I wanted to take the opportunity to offer a few words on each member of the squad, as they have all played their role in what has become a historic campaign. Plus, I just love talking about this football team. So here goes…
To think, initially we bagged this guy on a free. We were told to expect a solid, if unspectacular operator who would be efficient and minimalist in approach. By the time Manchester City arrived at Molineux in the third game of the season, Patricio was pulling off ‘Save of the Season’ contenders. Overall though, he has lived up to that reputation, making many a save look a whole lot more comfortable than they ought to be. His kicking was an agenda item at the Wolves Debate Club for a spell, prior to Leander Dendoncker nailing down his place in the team, but this has also subsequently died down. If there is anything spectacular about him, it’s his devilish good looks. What a specimen.
It’s difficult to assess a man who was involved so little week-to-week, but also played a part in the club reaching an FA Cup Semi-Final for the first time in 21 years. Ultimately, falls into that odd bracket of player who is a more than adequate second-in-command, but you’d raise concerns if they were your first choice. Nuno knows all about this and managed Ruddy well, but for a goalkeeper whose workload would always be slightly below average in this team, he made far too many individual errors. Currently the team’s expert in post-match high fives, an area in which he most certainly excels.
Probably the most unassuming of our contingent, Bennett has played as if he was the most experienced Premier League operator at the club come the start of this season – not that the pre-season narrative would have had you believe it. Constantly the next one in the pecking order to be replaced, but just as constantly a fixture in the starting XI too, Bennett has performed as solidly as anyone could have hoped for and will surely go down as one of the best signings we’ve made in the past quarter of a century. A man more known for his unparalleled ability to keep his shirt tucked in throughout the season, whose tidiness knows no bounds. Can you imagine the condition of his plate after his dinner/ Spotless I’d wager.
Our de-facto leader became our unequivocal leader after the departure of Danny Batth and he has responded in incredible fashion. It could be argued that we simply don’t have an adequate replacement for Coady, but to not miss a single minute of a campaign in which there has been ample cup progression, with increased stakes and intensity, as an outfield player, in the modern era of rest and recovery and red zones, is nothing short of astonishing. A sentence Conor himself would be proud of uttering without pausing for breath, I’ll bet. It speaks volumes that we simply can’t do without him at the heart of our defence and it’s only the excellent Molineux atmosphere that has stopped us from hearing his instruction loud and clear. Master of the diag, I can only assume his garden as a child was shaped as such.
Quite simply, a colossus. Like a presidential bodyguard, he’s suave, sophisticated and velvety smooth but when it comes to ushering people away, he’s also your man. When you take a microscope to his career, this is the highest level he has operated at and he still gives you the impression he has further gears to move into. His transition from Championship to Premier League has been near enough seamless and I can’t understand for the life of me why he wasn’t spoken of in Player of the Season terms. Often called out for the odd lapse in concentration, which suggests a pretty awful narrative, despite being by far and away our best defensive presence. In retirement, destined to become the greatest Walking Footballer that ever lived.
Our favourite Moroccan (don’t tell Hassan Kachloul) possesses qualities that every squad needs. Chief among them is his ability to slot into a couple of positions, even getting the hang of the right hand of defence for a while, despite a wayward time there during pre-season. Saiss has also popped up with a couple of important goals, equalising against Fulham and breaking the deadlock versus West Ham, a seemingly unbreakable one in the shape of Lukasz Fabianski. But most of all, he is the squad’s shithouse, a man as likely to ping a sumptuous pass across field as hack you down, take the opportunity for a piggy-back ride if you go past him or wade in to a mid-game scrap. Just don’t let him shoot from distance. Doesn’t accept birthday cards because he gets a yellow one on a weekly basis.
