As Leo Bonatini becomes the first player to reach double figures in the Championship and bags two Player of the Month awards in the process, I chart his rise to prominence at the club and what makes him so special.
It all started beautifully. While the victory over MIddlesbrough may not have been our most fluent, and the way in which the game was won resembled a gift, Leo Bonatini as a striker was introduced to us.
For a moment, time almost stood still as our Brazilian beauty intercepted the errant pass from Daniel Ayala. Like Bernard’s Watch, Leo clicked pause on the rest of the game, steadied himself and stroked the ball home. This is perhaps his most endearing attribute – Leo is a master of timing.
Whether a moment in a match needs an injection of pace or a momentary pause, Leo gives the game what it needs. His 10 goals have always been timely contributions. Beyond that, his assists have also been timely in the way they present themselves to his team-mates.
The key with Bonatini is his ability to make the right decision for the sake of the team. Whether a counter-attack needs an injection of pace, or the rest of his team-mates need him to hold on to the ball, to take a breath and observe the furious nature of the game going on around him. I imagine Leo often has a confused look on his face as he watches the mad-cap nature of the Championship. Why is everybody running he asks? When the ball arrives at his feet you can rest assured that something useful will occur as a consequence.
I go back to Forest away and the speed with which he releases Jota and compare that to QPR away where he pretty much stands still while defenders retreat in fear of Jota’s run. Bonatini is the calm amongst the storm, the pocket of serenity in the box. The ball finds him and he dispatches it with ease. Sometimes it pays not to move. I think back to Aston Villa and the way in which Wolves dominated them first half, but we lacked our reference point, our fulcrum. On came Leo and it all clicked back into place.
It takes a special player to be able to dictate the tempo of a game without being locked in the centre of the mdifield. As discussed in my tactics blog, Wolves system has many moving parts but there sits Leo, fixated to the centre of the attack, always available as a place the ball can call home. He looks after it, tucks it up in bed before curfew, Wolves very own ball-sitter. He nurtures the ball, giving it direction when required and giving his teammates the platform to express their own talents.
If their is a weakness in Leo’s game I’d argue it was his finishing. He gets into position to score multiple times each game – he could have had a hat-trick at Norwich – but we’ll settle for the 10 he’s got so far. They’ve all been important. To add a bit of cast-iron evidence to this airy-fairy blog, we’d be 12 points worse off without Bonatini’s contributions from goals and assists.
And yet, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised by all of this. This is a man deemed potentially Juventus-worthy at an early age, a product of a youth system that produced the greatest Number 9 of all time and a man who was amongst the top scorers in the Portuguese top flight for a mediocre side at the ae of 21. He may have had a peripatetic career to date, but he is still only 23. Having watched him now, would you have guessed that?
It may seem early days to be speaking about Bonatini in such glowing terms but he’s had a significant impact very early on in this country. The tone of this piece is also dictated by the fact we just don’t have players like this down the Molineux. We never have. This is an element of the new frontier – a striker with intelligence. The fact is Bonatini is a waif compared to some of the bullies we’ve deployed in that position in years gone by. He certainly doesn’t have much pace. And yet here he is out-scoring pretty much all of them.
To top it all off he’s finally got a song. A slightly more fitting owner in comparison to the last incumbent of said tune. No offence to George Elokobi but perhaps that tune has found it’s rightful home.
Perhaps Leo Bonatini has too.