WOLVES CAN BE THE NEW BOURNEMOUTH
DERBY have spent a bit of cash. Middlesbrough too. But my tip for promotion this season is Kenny Jackett’s Wolves.
I’m not saying automatic – nobody can be sure of that in this division. But I think they’re going to be very strong.
I saw them several times last season and I commentated on the game at Brighton. And with the exception of maybe Ipswich, I didn’t see a better organised team in the Championship.
The way they counter-attacked was just unbelievable, especially away from home. Nouha Dicko, Ebanks-Landell, Rajiv van La Parra – those boys were raw and young but they could get up and down all day.
The pace and power going forward was incredible and if there’s one thing Championship defenders hate it’s fit, fast forwards.
Yes, they’ve lost a big player in Bakary Sako, but he’s been replaced by Sheyi Ojo, a very talented young lad from Liverpool. They’ve also signed Adam Le Fondre on loan from Cardiff, a natural goalscorer who’ll come short and give them an option. And they’ve got Benik Afobe!
To me, they could be the next Bournemouth. Like the Cherries, they’ve got a settled manager and a settled squad. They’ve targeted signings who fit a certain philosophy – fit, athletic players with a bit of quality. And after a season finding their feet, they’ve now got the squad and experience to really compete. Watch them go.
Can the same be said for Derby? The Rams are obviously strong contenders, but it all depends on how deep the scars of successive failures run.
In 2013-14, they lost a play-off final they’d dominated for 90 minutes. Last year, they hit the self-destruct button in February and totally collapsed.
That Wembley defeat to QPR was a terrible blow. To be a man up and lose to a 90th-minute goal will have killed their confidence like you wouldn’t believe. They’ll have spent the entire summer thinking what might have been.
To bounce back like they did was a big achievement. But after blowing it for a second time and being booed off after the final game, lifting themselves again will be a big ask.
They’ve also got a guy in Paul Clement who’s never managed. Don’t get me wrong – as an assistant he’s got the best CV anyone could ever have. Not many people can say they’ve worked under Carlo Ancelotti, coached Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG.
But when you step into those manager’s shoes, it’s a different ball game. Just like great players don’t always make great managers, the same goes for great coaches. I can understand Derby’s thinking but it’s no guarantee of success.
One thing is for sure – with Darren Bent allied to the likes of Chris Martin, Tom Ince and Johnny Russell, you know they’ll be very powerful going forward. The question is: Can they match that strength between the ears?
Written before Saturday’s matches
TEEN STAR: Wolves have signed winger Sheyi Ojo, 18, on loan from Liverpool
POACHER: Adam Le Fondre