Newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers have been the subject of scrutiny recently. Having been relatively mediocre since their arguable hey-days of the 1950s (as well as those rare occasions in which they won domestic cups), Nuno Espirito Santo’s appointment as Wolves manager in 2017 has proved to be a significant turning point for the Midlands club.
Wolves won the Championship last season, and so enjoyed automatic promotion to the Premier League – returning for the first time since 2012. Their style of play and the calibre of signings they have attracted has won them many admirers, but also just as many critics. However, the club’s controversial relationship with agent Jorge Mendes is largely the reason that Wolves have been the target of so much jealousy and uproar from fans of other Championship teams.
Money’s no object at Molineux
Mendes is described as a “super-agent”, and certainly has played his part in the Portuguese revolution unfolding at the club. Nuno is Portuguese, so are 3 of his staff, and at the time of writing, so are 7 players. One of Wolves’ biggest signings was that of Ruben Neves, for a club-record fee of £16million. At the time, it got fans of other clubs talking – while it wasn’t unprecedented for Championship clubs to spend big on one transfer, it was usually the recently-relegated teams who did so, as they had cash from being in the Premier League.
Having been taken over in July 2016 by Chinese investment group Fosun, they now have an owner (Guo Guangchang) who is worth around £4.8billion. So, money really isn’t a problem for the Molineux outfit. This led to them being dubbed the “Manchester City of the Championship” and aroused the anger and jealousy of Championship fans.
This is where Jorge Mendes comes in to the fray. Fosun have close business links to the agent. Mendes is known for representing Cristiano Ronaldo but is also very close friends to the new Wolves owner, who has actually bought shares in Mendes’ private company. Mendes was then appointed an “advisor” at Wolves, which is when the pile-on began.
No case to answer
Many clubs (and their fans) began complaining that Wolves’ set-up breached regulations, which stipulate agents are supposed to be impartial regarding transfer policy. In March, Leeds owner, Andrea Radrizzani tweeted that the club set-up was “not legal and fair”. As it stands, 9 of the 11 players predicted to start for Wolves are Mendes’ clients. But the EFL have now investigated and found there is no evidence of wrong-doing. If Wolves are acting within the confines of the rules, they’re surely undeserving of such vitriol?
Rival clubs like Villa and Derby have also made allegations that Wolves paid their star players like Jota and Neves £20,000 a week, to comply with Financial Fair Play. Isn’t that the prerogative of the club and the players? Why is that the concern of their opponents what Wolves do with their money? At best, the allegations are petty, and at worst, they’re entirely inaccurate – it’s very unlikely there aren’t a multitude of clauses and bonuses on offer to said players in their contracts.
Jealous of smart spending
Let’s face it, it’s jealousy. The clubs accusing Wolves of wrongdoing are just bitter they pay their players up to 3x more, but don’t manage to get promoted. They simply cannot comprehend the idea that another club spent less on wages but attracted better players. The key is, they spent smarter. Clubs like Man City and Chelsea have experienced the same, albeit at a higher level. Rich owners took over the club and started outspending their rivals. They were told they were “ruining English football” and “buying the league”. Wolves have nearly spent £100million since being taken over, and it’s reasonable to expect their spending to continue as they benefit from sponsorship and TV deals. So, Wolves fans should prepare themselves, not only for the ire of Championship fans to continue, but that of their new Premier League rivals.
Many fans of lower-ranked teams in the Premier League may resent newcomers such as Wolves spending big and getting good results. In fact, many are touting Wolves to challenge for Europe this season. Again, they are likely to find themselves the target of even more resentment and bitterness. The idea that success is only valid if you don’t spend lots of money is flawed. If a team is a member of the nouveau riche of football, as Chelsea and City are, they are held to entirely different standards to the “old money” clubs like Manchester United, for example. Wolves’ model with Jorge Mendes is largely unprecedented but would be unlikely to garner criticism if it was done at Man United or Liverpool. However, a smaller team are ‘daring’ to upset the status quo and will almost certainly be the subject of a pile-on.
Nothing more than a vendetta
It is basically a vendetta at this stage. The crux of the issue is this: Most fans wish their club had the resources, wealth and contacts Wolves have. Many won’t admit it, because they don’t want to be seen to be shills for ‘modern’ football, which they say has ruined the game. But you can bet if a Chinese billionaire took over their club and tapped into the appeal of a ‘super-agent’, they’d not complain.
Even Neil Warnock spoke out against the petty and bitter treatment Wolves have been facing. “I don’t see anything illegal in an agent helping a club. I wish we all had contacts like they have now”. So, rather than complaining, why don’t the clubs who feel most aggrieved try and implement a similar system themselves? Use Wolves as a model for their own revival. Perhaps they won’t be able to attract someone as renowned as Mendes, but there’s no reason they couldn’t, in-part at least, take some ideas from Wolves.
It’s great to see a new contender in the Premier League, and if they manage to achieve success this season, it could unfold to be one of the greatest stories in English football. If Leicester’s premier league win is anything to go by, Wolves could cement their place in history on an even bigger scale.