Assessing our business in the post-Christmas bunfight
Rafa Mir (c.£1.5m from Valencia)
Amazing how opinion can turn so quickly on a player. An hour or so before kickoff against Brentford at the start of the month, reports emerged that we were close to signing Mir and in the process beating Real Madrid to secure his services. As you do. Cue much excitement, especially when he was handed the number 9 shirt. After 104 minutes of football, he’s been written off in some quarters as “not ready” and “we need better”. It’s more than a trifle harsh. He came within inches of scoring on his debut at home to Swansea, put in a reasonable showing off the bench at Barnsley and was given the last 12 minutes in a desperate cause at home to Nottingham Forest (at which point we stopped crossing the ball, which we’d persevered with for the previous 78 minutes. Football teams are odd sometimes). I didn’t see his sole start at Swansea, where by all accounts he struggled to get into the game and his touch was found wanting, and I’ll have to trust those reports. But that seems scant reasoning to more or less discount him having any kind of impact for us. Early impressions are that he’s mobile enough for a 6’3” forward, could provide an aerial option of sorts if we adapted our overall game to suit and his general technique looks fairly sound. He’ll need time, he’s clearly not the finished article and is only just making his way in senior football, let alone in English football. A bit of patience would be nice.
Andreas Sondergaard (Undisclosed from Odense)
The arrival of the Denmark U17 keeper would seem to signal the impending end to the Wolves careers of Jon Flatt (who is 24 in September and has played precious little first team football at any level given his age) and Harry Burgoyne (who’ll always have Anfield, much like Darren Roberts will always have St Andrews). Hopefully whoever spotted Will Norris in the inexplicable semi-obscurity of a mid-table League Two team is the same person who has recommended Sondergaard. He doesn’t have too much to do to break into the upper echelons of Danish Wolves players; there’s not much to beat between Allan Nielsen, Jorgen Nielsen, Jacob Laursen, Mikkel Bischoff, Jan Budtz and Oskar Buur Rasmussen.
Diogo Jota (Reported €14m from Atletico Madrid, to go through on 1 July)
The big one. I don’t need to wax lyrical about his quality; that much is obvious. He’s an obscenely talented player and has only just turned 21. For us to tie up a permanent deal for him is superb work on the part of the club. The option to sign him was always written into the agreement made with Atletico in the summer, but had he decided that the bright lights of the Penn Road weren’t for him, there would have been nothing that we could have done. Undoubtedly he is good enough to play for genuine top level clubs across Europe even at this stage and yet he’s ours, properly ours, from the start of July. It doesn’t seem real. And to think that what we paid for him wouldn’t have got you the dream team strike partnership of Gary Madine and Jordan Hugill yesterday.
Reimao Nogueira (Unattached, previously at Fiorentina)
Transfermarkt reliably informs me that he’s spent spells at Sporting CP, Chelsea and Fiorentina before pitching up here, which is a decent enough CV. Then again, Fabio Borini has somehow managed to get Chelsea, Roma, Liverpool and AC Milan to sign him and he’s absolutely pap. We’re in the slightly odd position of being short on bodies for the U23 team given how many players we’ve loaned out from that group, so he should get a chance to make an impression between now and the end of the season.
Ben Stevenson (Undisclosed from Coventry, loaned to Colchester)
A bright debut season at Coventry has been followed by a campaign where he’s struggled for minutes, so it may seem odd for a team bound for the Premier League to be signing someone who is the on the fringes of a League Two outfit. That said, he has been extremely highly rated through age group football – with favourable comparisons to James Maddison at different stages – and it will be interesting to see how he progresses. Presumably Colchester have promised him first team football which is preferable to loaning him straight back to the Sky Blues only for him to sit on the sidelines. We’ve had issues in recent times in getting highly rated players from U23 football to progress fully, so Stevenson could end up being a test case for our future ability in this area.
Benik Afobe (Loan for c.£1m from Bournemouth)
There’s no point in denying it, I was one of the minority who wasn’t really in favour of taking Benik back. This isn’t on the part of some long-standing grudge (not that I’m above such things, I still haven’t forgiven Michael McIndoe for that penalty against Blues in 2007). I don’t agree with the theory that he downed tools during his first spell here; despite some truly abysmal football around him and the worst service this side of a Little Chef, he put in the effort right to the end, even when hopelessly isolated and reduced to feeding off what weren’t even scraps. I also don’t blame him for leaving in the first place. Although it isn’t really on to say that you want to put down roots at a club then angle to leave a few months later, we were, let’s face it, in a right old mess. We’d gone from a team showing top 3-4 form in his first four months here to one that was showing all the hallmarks of a lower mid-table outfit at best. The club was up for sale with seemingly no imminent prospect of anything happening (we know now that early negotiations were ongoing, but it’s doubtful the players were any more aware of this than the fans were at this stage). The squad had been shorn of quality and the style of play was one which would disencourage any forward worth his salt. A Premier League club came in and that was that. No problem there at all.