Like an odd, reverse hibernation, we only saw the big Belgian once winter had set in. We couldn’t imagine the team without him now. For all the world, he was seen as the man who would come to take the place of Bennett on the right side of defence, but his own flexibility and durability has made him a key component of the team’s excellent form during the second half of the season. Tim Spiers couldn’t have described his running style better than a panicked Ostrich on the rampage, but as awkward as it looks, he simply does not stop. Capable of adding more goals to his game and has an underrated silkiness about him, although he does love a backwards pass. Perhaps a future in Rugby for Dendoncker, but will no doubt remain songless as the South Bank struggles to combine his name into anything remotely rhythmic.
The Flying Dutchman was once a Wolverhampton watering hole. It’s now been replaced by The Flying Irishman, although this now resides in WV1. Doherty could not have hoped to have had a more successful campaign and he’s talismanic with his impact now. His goal record from wing-back is unrivalled and it’s incredible how often he comes up with important contributions. The indefatigable Irishman may not own the flank at international level, but teams now that to stop Wolves, they need to go some way towards stopping Doherty. If Coady has free reign to ping that favoured ball out to his mate, The Ginger Beard Man (not a typo), then defences can expect an onslaught down their left. So – obviously – everybody is talking about selling him now, right/ Irreplaceable this season, he has been a liberated presence since Nuno joined the club, not lacking in quality either. Always seems to be running in slow motion, yet still beats his man.
Jonny Castro Otto
Carved out of granite it seems, when we first heard that we were completing the signing of a Spanish full back, who would consequently gain full international honours, I’m not sure Jonny was the kind of player we all had in mind. The archetypal 7/10 performer, a man who treats a winger trying to dribble past him as an offence to the very fibres of his being. We may not have known too much about him, but we all know what good business it was to make his signing permanent. You can probably count the number of times he’s been beaten by a forward on a single hand and he’s become more prominent in the opposition’s half as the season has gone on too. Looks a lot older than he is and owing to his incredible frame always appears to be wearing a baggy shirt. Have you purchased tickets to The Gun Show yet?
i think a few of us that we may have seen the last of Vinagre in Old Gold last season. At the reported fee, he could go on to become one of our greatest signings. His fleeting appearances last season spoke of potential. His fleeting appearances this year spoke of even greater potential. You can already see how his game has come on and he is a genuine alternative to Jonny already, dependent on circumstances. Fully expect him to play a big role next season, whether that be in the Cup competitions or just on Soccer AM’s Showboat. Capable of eclipsing anything we’ve ever seen at Molineux and envious eyes will be headed our way in years to come, I have absolutely no doubt. Already immortalised for what he did to Kyle Walker at the Etihad last season.
Perhaps the individual we were most looking forward to seeing at this level and with that expectation, probably the one who suffered most. With great power comes great responsibility and we came to experience Neves paying respect to both sides of that phrase over the course of last season. Maybe he was a victim of his own success, but after his opening day heroics, things were looking up. Teams quickly hatched plans for him and he was a stifled presence at times. The formation change post Christmas helped him more than anyone and it is to his credit that he finished quite strongly. If anything though, the slightly underwhelming season he has had buys us some more time with a glorious talent, fit for any club in the world at some stage in his career. Just not yet, please. *Insert no longer interesting stat about a defensive midfielder who has less touches inside the box, than he has goals from outside of the box.*
5’7″ of football heaven. I can’t comment on his favoured beverages but this man has walked into the Premier League and made it look like he’s playing with school children at times. An education, for all of us…
He’s one of our own and rightfully we back him to the hilt. But you couldn’t help but feeling MGW left a little to be desired after some excellent early form. The cameo against Spurs and the whole performance versus Chelsea whet the appetite for many of us, including some rather excited pundits who were quite irresponsible with some of their comments in hindsight. From there Gibbs-White flattered to deceive and many of his substitute appearances passed without comment. There were some helpful contributions in the home win against Cardiff and the fixture against Brighton was a great opportunity to show the world how capable he is. His time will come though, I believe, because he’s a player who tries things. It’s easy to go under the radar on a football pitch by keeping things simple, but if Gibbs-White wants a future at the club, it will be in the heat of the creative parts of the pitch. Danny Murphy will sure hope he comes good.
