Wolverhampton Wanderers blew the competition away in the notoriously competitive Championship last term. Now, they’re gearing up for their first Premier League campaign in six years. Backed heavily by the big-spending Chinese investment group, Fosun International, the sky really is the limit for the Midlands side which should be capable of hitting the ground running in England’s top tier.
Santo’s perfect balance
Not only is head coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, getting the desired results, but the manager from Portugal is doing it in flashy manner. His Wolves team play free-flowing, attacking football, while also keeping it extremely tight-knit at the back — a hugely successful recipe which saw Wolves rack up the highest Championship points tally since Leicester’s title-winning campaign in 2014.
Finding such a balance is never easy, but the 44-year-old seems to have hit that sweet spot. Sure, it helps when you have world-class attackers like Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota on your books, but getting them to play as a team wouldn’t have been easy. Wolves thus go into the Premier League brimming with confidence. Their first aim will, of course, be to ensure their top-flight status. Long-term, though, they can certainly become a credible power within the English game.
Raising the bar beyond safety
Perhaps Espirito Santo should immediately be challenging his star-studded squad to raise the bar. After all, why should they only settle for safety? If they can entice fully-fledged top-level internationals to sign for them in the Championship, the possibilities ought to be endless now they have ascended to the top flight. It’s almost frightening to consider potential signings they could attract during the summer window.
One name heavily linked with a Molineux move is goalkeeper Rui Patricio. The 30-year-old Sporting Lisbon shot-stopper actually asked the Portuguese side to cancel his contract so he could make a move elsewhere. I guess it helps when your agent is Jorge Mendes, the most powerful man in football.
Speaking of Mendes, it was he who masterminded Neves’ and Jota’s moves to Wolves. He also represents four more players currently plying their trade in the Black Country. Alright, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to see Cristiano Ronaldo in their fluorescent orange colours anytime soon, but don’t be surprised to see other big-name stars from Portugal link up with their countryman Espirito Santo.
This pulling power breeds success. Wolves are going about their business in a similar manner to how Manchester City began their chase to join the European elite. Ten years later, the Citizens are Premier League champions. Who says money can’t buy happiness?
Patience, not panic
Like any top-flight newbie, Wolves will have their poor periods as they adapt and adjust. The key for chairman Jeff Shi is to not hit the panic button. Espirito Santo is an immensely talented manager who, like his players, is learning and improving week-in-week-out. They need to persist with the leader whom the players clearly trust, and managing big egos in the Championship certainly wouldn’t have been easy; but it’s something Wolves’ leader pulled off flawlessly.
Without a Premier League ball having been kicked, I already have Wolves in front of sides like Huddersfield Town, Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace; that’s before I even mention the other two promoted sides (Cardiff City and Fulham). If things go their way and they hit the ground running, Wolves could be this season’s Burnley; fighting it out for a spot in European competition in twelve months time.
When you factor in that Wolves’ supporters are a passionate, knowledgeable and loyal bunch, things seem to be perfectly in place. Molineux will be an absolute fortress, no team will enjoy going there on a cold night in winter, and I fully expect them to give out a few beatings. They could even take some points off the so-called ‘big six’.
Whether you like their big-spending methods or not, Wolves are here to stay. In an ever-changing footballing landscape, huge financial backing seems to be the go-to mantra. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.