true that he pushed the full backs on more than Walter Zenga did. He eventually shifted Ivan Cavaleiro into the number ten role to good effect. He continued to get serious output out of Helder Costa (though Lambert is well wide of the mark when he suggests that Costa was in and out of the team before he arrived). The signing of Ben Marshall indicated that he valued footballing ability in the wide areas just as much as raw pace and directness. He granted debuts to Connor Ronan and Morgan Gibbs-White, two excellent young footballers. These were all small good signs yet our games were still characterised by slack passing, an overly direct approach at times, a lack of cohesion, players not showing for the ball, significant periods where we appeared shapeless…I have some sympathy with him because he didn’t have the greatest tools at his disposal. We were never likely to spend big in January given that we were out of contention for promotion and as such, were not going to be well placed to pick up any high profile players at that stage. There isn’t a manager in the country who’ll turn George Saville and Dave Edwards into acceptable passers of the ball. But then no-one made him pick them. We simply didn’t even resemble a decent team in the bulk of his games in charge and there certainly isn’t any excuse for the tepid displays once survival had been all but secured at the start of April. At a time when we had nothing to play for, to refuse to experiment, to still play in a fashion whereby we seemed to be happy to try to eke points out at the expense of playing with any flair at all (the 0-0 draw with Blackburn was particularly puzzling) was not a good advert for our future prospects under him.

Lambo signals the number of shots on target we had in that game.

Ultimately, a month ago I wasn’t calling for his head. The points return that he managed (41 points from 30 games, 1.36 PPG) would equate to a tally of around 62 points over a full season, enough for around 11th place in this or most other seasons. Given the litany of issues facing the squad, whereby we don’t even have one genuinely capable option in several key positions, that probably isn’t far off the limit of what anyone could have got out of these players, although the fact that results tended to come in bursts of either winning or losing form with nothing in between doesn’t necessarily help perception. He didn’t do a bad job, but he certainly didn’t do enough to secure his own position. It’s apparent that the owners expected more. Personally, I can’t say I’ve shed any tears since it was clear that he was soon to be on his way. Other than the ones I shed every day about our left back situation. I certainly cannot agree with some of the handwringing that’s already on show about his supposed “shabby treatment”. The only reason he appears to have been left on the hook for the last three weeks is because someone from his side of the fence chose to leak a story regarding uncertainty surrounding his position. The club have played no part in that. They’ve assessed his contribution to date and concluded that it isn’t sufficient for us any more. That’s football. I can’t see what is manifestly “shabby” about that.

Where does this leave us?

Barring a major surprise being sprung, Nuno Espirito Santo will be announced as Lambert’s successor in the coming days. On the face of it, a Championship club should never be able to attract a manager who has Valencia and Porto as his most recent two clubs; furthermore, he led Valencia to a fourth place finish in La Liga as recently as 2014/15 and this season, lost a mere two league games with Porto, one of them being a final day dead rubber when their challenge for the title was already over. Although he failed to pick up any silverware with Porto, Benfica’s dominance in Portugal is not exclusive to this campaign; Porto have failed to win any trophy since 2013. It is through Jorge Mendes that we have been able to tempt him into the dizzying prospect of midweek encounters at Portman Road and The Den, Nuno being his first ever client. Being familiar with Mendes and being open to his players being brought to the club (as happened with Nuno at Valencia) is going to be crucial for any Head Coach as we move forward.

Two syllable name ending in a vowel. Instant terrace hero.

Some fans may not like this prospect but they are simply going to have to get used to it. Fosun have a serious financial and emotional stake in Gestifute and it will be through them that we source a large proportion of our signings. I think we’d all take a couple more Helder Costas. It is of course up to Mendes to furnish his man with the requisite quality – players, of course, that have to be willing to come to the Championship and buy into what this league requires – and at this stage, we have to operate with the faith that he will live up to his end of the bargain. It would make little sense for him to place a trusted client at a club where he clearly has an ongoing involvement, then send him signings of the calibre of Ola John. Time will tell. While it wouldn’t be fair to castigate Lambert wholesale on mere rumours, it’s telling that no-one thought it outlandish that his supposed targets included Jason Steele, Grant Hanley and Jordan Hugill. I would suggest it is likely that Mendes can offer us better than that. Additionally, the success in the Championship of late from the likes of Slavisa Jokanovic, Jaap Stam, Aitor Karanka (not that I would ever welcome his brand of footballing torpor to Molineux) and David Wagner suggests that the days when managerial experience of this league was a prerequisite are over. Worry about the talent of the man in charge before you consider the colour of his passport.

Making three managerial changes in less than a year is not ideal. Optimally you would seek to find the right man straight away and let that side of affairs look after itself. However, what the flux suggests is that Fosun are never going to be content with mediocrity. There is no chance that the club will be allowed to drift along as one of those teams that enter August each year with the vague hope that they might sort of challenge for sixth place if everything turns out well. The ambition is to get out of this league (at the right end, so apologies Deano, but you need to not apply) at the earliest possible opportunity. This cannot be a bad thing. I know that I’m not happy watching us finish 15th. I know I’m not happy with successive sub-60 points finishes in what remains a fairly ordinary division – for evidence of which, have a re-watch of yesterday’s Championship playoff final. Go on, I dare you. I know I’m definitely not happy watching the players that have contributed to the last two years of drudgery and are the sole common factor across those two campaigns. We need to change and it needs to be pretty radical, there is no value in wasting time or offering more opportunities to those who have conclusively proven that they are not up to the task. For many years, fans have bemoaned our coaching structure and called for a clearout. They’ve got their wish as Lambert is followed through the exit door by Stuart Taylor, Rob Edwards and Tony Daley (with Pat Mountain also set to be downgraded from first team matters if he remains at the club). Nuno will bring in all his own men. They’ve looked at other clubs and lamented that we are never as “ruthless” as they are. Well, they’ve done that now as well. More than once.

We need them to get an appointment right, one that sticks and one that brings us success. We need this soon because if we end up in a long-running cycle of failed appointments that don’t end up seeing out even a full season, it certainly won’t help the perception of the club, particularly when it comes to recruitment. If they do continue to get it wrong and we fester in this league for any length of time, questions will rightly be asked. But the signs are that Nuno will be given the tools to succeed, and he has a pedigree that should be wholly unmatched in this division next season. This club is changing; perhaps attitudes need to change along the way.