In amongst all of the lyrical waxing about Wolves this season, much of the talk has been of the transformation the club has experienced. As an entire entity the club is a far cry from last season’s haphazard, fractured organisation, while at a more granular level, the fortunes of Conor Coady, Matt Doherty and Danny Batth have all been well documented. But nobody has epitomised the fortunes of the Fosun era so far more than Ivan Cavaleiro, the bridge between the last year’s Wolves and this year’s.
His recent award of PFA Fans Player of the Month for November is a testament to the incredible run of form he has experienced since Nuno’s arrival at the club. But if we hark back to his own arrival last season, things were looking very different on a number of fronts…
The takover of Fosun may have been a protracted one, but the end result was a rather frantic end to the transfer window where management and playing staff alike were ushered through the door as the start of the season approached. The initial poster boy signing of the Fosun era arrived on deadline day in the shape of Ivan Cavaleiro from Monaco for a record-breaking fee. Now my knowledge of Cavaleiro to this point was seeing him become an absolute untouchable level of player on Football Manager 16. Now FM have their share of hits and misses, but they can’t be going too far wrong when professional clubs are constantly in contact over use of their database. Cue awe and excitement on my part then.
Under Zenga he started quite well, with a goal against Brentford and a couple of other promising moments in tandem with Helder Costa, but he failed to hold down a regular place. The sight of Prince Oniangue fielded wide-left against Aston Villa, with Helder Costa tearing them a new backside on one wing, was a particular frustration for many, including Cav himself I imagine. Something clearly wasn’t quite right, whether it be a mistrust of Cav’s talents or just that he wasn’t quite up to speed with English football.
My initial thought was that we all misread Cavaleiro as a player. I think we all, managers included expected a Helder Costa Mk II, a man who would frighten defences on to the backfoot with pace, dribbling and a terrifyingly direct style. We lamented his constant twisting and turning when faced up with a defender, just expecting him to bewitch the opposition with a bit of skill and away he goes towards goal. The real Cav is a much more subtle footballer, with moments of explosive activity and someone who relies on combining with those around him. Our best moments last season came when best friends Costa and Cavaleiro were on the pitch together, although being on opposite flanks didn’t allow for them to become genuine bedfellows. You could almost see them longing for each other, eyes meeting across the pitch while the play whizzed around them. Cav especially struggled.
Some games he resembled a Year 7 pupil whose ball had been stolen by the older kids at school. He would run around in desperation trying to get it back, without a sign of help in sight and nobody on his wavelength to turn the tide. All Cav wanted was the ball. Here he was, the precious, psychedelic lava lamp in the children’s Toy Story bedroom, so oddly out of place, constantly shoehorned into position because he was a bit edgy, a bit different. Birmingham’s Jota was a reference point on Monday. Cav’s frustration at what happened last season boiled over with the red card at Derby as he learned to live in the shadow of the now heralded Costa. Fast forward to this season, however…
Maybe it was the fact he had a full pre-season. Maybe it was the arrival of more Portuguese brothers-in-arms. Maybe it was the experience of a year in the Championship. Maybe it was the arrival of Nuno. Most likely a combination of all of these factors has led to a perfect storm for Cav, who has capitalised with the best form of his career to date. While his first campaign was terribly inconsistent, with the sublime all too few and fat between, he has impacted nearly every game he has played so far this season, from exciting cameos at the start to terrifying spells of relentless brilliance in the last month. I would say Bristol City at home, the first 45 minutes versus Leeds and the second half demolition of Bolton were our most exciting spells of football so far this season and Cavaleiro was at the heart of them all. Even the glimpses shown versus Blues featured Cav heavily and he has already eclipsed his goal and assist tally from 16/17. And yet, we seem so surprised?
This after all, is a man who left Benfica for Monaco at a time when they were stockpiling some of the best young talent on the planet. Whereas Cavaleiro made a fleeting start to his career with Benfica, Helder Costa never managed a senior league appearance for the club. He is also, lest we forget, a fully fledged Portugal international. Cavaleiro has been a hotly tipped footballer for a while, without a true place to call home. Jorge Mendes’ methods may irk some but he has tried his best with Cavaleiro and amazingly he has found him somewhere he can flourish in Wolverhampton. With his Portu-geezers alongside him, with the love of the crowd and a system that allows him to make the most of his ability Cavaleiro may finally be fulfilling his potential. The task will now be to turn stellar form into a stellar season.
I also get the feeling Cavaleiro may be the most enduring of the Portuguese talents at Wolves. Despite, on his day, being the most dangerous attacking talent at our disposal, there remains a slight mistrust of his talents. He isn’t quite mentioned in the same breath as Diogo Jota, Ruben Neves or Helder Costa. This could work in our favour. When the time comes for our top players to move on – and it will I’m sure – Cavaleiro may slip under the radar and become a fixture within WV1. Who knows? Maybe it’s wishful thinking but for the 60-70 minutes per game he graces the turf he is a joy to behold at the moment.
All he wanted was his ball. And how he looks like he’s enjoying having it.