No, my issue with the signing was twofold; firstly, it’s disingenuous to state that we needed another forward to secure promotion. As detailed in Sunday’s article, we’re now in such a position that we require a paltry amount of points to secure a top two spot at worst. We simply won’t fail to do that, with or without Afobe. If the transfer was going to be a costly one, then it simply wouldn’t have been worth the outlay to guarantee something that is already as good as guaranteed – fortunately we seem to have got the deal done entirely on our terms, which is a nice mark of the negotiating ability of those at the helm. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, I’m not convinced at this point that he’s quite the right fit for us. When he was here previously, we didn’t use him in any way as a linkman. He played right on the shoulder of the last defender and picked up bits and pieces in the box, while Nouha Dicko did the hard yards in running the channels and holding the ball up. Afobe’s self-imposed spell as a number 10 was frankly, a shambles as he lacked the creativity to open up defences and the positional sense to pick the ball up in the right areas. Now, with defences invariably sitting ultra-deep against us, is he going to have the space to showcase his pace and finishing ability? Is he going to be able to play a meaningful role outside the box? Was that 1 in 6 record for Bournemouth due to an unfortunate set of circumstances or will we end up concluding that he falls into the same bracket as Sylvan Ebanks-Blake; deadly in the second tier, not quite rounded enough to make it in the Premier League? We shall see. What we can say is that the manager – in whom we must have the utmost faith – has seen enough of him to want to give it a go, and it is entirely in Benik’s interest to make this work. We all wish him the very best. He’ll get a hell of a lot of goodwill from the crowd. He’ll never, ever, ever play in a better Championship team than this. Down to him.
Jack Price (Undisclosed to Colorado Rapids)
This day was always going to come. We all knew that the club was rapidly moving on and it would leave the likes of Price behind at some point. Still, it’s a shame when someone who has been here since the age of 8 has to leave for the sake of their career. Rarely did he let us down, but ultimately his game just didn’t progress quite enough to ever suggest that he was a bona fide option for a team chasing the top six, let alone the levels we’ve reached this season. It’s fairly rare that a player leaves the club and they get almost universal goodwill; moving to Colorado certainly beats joining QPR or Barnsley. The plus point is that I no longer have to write the exact same verdict for every game that he plays.
Lee Evans (c.£750k to Sheffield United)
It’s a mark of the slightly confusing Paul Lambert period that Evans was handed a new long term deal as recently as February of last year, and now he’s departed from the club having first being sent out on loan to Wigan in the summer. In truth, he never quite convinced at this level. There’s little doubt that on his day, he can look like a decent performer and his passing ability with a little refinement could end up being a significant asset. He never really addressed his issues with consistency or mobility and exactly where you position him in midfield – he’s not really one to have sitting in front of the back four, doesn’t have the engine to get up and down the park and doesn’t offer enough to play in an advanced role – remains a mystery. The move to Sheffield United probably represents his final chance for now to make an impact in the second tier; another spell of flattering to deceive and he can probably look forward to further spells in League One (where he has always looked more than decent). His departure means the title of “best haircut at Wolves” is currently vacant.
Prince Oniangué (Loan to Angers)
Poor old Prince. Seems like a genuinely nice chap. It just hasn’t happened for him here at all. It was a surprise that there were no takers for him in the summer as he was evidently available on either a temporary or permanent basis, and his spell at Bastia seemed to go reasonably well notwithstanding their relegation. He’s spent the last few months doing not much other than turning up to training and having a rogue game as a right back for the U23s. Hopefully he can do enough to earn a decent transfer at the end of the season, though Angers are mired in a relegation battle and have won the joint fewest games in Ligue Un.
Connor Ronan (Loan to Portsmouth)
Impressed sufficiently against Manchester City for Kevin de Bruyne to seek him out to swap shirts post-match. Played no minutes whatsoever after that. It’s very tough to break into our team at present, and currently it’s unclear whether Nuno sees him as suitable for a central midfield role as most of his cameo appearances this season came in the inside forward position. For now he needs football and we will have to trust dear old Ken to use him properly. This means not playing him as an orthodox touchline-hugging winger, because that isn’t his game, and not leaving him on the bench for no reason. Both of which he’s done already. Ah.
Aaron Collins (Loan to Newport)
Sent back from whence he came two years ago after a brief pre-Christmas spell at Maidstone. To date he’s been named on the bench four times without making an appearance. The landscape has changed significantly since early 2016 and whatever purpose we signed him for then no longer exists, so this is an opportunity for him to impress someone else (if he ever ends up playing). Out of contract in the summer and there would seem little point in extending his stay here.
Donovan Wilson (Loan to Port Vale)
19 goals in 28 U23 appearances over the course of the last two seasons earned Donovan a new deal to 2020 and a loan move to Burslem. One of those things is nicer than the other. Vale have improved since getting rid of mid-2000s thug Michael Brown as manager and his game should be well suited to developing in League Two.
Sylvain Deslandes (Loan to Portsmouth)
Young Sylvain once again gets the joy of Ken pronouncing his surname as “Des Landez”. Lucky boy. We signed him as an orthodox left back and he isn’t really suitable to play there; he had a go at playing at left wing back against Bristol Rovers in September and looked well short of the quality required. You might possibly get away with him as a left sided centre half in League Two at present with the scope to push on from there; essentially we won’t have any cause to use him again. Another one who is out of contract in the summer and doesn’t really have any business being here any longer than that.
