My original plan was to do a tactical analysis of each of our new signings. This would have been backed up by data, but there’s a tendency to reduce football to numbers from too many these days. I will still produce some articles in such a vain as the influence of some of our new signings is best described in such a way. But some footballers transcend numbers. Some often transcend what is visible to the naked eye. There aren’t many of these around however. One of them is Joao Moutinho.
In a way, using numbers is an excellent way of defining Moutinho as a footballer. His highest goalscoring season? 5. His highest assists total in a season? 12 (although he hasn’t hit more than 6 in any other campaign). Nothing to shout about really, for a man who has over 100 international caps for Portugal. I think the one number that really indicates the fortunate position we are in though, is £5m. In today’s incredibly distorted, often unfathomable transfer market, this is entirely in keeping with the trends. It’s frankly absurd that Joao Moutinho has moved clubs for the paltry fee of £5m. In a week where George Saville, Molineux Reject (official title) moved to Middlesbrough for what will be a fee of £7m, we should all join hands and say a prayer to the transfer Gods (Jorge Mendes) for bringing this bundle of joy to Molineux.
I say bundle of joy – he’s so tiny! I love it! I’ve spent years championing the prospects of the diminutive midfielder and we finally have one who is proving the point that size is not everything. Heck, his size probably works to his advantage in the forest of the Premier League midfield. My appetite is already whetted for the day Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba attempt to get anywhere near our Joao.
I say that because I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone manage it so far. Not one team has managed to stifle the influence of the Portuguese maestro. All the talk of him and Neves being too similar, or of his lack of stature has been dealt with in the tidiest, unfussiest and most quietly unassuming way possible. All with a smile to boot. You see intelligence conquers all. Don’t get me wrong, if you have the physical attributes to overcome players, by all means go ahead and use them. Adama Traore please, do not stop running fast. But there can be an over-reliance on physicality, especially in the Premier League, when all it needs is a little time to think.
What I really enjoy about Moutinho is his ability to adapt his game to whatever the match requires. For Leicester away, he was a scheming presence, looking for goal on occasion too. Against Manchester City, he was a snappy, deep-lying midfielder; holding his position, intercepting when necessary and launching dangerous counter-attacks at the earliest opportunity. Finally, against West Ham he was just imperious. This time he was the metronomic dictator, always available, always in control and always a step above anybody else on the field. Any excitement West Ham fans may have had about Jack Wilshere’s arrival will have dissipated having watched Moutinho teach him a ninety-minute lesson on midfield mastery. Just what will he do next? He’s less a box of tricks and more a toolbox, drawing whichever particular utensil is required to do the job.
Having observed a full season of Neves-ball, it’s quite an achievement for us all to still be as awestruck by a footballer. Ruben Neves is an absolute marvel, but even he very much looks like the apprentice in the midst of a master. The way things are going, his and Neves’ partnership looks set to become one of the most formidable in the league, wrestling control in games that Wolves simply have no right to given the stature of the club on paper. He’ll also be coming up against players in his position who have consistently been judged to be of greater ability or reputation throughout his career. The likes of Cesc Fabregas at Chelsea, Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho at Manchester City, Nemanja Matic at Manchester United and Mousa Dembele or Victor Wanyama at Tottenham Hotspur. All of these players have got their moves to the so-called elite of the Premier League before Moutinho, who still hasn’t reached that stage.
At the age of 31 his chance has probably gone and we may not have too much time to appreciate his talents. It’s interesting to see that on the transfer website transfermarkt.co.uk, each of Moutinho’s transfers between clubs has been below his apparent market value at the time of each move. This could of course be linked to his link-up with Jorge Mendes or it could be the story of a criminally underrated talent whose adulation post-retirement will likely far outweigh the celebrations he currently enjoys. It’s our job to ensure that his time at Wolverhampton Wanderers cannot be described as such.