Not all of us can be heroes. Not all of us can excel. Progress will always mean some are left behind, unable to adapt to the pace of change. For many, Costa will be the first name on such a list, although for a while it certainly didn’t look that way. Costa started the first 14 games of the season, only being dropped with Wolves in 11th place. He had no goals or assists to show for that time in the team, but he had his moments, most notably in an excellent display away to Arsenal, but from here it went downhill for him. Ironically, upon reintroduction to the team he created his first goal of the season away at Newcastle and even scored at Wembley against Tottenham, but this was a shadow of the man who had won the hearts and minds of Wolves fans on arrival at the club. A clear confidence player, who has the ability to make it, but is seemingly shot to pieces confidence-wise. His saving grace may be the need for a bigger squad next season. Growing his hair in an effort to rediscover his mojo.
Many may have also written off Ivan Cavaleiro’s career, but I’m inclined to stick by him. He may no longer fit the preferred system and he may need a run of games to get into his stride, but he remains a captivating forward presence, always capable of impacting games. Despite a distinct lack of action compared to the other forwards, except Adama Traore, Cavaleiro bagged five important goals, including the opener against Southampton, one against Arsenal, the winners against Shrewsbury Town and Bristol City in the FA Cup, with a victory embellishing goal against Bournemouth sandwiched between. He simply doesn’t have the running power of Diogo Jota to operate in a front two, but we will need to be flexible next season and his cuteness, effervescence and general quality around the box shouldn’t be dismissed. Another more than capable at this level, who has been a victim of the club’s success. When he plays badly though, you’d rather drag someone in from the stands to take his place.
This may be the biggest conundrum Nuno faces next season – just how do you get the best out of Adama Traore? For a while it just seemed to be bringing him on in the latter stages of games. With Jota and Costa faltering though, it made sense to give him time from the start, but he couldn’t capitalise. Then the team’s form started to pick up and he was another forward he seemed to be rendered useless by the side’s formation change/ He’s not a striker, despite possessing even greater running power than Jota. Nuno took the bold step of giving Matt Doherty a break and introducing Traore on the flank, which bore fruit initially, but he confusingly ditched the idea, when this appeared to be the way against the lesser lights of the league. He will be given time and perhaps crucially, a pre-season to integrate himself and Nuno is the one of the best out there in terms of assimilating a player into his system. It seems a shame to be saying this 12 months down the line, but if things do click, we could be in for a hell of a ride watching him. Still convinced he could be an excellent running back in the NFL.
In November, I wondered if Diogo Jota would ever be a successful Premier League player. By the end of the season, I’m telling every single football fan I can get my hands on that this could be nine-figures worth of footballer in a few years time. While the formation change may have put paid to one or two Wolves careers, it has given Jota’s a new lease of life. So much so, that I believe that by the end of the season he was the form individual in the entire league. His indomitable, buffeting style isn’t always the easiest on the eye, but my word does he terrify defences. His Wembley showing was as good as any semi-final performance in recent memory, and his embarrassment of Luke Shaw is worth watching on repeat for hours on end. I hope that won’t be the only everlasting memory he provides us. A loveable rogue, he possesses exactly the right amount of s***housery.
For pure, expectation-exceeding excellence, Raul Jimenez has to be the player of the season. I think we all had our doubts about a Benfica reserve who hadn’t had a full season’s football for quite some time leading the line, but this has proved a masterstroke. A Swiss Army Knife of a striker, he’s scored all types of goals and most of all gives the team what it needs at the sharp end. We’re in that horrible place where playing second fiddle to him will be a dealbreaker for anybody coming in, but he’s earned that right entirely. More games will mean he needs a rest, but he’s set a high water mark for any prospective signing. Just not sure why Kevin Green’s song never caught on. He’ll give your goalie the shakes…