Jack Ruddy (Loan to Ayr)
The loan spell to Oldham didn’t go well with 14 goals conceded in his five appearances, the last of which came in late October. He remains highly rated and we seem to think that he is above playing U23 football, so a spell back in Scotland at top of the third tier Ayr has been set up. It’s nice to have a stable of good keepers, but for Ruddy it’s bad news; a year or so ago it wasn’t inconceivable that he’d be making his first team debut in the near future as we struggled for reliability in that department. With John Ruddy and Will Norris now at the club, it’s going to be hard for him to break in.
Duckens Nazon (Loan to Oldham)
Six goals for Coventry and some eye catching displays led to us moving him up to a higher level for the remainder of the season. With his late development in mind (he’s 24 before the season ends), it’s for everyone’s benefit that we find out as quickly as possible just how high up the pyramid he can play – staying in League Two wouldn’t really have told anyone a great deal. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll have much of an impact on our first team, but he was signed as a freebie punt having spent his career to that point in the amateur tiers of French football and with a brief spell in India. To be able to make any kind of impression in senior English football with that background is impressive on his part.
Ryan Leak (Loan to AFC Telford)
After spending time with The New Saints pre-Christmas, Ryan has continued his mini-tour of Shropshire by joining up with Rob Edwards’ Telford. Our ex-caretaker manager has failed to make much of an impression at what is now our de facto feeder club with some very uneven results all season, and Leak’s first two games have been a 3-0 defeat at Salford and a 5-3 loss at home to York. 20 this month and does need to be making bigger strides fairly soon, though he does still have a further year to run on his contract at Molineux.
Christian Herc (Loan to Dunajska Strada)
Herc has long since been seen as one of the leading lights in our U23 team with his ability to drive from central midfield and chip in with goals; we have decided at this point that he needs to play some senior football and with it being understandably difficult to find a deal for a youngster who hasn’t as much as made a matchday squad as yet, he has been sent back to his homeland of Slovakia for the remainder of the season. DAC are a top flight outfit and it will be interesting to see if Herc can break into the team despite his lack of experience. Those who enjoy following the murky exploits of ex-Wolves Academy players will be interested to know that he’ll be linking up with Kristian Kostrna who has made 12 appearances so far this season. Ok, maybe not interested.
Michal Zyro (Loan to Charlton)
Football is a strange old world at times. Dave Jones used to sign players for Wolves, never use them, possibly even publicly belittle them…and then sign them for another club a few years later. And the players would willingly join him. Here we have a situation whereby Zyro’s career has been ruined by one of the worst challenges I have ever seen, insult added to considerable injury as the opposition manager on the day totally failed to apologise or even show any concern towards the stricken player. That manager was human Tellytubby Karl Robinson who has now signed Zyro for Charlton. Personally I’d have told him to get bent, but that’s probably why I’m not charged with sorting out loan deals for players who are trying to rebuild their professional life. Sadly at this point I’m far from convinced that the affable Pole will be able to play at any serious level to any great effect again; that injury was just so horrific that he’s done well to even get back on a training pitch, let alone playing games. I hope I’m wrong and that he does really well down there. Then signs for someone else in the summer and tells Robinson to bike it.
Dan Armstrong (Loan to Dunfermline)
Playoff chasing Dunfermline are the destination for dodgy-barneted Dan who has shown encouraging signs this year in the U23 team. We’re never particularly clear on the exact status of youth contracts, but he will probably earn a year’s extension to his current deal which runs out in June, if only so we can sell him on at some point.
Aaron Simpson (Loan to Kilmarnock)
Scottish football takes a bit of a kicking these days. With Celtic guaranteed to win the title before a ball’s kicked and Rangers getting papped out of Europe by part-timers from Luxembourg, the stock of their league is not high. It isn’t going to be enhanced by a Premier League team signing a right back who was struggling to hold down a place in the Conference North a few weeks ago. Mind you, Ross County had Jamie Reckord playing regular football for them a couple of years ago and he’s now with Solihull Moors, so this isn’t a new thing. Simpson will probably be released in a few months regardless of how well this spell goes.
Ben Marshall (Loan to Millwall)
For some time it was felt that Marshall would offer an option to fill the right wing back slot in our first team. With defensive responsibilities at a minimum, attacking qualities are more important in that area and as Matt Doherty is at least nominally a career defender, Marshall should have had a shout at showcasing his delivery from that position. However, he never got any football whatsoever there. Whether his lack of an engine was what dissuaded Nuno from giving it a go, who knows. His fleeting appearances higher up the pitch didn’t produce much other than some well-meaning effort and a solitary assist against Bristol City, along with a reminder that he lacks genuine pace and ability to beat a man. When you’re competing with Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa for a spot, the game’s probably up. Doubtless he’ll do well for Millwall and their merry band of ex-Wolves. He’s a perfectly decent footballer at this level. We’ve just moved on. Expect to hear that statement more and more in a few months when we’re signing players in the summer.
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