Wolverhampton Wanderers Season Preview: lessons learnt?

Last summer, Wolverhampton Wanderers spent heavily on young, foreign players. Despite this, their first XI rarely looked too different to the British-based outfit that won League One in 13/14. Did the new kids on the block fail to dislodge the old guard? And will that change this year? The Football Lab speaks to supporter Reg Probert to find out.

At one point it looked like we might get dragged into a relegation battle so Lambert decided to stick to the British players to get us out of trouble. Of the foreign players only Costa was a success. We brought in too many players last summer, catching up after the late takeover, it feels like we’ve learnt our lesson this summer.

Two additions who did shine last season were Helder Costa and perhaps Ivan Cavaleiro. Do you expect to be strong in the wide areas this season?

Costa looks a really good player and I’m hoping Cavaleiro will settle in and look the part this season. Nuno looks likely to play 3-4-3 with wing-backs so it will be slightly different this season but if we can get Costa and Cavaleiro firing, they are nailed on to play in the front 3. The injury to Costa is a blow but let’s hope he’s back for September.

Your high-profile capture this summer Ruben Neves, a highly-rated 20-year-old from Porto. Is it worth allowing for a few poor recruits from Jorge Mendes/Fosun International to get players of the quality you wouldn’t ordinarily attract?

Football has changed and if we want success we’ve got to change our approach. As you say we wouldn’t see these type of players if Fosun and Mendes were not linked. For me it’s win win – we are a shop window for good players and they improve us as a team whilst they are here. If it doesn’t work out we move them on and start again. It’s not what I’d want in an ideal world but we’ve got to embrace it and get on board. When buying players from abroad it takes some time to settle but all things considered it’s a risk worth taking.

Nuno Espirito Santo has taken over from Paul Lambert as boss. Given that Wolves head coaches haven’t lasted long under the current regime, was it a risk to let him bring in a new backroom team?

I see it as a promising sign, again I’m not sure we’d have Nuno if it wasn’t for Mendes. Some fans had been calling for an overhaul of the backroom staff and now it’s happened it feels like we are really going for it. The reality is, if it doesn’t work out with Nuno we’ll move him and his team on and try with someone else. I’m not sure the money involved in sacking a backroom team is a consideration anymore.

You played a lot of long balls under Kenny Jackett and later Lambert. Does the signing of a ball-playing centre-back in Roderick Miranda and Willy Boly suggest more possession play is planned?

Early pre-season signs are good – Nuno seems keen to get ball playing defenders and sitting midfielders to get the ball moving. The sale of Bodvarsson will help move us away from long ball and I hope the Molineux crowd are patient enough to stick with a new style.

New signings Phil Ofosu-Ayeh and Barry Douglas are known to be two quick full-backs, the latter a set piece specialist. Were improvements in the full-back areas needed?

Absolutely critical – Ofosu-Ayeh is injured and has come with a poor fitness record but we’ve struggled at full back for some time. It looks like Nuno favours wing backs and Doherty gets forward well and early signs are good on Douglas. We were playing Saville and Coady as full backs at times last season and that can’t happen if you are aiming for the top 6.

As well as these signings abroad, you’ve also brought in goalkeeper John Ruddy and centre-back Ryan Bennett from Norwich. Were they Lambert signings?

It would appear that we have a few different people involved in the signing of players and I’m sure Lambert recommended Bennett and Rudy to Thelwell, who I’m sure has some knowledge of his own. Gone are the days of a manager scouting and signing players.

You’ve got a good academy that has produced some reasonable Championship players. After this recruitment drive, what happens to the likes of Kortney Hause and Jack Price?

I’m a great believer that good players will get into the team and I’m convinced Hause, Price, Connor Ronan and Bright Enobakhare will get chances. Certainly early signs in pre-season suggest Nuno likes Price, who looked gone a few months ago. Ronan looks quality and will hopefully play a big part this season. With three centre backs, the left footed Hause will continue to develop with better quality around him.

Benik Afobe has been linked with a return to Molineux. With Jon Dadi Bodvarsson reportedly off, will it be important to sign a quality striker?

It would be great if we could get a quick, physical striker who can lead the line. With Bodvarsson gone and the Afobe link going quiet, I’m not sure who it will be but someone to push Dicko and Mason is needed. As I said it looks like we may go with a front 3 so players like Michal Zyro, Jordan Graham, Cavaleiro, Costa will all come into play. A proven goalscorer is crucial if we want to challenge the top 6. I’d also like Dicko to be given a chance.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

It feels almost impossible to predict the championship and as a Wolves fan I know the league well. I think Middlesbrough, Fulham, Derby, Villa and Sheffield Wednesday will do well. I think Brentford may continue to surprise and finish in the top 6.

Where will you finish? You said 6th last summer but that was before a lot of things changed…

It feels too difficult to predict where we will finish and as you point out I struggled with this last season but with so much change it’s a rollercoaster. If we sign a goal scoring striker and keep our big players fit form most of the season I’m optimistic and will go with 4th. Sadly a few key injuries and I can just as likely see us finish 11th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Much-needed defensive improvements have been made at Wolves while Neves adds quality in midfield, even if the attack still needs freshening up. It may take time to introduce a new style, but there are signs that the club is modernizing off the field and on it, they should progress. 10th