Cornerstones. Foundations. Building blocks. These words are regularly bandied about in the football industry. The reality is though that we exist in a vortex of absolute chaos, with agendas being constantly pushed, political moves made and heads being turned near full-circle in a landscape awash with cash. It’s a rare thing for a group of people to be aligned when it comes to football.
Wolverhampton Wanderers is an example of that right now. Every step that the club has taken over the summer has been to make some kind of statement, to reinforce our framework, to add an extra layer towards our new status as a Premier League club. Clubs may talk of cornerstones and foundations but they’re just paying lip service – many have neglected the real pillars of strength that every club needs to supplement consistently in search of an extra bauble on the tree, some extra tinsel around the angel. Our four cornerstones have all now been strengthened
At the core of everything that the club does has been the management team, headed by Nuno. Before we even get to the announcement of his and his team’s new contracts, he brought in long-time associate and former colleague Ian Cathro, with whom he enjoyed much success at Rio Ave and Valencia. Whilst Nuno was clearly more than competent enough without Cathro last season, he is in search of the marginal gains required to succeed at the top level. Another voice – a British one, which should not be underestimated when it comes to the nuances around communication in a second language – and another viewpoint which Nuno trusts should only add to the clubs in his bag.
Now whilst many will argue that contracts in football are not worth the paper they are written on, the re-signing of Nuno and his team is as much a PR move as a strategic, financial move. Rumours of enquiries from other clubs were inevitable and if true, something needed to be done to stamp our authority around what I believe is our most prized asset. Nuno’s presence has been felt in all corners of the club, from the obvious on-pitch influence, to the decoration of the tunnel and parts of the training ground and most visibly, the connection with the fans. Nuno is the blood in the veins of the club, supplementing each section as necessary. Most importantly the heart – the football.
This football club will never realise it’s potential if it does not have a good quality of footballer. Thankfully, this is in hand, to a level that none of us could have envisaged just over a year ago. Almost exactly a year ago, Ruben Neves joined the club. He has since signed a new 5-year deal. That’s worth reiterating:
RUBEN NEVES HAS RENEWED HIS CONTRACT WITH WOLVES FOR ANOTHER 5 YEARS.
Having watched William Carvalho give an impression of a deep-lying midfielder at the World Cup, I found myself, hand on chin, wondering what on earth Fernando Santos was thinking ignoring the talents of Neves. But what was Pottugal’s loss is undoubtedly Wolves’ gain and Neves begins the season, refreshed, raring to go with new contract firmly in his back pocket. The mind boggles at the impact he could have over the next season.
To think we haven’t actually seen our newest arrivals in a Wolves shirt yet shows the kind of supermarket we are shopping in right now. The World Cup can be a false economy when you consider that the likes of Panama have qualified but Rui Patricio and Raul Jimenez are both players who would have been out of reach at any other point in Wolves’ recent history. Patricio in particular is a stellar player, in a stellar national team with a stellar reputation. Nuno has been keen to build his teams from the back ever since he set foot in Molineux and he has upgraded his goalkeeper in an effort to do so. The fume produced when we announced his signing – for free (at the time anyway) – was enough to knock out a herd of elephants. Jimenez was a welcome signing given the dearth of striking options at the club over the summer and it remains to be seen how effective he will be, but the mooted £30m buy-out clause at the end of his loan will carry significant weight over the course of the season.
Even the loan conversions look the part in building up the strong collective image of the club. If we went into this season without securing the signings of Willy Boly and Diogo Jota in particular, there would have been some jittery fans in the crowd come the opening day. Leo Bonatini may have played like a shadow of his former self for the second half of last season, but Nuno clearly sees him as the blueprint for what he wants out of a centre-forward in his system. If he is best practice – as clearly Benik Afobe wasn’t – it makes sense to keep him at the club, until such time we can absolutely afford to move on from him. Ruben Vinagre will be a superstar for sure and all that remains now is a little stiffening of the spine in central midfield and at the back and I believe we are ready to mount a serious attack on the top-half.
At the same time, there seems to be a clear focus on shipping out as much dead wood as possible. Ben Marshall has gone, Roderick Miranda is on his way out and a whole host of other hangers-on are in the departure lounge. The squad needs trimming as too much resource is being wasted on professionals who need to be moved on. Only then will we see the true benefit of Nuno’s work.
It’s a word that Nuno places a large emphasis on in his recent interview following the announcement of his new contract. Football players are far less inclined towards individualism. Gone are the days of the maestro. The World Cup has seen to it that teams who focus around an individual point of strength will fall at the feet of the collective. Argentina, Portugal and to an extent Brazil have all fallen by the wayside.
Wolves have had a very distinctive way of playing over the past 12 months, something which can be pored over, analysed, taken apart by video but simply could not be stopped last season. It’s a framework with freedom that maximises our strengths and shrouds our weaknesses. Most of all though it contributes to a burgeoning brand that will soon be the talk of Europe I imagine. Wolves may have a proud history and tradition in Britain, but this team is almost entirely divorced from any Wolves side of the past. Our owners are Chinese, our best players and manager are Portuguese. We play progressive, structured, attacking – basically continental – football.
Alongside that, commercially the club is building something. Maybe it’s because I’m a PR bod but there’s a unique opportunity for the club to build a brand that resonates the world over. The name ‘Wolves’ is instantly recognisable. By extension, the City of Wolverhampton will become a place of recognition – home of the mighty Wolves. A new ‘Old Gold’ strip to play in, a nod to the last real era of success the club had, although the club is clearly forging a new path, a steeper, yet less treacherous climb than even the trek that Sir Jack Hayward undertook. Whilst I intimated that the club is divorced from its past in business and footballing terms, there is a visible hark back whenever we visit The Golden Palace, with 3 statues now located around the perimeter. This mark of respect goes to show that Wolves 2.0 did not emerge from nowhere, but from a place of success, reputation and tradition as one of the former powerhouses of English football. This is a story to be told the world over.
Whilst I honestly believe that the role of the fan on the whole is diminishing, I have seen clubs play in empty stadiums – it means nothing.
Our role as supporters is becoming almost transactional. We’re no longer fans, but we’re Gold and Silver ASTs, we’re members, we’re Season Ticket Holders, we’re walking, talking loyalty points. We are also now a waiting list, a queue to get in to see the travelling circus. Because ultimately, whatever happens with Nuno and his merry band of men, with Jeff and his steely vision and MOTP Laurie Dalrymple – we will still be here left to pick up what remains.
See while Nuno is the blood, the football is heart, the fans are the skeleton. Without us there is no club. Without Nuno or whoever else may be in charge there is also no success and without good quality football, we will not prosper. All of these elements are coming together to start a watershed campaign of football.
The cornerstones are in place. Let’s build something.